Sexologists debunk 17 common sex myths

  • Expert Jayda Shuavarnnasri and public health researcher Dr. Varuna Srinivasan debunk sex myths.
  • They discuss where you should actually be storing your condoms, debunk the gender binary, and more.
  • They also answer questions like, "Is masturbation bad for you?" and "Who should be using lube?"

Following is a transcript of the video.

Jayda Shuavarnnasri: "There is no birth control for people with penises."

Varuna Srinivasan: We made a COVID vaccine in less than a year.

Shuavarnnasri: Yes!

Srinivasan: You are telling me we cannot get birth control for people with penises?


My name is Jayda Shuavarnnasri. I use she/they pronouns. I'm a sexuality and relationships educator. Hi, my name is Varuna. I use she/they pronouns, I am a physician by training, a public health researcher, and I am interested in the intersections between mental health and sexuality in South Asian cultures.

Shuavarnnasri: And today we are busting myths around sex and sexuality. These are myths from pop culture.

Srinivasan: "A 'broken' hymen means a person has had sex before." No! Absolutely not. Yes, some women do have a hymen and some women don't, but I don't think that we have scientifically proven that a broken hymen is the test of virginity. Also, why is it that only people with vaginas and hymens have this test? What about people with penises? I also want to call out rapper TI. Men like him go to the gynecologist and say, "I need you to examine my daughter's hymen once a year to make sure it's intact."

Shuavarnnasri: This is something that gets me really aggravated. This one definitely contributes to physical violence against folks with vaginas. It's less common for people to have an intact hymen. And, you know, folks who do have a fully intact hymen, that isn't helpful for themselves either when it comes to, you know, if they're going to start their period, the blood doesn't have anywhere to flow. And so there are surgeries that folks would have to undergo in order for the hymen to actually not be intact. But the way I see it that like, you know, you have this vaginal canal, right? Let's say this is like the whole of the vagina. And this would be like a slightly intact hymen. In most cases, this is really what it would look like, where it's still an opening, right? But this would be like loose skin.

Srinivasan: To me, honestly, it feels like a vestigial organ. It's the appendix of the vagina, I like to call it. [Shuavarnnasri laughs] You don't really need it, but it's there.


Shuavarnnasri: "Abstaining from sex makes you better at sports." I'm assuming that, again, sex-negative culture, we don't want people to have sex, and so it's like, "Well, if you really want to be good at basketball, you'd better not have sex at all, because you want to reserve all your energy. Show that on the court." But there's no, as far as I know, any study that shows abstaining from sex is going to make you better at sports.

Srinivasan: Yeah, I haven't read any study either. But actually, fun fact, in the Rio Olympics in 2016, more than 450,000 condoms were distributed.

Shuavarnnasri: I remember that.

Srinivasan: So athletes are having a lot of sex. But I think if you're responsible and you are having sex responsibly in a consensual manner, I think why not? Have fun. Have fun with sex and then go play your game. "Your wallet is a great place for a condom." [laughs]

Winston: Hey, you got a condom on you? I know you have a condom in your wallet.


Srinivasan: I think that we've seen this, right? Where they're like, "Oh, I have a condom in my wallet from 15 years ago." Honey, don't use that. [laughs] More importantly, condoms expire in, like, five years. So check the expiry date. Never store it next to a sharp object, never store it in a really humid place, and never store in a really, I think it's a tight place. Yeah, your wallet. And if you're going out for a booty call, you know, you get that call and you finally, it's your moment to shine, just grab a couple of condoms, put them in your pocket.

Shuavarnnasri: "Sex burns a lot of calories." You know, depending on the kind of sex that you're having, it can certainly burn calories. I don't think it's the equivalent of, you know, running a marathon, by any means. It's not as excessive of amount, the way maybe people think of having, like, a full 30-minute exercise, because your heart rate is not elevated to that degree the entire time.

