‘Everyone has more sex than me’ and other myths that therapists are trying to debunk

The lack of education allows false beliefs about intimate relationships to persist, which can harm sexual health

Educación Sexual
A couple having a good time in bed.Colin Anderson Productions pty l (Getty Images)
Clara Angela Brascia

When it comes to people’s well-being, sexual health is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind. This is due in part to a lack of specific education. Many taboos persist regarding intimate relationships, even in the most open and sex-positive societies and environments. “Sexuality is a very important part of health, but it is completely surrounded by false beliefs that make it difficult to have a healthy sexual life,” states clinical psychologist and sexologist Miren Larrazábal. The problem, she continues, is that much of the information that is taken for granted has no scientific basis, and is passed from generation to generation in the form of “myths” that end up harming the intimate relationships.

The feeling that we are not keeping up with everyone else. Thinking that pleasure and desire must come at the same time, or that sex has to be spontaneous and cannot be programmed. Those are some of the beliefs that the experts consulted think that must be debunked in order to improve the sexual health of their patients.

Other people are not having more sex than you

One of the most common myths is to think that everyone else — especially when we are in a long-lasting relationship — is having more sex than us. Larrazábal explains that this is an issue that she addresses with many of her patients, despite the fact that there is no “normative sexual frequency” with which to compare oneself. “Looking at others is a big mistake. First, because the most important thing is to find the rhythm that is right for us, which can vary depending on many factors. And second, because it is impossible to know with certainty what is going on in people’s private lives — nor should we care.”

Several studies suggest that the average number of sexual relations has decreased in recent years, particularly among people aged 18 to 24. “Unfortunately, we live in a context that prioritizes quantity over quality. We feel the need to enjoy our possibilities to the limit, and if this does not happen we get frustrated,” says Estela Buendía, founder of the Borobil Sexological Center in Bilbao, Spain. The sexologist uses younger couples as an example, as they frequently suspect that they are not having enough sex for their age. “This is not something that can, or should, be quantified. What is appropriate is whatever makes each individual feel good,” she concludes.

“Sex must be spontaneous”

Although the exact reasons that have led to a decrease in the frequency of sexual encounters are unknown, sex therapists agree that hectic lifestyles could be one of the causes. For this reason, they reject the myth according to which sex must always be spontaneous and cannot be programmed. “Sex is never spontaneous. Not even when we think it is,” says Buendía. “It doesn’t arise if there’s not at least one person who incites the other and makes things happen.”

Once the myth of spontaneity has been debunked, therapists encourage people who have trouble finding the time to schedule sexual encounters. “We plan all the important things in our lives. We set schedules to go to the gym; we plan a trip or going out with our friends, and we end up enjoying it. So why should sex be any different?” reflects Silberio Sáez, teacher of the master’s degree in sexology at the Camilo José Cela University in Madrid.

Making space for sex in our schedule is also useful to improve the quality of the encounters; instead of doing it when one is very tired or in a hurry, having set a specific time for it lets us enjoy the experience to the fullest. “What is anti-erotic is having a negative attitude towards scheduling or making a space for our eroticism,” insists Larrazábal. Still, the fact that it is scheduled does not make it mandatory. “When the time comes, we have to feel free to say that we no longer feel like doing it,” he adds.

“Sex is penetration”

Sex therapists often find that the patients that complain about a lack or infrequency of sexual relations have the wrong idea of what sex actually is. “Sexual encounters go far beyond coitus,” insist sexologist Sonia García. “It would be much healthier to think of sexual activity as a menu where there are many dishes and penetration is just one more.”

Coitocentrism, explains the expert, is the reason why there is a gap between men and women when it comes to talking about orgasms in heterosexual encounters. That is why the experts reject the definition of “foreplay” to refer to all the practices that are historically related to the phase prior to the penetration. “When we refer to the erotic game, which is the sum of caresses, touching and stimulation of the genitals, as a ‘previous phase,’ we are downplaying its importance. It is as if all that contact was the prelude to something, when in reality erotic play is pure and simple sexuality, just like penetration,” says Larrazábal.

“Men want it more”

“It is probably the oldest myth of all, and the one that is most difficult to eradicate. But no, men don’t want it more than women. What they have had is more permission to express their sexuality, while women have usually had a more repressed sexuality,” explains García. In fact, even though there is data that shows that men masturbate more than women, the variation in desire is very similar between the two groups.

“It is curious how there are women who have bought into this story, which clearly draws on the historical sexism that allowed men to express their sexuality, while women had to appear submissive,” explains Sáez, who acknowledges that this dynamic also affects men negatively: “They feel the pressure of having to initiate sexual encounters, and shame when they experience a lack of desire.”

“Lubrication equals excitement”

A common mistake during sexual encounters, and one that makes women feel uncomfortable, is thinking that not being sufficiently lubricated means that they are not enjoying themselves. “Arousal is just one of many influencing factors. Whether the vagina is lubricated or not also depends on the phase of the menstrual cycle, or on age. It is normal, for example, that postmenopausal women experience greater vaginal dryness,” explains Larrazábal.

Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., explains in the book Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science that Will Transform Your Sex Life that the notion that physiology can prove whether someone likes something sexual is an “ancient fallacy” that has its roots in the myth that conception was the pleasurable part of sex for a woman. However, the most likely explanation for the inconsistency between lubrication and arousal is the so-called “preparation hypothesis,” theorized more than a decade ago by the University of Lethbridge, Canada, and later confirmed with a study published in 2020 by the same researchers.

This hypothesis suggests that the female genitals respond more or less to any sex-related stimulus in order to prepare for sexual activity, and that lubrication serves to prevent injury, without necessarily indicating or promoting sexual interest and motivation. “A woman can have a lot of lubrication at any given time, but no sexual arousal. And on the contrary, she can be very aroused and not be lubricated,” concludes Larrazábal.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS