Misinformation and misconceptions, including unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and diseases, can lead to increased fear and stigma surrounding sex and sexual health, said Kristen Mark, a researcher in sex and relationships and family medicine. and Professor of Public Health. Institute for Sexuality and Gender Health, Medical School of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Here, sex educators and researchers break down some common misconceptions and share accurate information you may not have learned from traditional sex education.
“It’s about taking care of our whole body,” Levkoff said, “it’s about our access to mental health, our access to information and services, it’s about the culture we live in.”
Understanding and promoting sexual health can allow people to feel empowered in their bodies and sexual decisions and can open up discussions around these topics, allowing people to directly challenge these misconceptions.
There is no such thing as “normal”.
The most common question Levkoff fields is “Am I normal?”
“People don’t want to feel like they’re weird, that they’re outsiders, that there’s something wrong with them,” he said.
According to Levkoff, there is no single definition of normality. Because everyone is unique, looking for a norm isn’t the most helpful thing to do. Instead, people can learn about their bodies and their desires, Levkoff added.
Sex can be enjoyable
Growing up in the suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, 20-year-old Alexa Hulse learned in public school that people have sex to have children. There was no discussion surrounding the female orgasm, while the male orgasm was discussed in the context of sperm helping to find an egg in order to have a baby.
According to Mark, a professor at the University of Minnesota, sex is actually pleasurable. In fact, no. The number one reason people have sex is for pleasure, he added.
“I was very afraid of sex,” Hulse said. “There was no pleasure involved. It was just having a baby and being scared because you didn’t want to get pregnant and you didn’t want to get STDs or STDs.”
But for many people who have sex and are trying to avoid pregnancy, limiting access to reproductive health care can be difficult, Mark said.
“Access to reproductive health, such as contraceptive methods and abortion, are really important components of ensuring that people have the right to have a pleasurable sexual experience,” she said.
STIs are not always visible
People can have STDs and not know about them because most go undetected, says Debbie Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University Bloomington School of Public Health and author of Sex Made Easy.
“The only way to know if someone has an STD is to get tested for it, which all sexually active people should do periodically (the frequency varies depending on the individual’s sexual behavior and risk factors, so see your healthcare provider. (to see what they have to offer),” Herbenik said via email.
The level of sexual desire varies
Having a low or high sex drive doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, Gerbenik said. People’s sexual desires often fluctuate based on external factors such as stress levels, he added.
In addition, there is a common misconception that men always want to have sex and women don’t, says Mark. These assumptions can lead people to worry that there is something wrong with them when, in fact, sexual desire and desire are not based on sex or gender and vary from person to person.
Comprehensive sex education does not mean that people will have more sex
Some people think sex education is about morals and values, but it’s really about health education, including understanding bodily autonomy and consent, says Mark. Sex education lets people know that saying yes is just as important as saying no, and vice versa, she added.
Mark says that covering topics like consent in sex education classes doesn’t mean people run out and have sex. Instead, it means people understand how to navigate the world better, both when it comes to sex and when it doesn’t, he added.
“It involves talking about bodily autonomy and the right to say don’t touch your body if you don’t want to,” Mark said of sex for young children. “It’s about learning boundaries and respecting your body.”
If adults don’t answer their questions, young people may not have the same confidence in the future, Levkoff says.
“If a young person, young or old, has a question, they deserve an answer,” he added. “It’s about how much data we provide, the delivery system, the values behind it.”