Srinivasan: Yeah, totally agree with you, Jayda. I think that there was a recent Time article that came out that said that you don't burn more than 100 calories in a single session of sex. But for the most part, do not think that this is your workout. It is a workout, it gets your heart rate pumping, but we would definitely recommend still going to the gym and maintaining an active lifestyle. These are myths we hear the most.

Shuavarnnasri: "There are only two sexes found in nature." That is not true. I think a lot of times of flowers, flowers that actually have both sexes, quote, unquote, "sexes," within the flower in itself. We have labeled them as "male" and "female." We have to remember that that's a classification that was invented by humans.

Srinivasan: And I also think that this is one of those dangerous myths that's out there, especially for intersex persons, because doctors who function in this idea that there's only two sexes do this irreversible corrective surgery to decide if an intersex person is quote, unquote, "male" or quote, unquote, "female" for the rest of their life. And that can actually lead to a lot of psychological problems. If someone is born intersex, then they should be given the choice to decide how they want to live their life. What their sexuality is, what sex they identify as, what gender they identify as. We definitely need to change this whole ideology.


Shuavarnnasri: A lot of people who still believe that there are only two sexes in society will go towards science as their claim, right? And science as their backup. And this is the part where we have to remember that science is also problematic sometimes. Yeah, this one's a tough one, 'cause it's like, it's not just changing the culture, it's literally changing the entire system that taught us this culture.

Srinivasan: "You can get an STI from a toilet seat." [laughs] Medically and technically and scientifically speaking, the bacteria that does cause syphilis and other STIs can only live in those warm mucous membranes within your body. Suppose we took that bacteria and we, you know, put it on a toilet seat. It wouldn't live there for more than a couple of hours. It would die out. So it's impossible for someone to go and sit on it and then get that infection. And you also cannot get pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat, either. The word "STI," sexually transmitted infection, and so it's sexually transmitted between bodies.

Shuavarnnasri: "Only older people should need lube." [laughs] Oh, God. Now we get into the ageist myths. I just wanna be like, "No, it's not true." Everyone can benefit from using lube. It's honestly, I think, the most underrated sex accessory. If you don't purchase anything else, please purchase lube. This is for people of all ages.

Srinivasan: So, a lot of people with uteruses who go through menopause, when you have decreased estrogen, it reduces the vaginal lubrication. And our body does have natural vaginal lubricants. So having sex during that time can be painful. It can be hard and can be uncomfortable, really. And don't use Vaseline. So, you don't want to put lotions, which is meant to be on your skin, your external skin. The vagina has a mucous membrane. It's completely different from the skin on your body. Water-based is gonna probably be the safest bet for your own body, and depending on if you decide to use toys, it's usually not recommended to use silicone lube with silicone toys. Plastic can react to plastic. Yeah, it's also definitely not recommended to use oil-based lubes with condoms, 'cause you can't risk breaking.

Shuavarnnasri: "Sex equals penetration." Oh, gosh! People get to have their own definitions of sex. I think a lot of times we think that sex equals penetration because you're using a vagina and a penis. But obviously that is very heteronormative and doesn't apply to every single partnered relationship. And just because it's not a vagina and a penis, having sex doesn't mean it's not sex. We actually use our entire bodies during sex, and so when we equate sex to only these two pieces of our bodies, it's not accurate.


Srinivasan: My God, you nailed it on the head. What we really say when we mean sex is not, that it's just penetration, like you said, penis and vagina, but it's really just an experience that helps you get in touch with your sexuality, that helps you form a deeper connection with the other person.

Shuavarnnasri: "If you get an STI, you can't get it again." You can totally get the same STI a second time, even after you have been, you know, cured from it, and not all STIs are curable.

Srinivasan: Put it out there that even HIV, there is such a thing as reinfections, and superinfections is when you get a different strain of the same virus superimposed on the illness that you have from the first strain of the virus. That can, depending on your body physiology, your WBC count, can lead you to get a higher infection or a different type of infection. Please go get tested. We want to destigmatize it, but we also want to encourage disclosure.

Shuavarnnasri: But it's important for people to know if you have an STI, it's like even letting people know that you are on birth control or are not on birth control. Giving people the information, so that when they do consent, it is fully informed.

Srinivasan: "There is no treatment for HIV." OK, let's talk about this. I think that this is a genuine myth that many people - I think it's a question that many people have. There is no ultimate cure for HIV, but there does exist an antiretroviral therapy that as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV, you can go on those medications, and they are supposed to help you lead a longer and a healthier life. And there is also PrEP, I think that, you know, the pre-exposure prophylaxis, which you can take if you are at risk for HIV or if your partner is at risk for HIV. Of course scientists are working really hard to find a cure.


Shuavarnnasri: You know, this myth comes from that history of folks who were dying without treatment. And a lot of times when you think about why the government didn't rush, right, to create treatment, it's because it was mostly affecting queer folks. And so I'm thankful that now we do have treatment for it, not necessarily a cure. And it's mostly, again, pushed by queer folks and the LGBTQ community. I think when we have a fear around an STI, we almost, like, want to avoid it sometimes because we don't want to confirm the worst-case scenario for ourselves. But, again, we don't want to wait longer because we don't want the infection to get worse over time. If you do have a partner or have sexual partners and you do contract HIV, then doing enough research together so that folks can kind of - again, goes back to informed consent - so that folks can have all the information that they can around this particular issue.

Srinivasan: "'Blue balls' is caused by sexual arousal without orgasm." This is an absolute myth in that I don't think that, if you think if people with testicles actually got blue balls, they would think that all they needed to do was to have an orgasm and they wouldn't take anything else seriously about their health. And, B, I think it's also rooted in sexual coercion. Right? There's often that statement where, you know, the other person is like, "I don't want to have sex anymore," and then they're like, "Oh, honey, come on, you're giving me blue balls over here. At least, like, get me off." You know, "At least let me finish." If you need to, like, let off some steam, if you have access to a bathroom, definitely go in there and masturbate. Don't make the other person feel uncomfortable. So, if you've ever seen your fingertips turn blue or your lips turn blue, it usually means that you have decreased oxygen to that part of the body. If that happens to your testicles, I would call 911 or I would go in to the doctor immediately.

Shuavarnnasri: Sexual arousal, like, you're gonna get blood flow to your genitals. That's kind of how it happens. Right? You're gonna get blood that goes to there, and so I can understand that maybe it might be uncomfortable. It'll flow right back, even if you don't have an orgasm.

"Assigned male at birth, AMAB, and assigned female at birth, AFAB, hit their 'sexual peak' at different ages." People have sexual peaks all throughout their ages, at different times of their life. I think that sexual energy, it's something you can maintain across your life. And some people maybe don't have a lot of it, some people do.

Srinivasan: There's too many different environmental factors, cultural factors, kind of internal factors that play a role into your sexual energy and your sexual arousal. You know, sexual desire I think is dependent on age and hormones to a big extent. I think for many people it could be their teens, when you're, like, 25, for some people you could even hit it at, like, 45. With decreased estrogen, you have decreased desire; increased testosterone, you have increased desire; decreased progesterone, there can be increased desire. I don't think it's fair to gender it and to say that men and women have their sexual peak at different ages. Having this idea of sexual peak excludes people who identify as being asexual. "


Watching porn when you're young can cause erectile dysfunction." The mainstream sort of porn videos show us all these really, like, unrealistic bodies. We've also seen people having abnormally large penises, having erections for longer than 30 minutes. The usual time you can have an erection is, like, five to 30 minutes. And, you know, coming multiple times. These sort of create an idea within young minds that, "My penis is supposed to be long, it's supposed to be big, it's supposed to give so much pleasure to someone and that, you know, I should have a hard-on for, like, an hour." And I think what these can do is cause a lot of anxiety, and you sort of, like, there's this thing called "spectatering," which is that you are essentially having an out-of-body experience where you're trying to watch yourself having sex. And I think anxiety and depression is actually one of the causes of erectile dysfunction.

Shuavarnnasri: Because we live in a sex-negative culture, a lot of us have internalized really negative ideas about what it means to be in our bodies and what it means to have sex and how we're supposed to perform. So I could see those as more direct contributors to erectile dysfunction than just strictly watching porn.

Srinivasan: And now we're on to myths from social media. "Masturbation is bad for you." This is a question that I definitely get a lot. Young men on Instagram DM me and say that they masturbate X number of times a day and if it's bad for them? It is good for you, it has been proven to release endorphins, and I think that you are building on a relationship with yourself. There's no risks of STIs, there's no risk of pregnancy when you masturbate. Make sure whatever you're using to masturbate is clean. It's really the least harmful way to enjoy sexual pleasure. I think most of these are meant to shame you or scare you.

Shuavarnnasri: "Vaginas stretch out with use." They don't stretch out with use. You know, the vaginal canal is a muscle, and our muscles do stretch and contract. So when something is inserted into the vagina or when things come out, like a human baby, then it can stretch. They don't necessarily lose their elasticity, but elasticity can change over time, with age, with estrogen levels decreasing, which causes the vaginal tissue to get thinner or drier. That applies to all the muscles in our body. All the muscles in our body change over time.

Srinivasan: I also want to state that this is also a particularly harmful myth. I think that this is also deeply rooted in the patriarchy, that you need to have the smallest, tightest hole for penetration.


Shuavarnnasri: Oh, God!

Srinivasan: And that, you know, the tighter it is, the more pleasure it gives for your partner. Dr. Jennifer Gunter had this amazing tweet, and it said that if by your logic the vagina stretches out after every use, then the penis should be a flabby balloon after every use, right? Because of every erection. But you don't hear anyone talking about that.

Shuavarnnasri: You know, there are actually people who struggle with their vaginal canal not opening up or not stretching, or it is a little bit smaller, and that causes so much pain. That's a condition in itself. And so for us to think that it's something we should strive for, you know, is really harmful as well and kind of erases people who struggle with that particular condition.

Srinivasan: "Mountain Dew lowers sperm count." Who comes up with these? I wanna know. I just wanna talk. Let's talk. A, I don't think that it lowers the sperm count, and, B, you have other things to worry about if you're drinking copious amounts of Mountain Dew. There are a lot of other things that can cause a low sperm count. It comes down to temperature, age, any recent injuries, whether you've had any sort of testicular problems as a child growing up. Also, drinking copious amounts of alcohol or, you know, smoking a lot of cigarettes can also lower your sperm count.

Shuavarnnasri: Does it come from a place of shame, of trying to get people not to drink Mountain Dew, or does it come from a place of someone using it as an excuse to not use a condom? "That's not gonna get you pregnant because it lowers my sperm count." [laughs] You know, what we would recommend is just that you have a healthy diet, so that your body is functioning as normal as it can. If your sperm is ever yellowish, that's a concern. If the consistency changes drastically for whatever reason, then that's a concern. I wouldn't necessarily equate that to, like, a specific food.


"There is no birth control for people with penises." So, I think a lot of times people equate the word "birth control" with hormonal birth control, but birth control and contraceptives include things like condoms. Another one is a vasectomy. A vasectomy is a form of birth control and something that people with penises can also undergo. There has been clinical trials of an injection for people with penises. Unfortunately, that hasn't reached the United States yet. Birth control definitely exists with people with penises. I think that as sex educators, we are advocating every single day for shared responsibility. At the end of the day, you want to protect yourself.

Srinivasan: We made a COVID vaccine in less than a year. You are telling me we cannot get birth control for people with penises? If you are someone who is young who is watching this and you believed any of these myths, it's totally OK. It's really the system.

Shuavarnnasri: Until we live in a truly sex-positive, patriarchy-free, antiracist society, then we're not going to get to a place where we can have true sexual liberation.