Busting 10 Myths about Intimacy and Relationships

From orgasms to theories of love, there are so many myths and misconceptions in this world around intimacy and relationships. Below are 10 that I come into contact with on a weekly basis.

An orgasm is required

One of the worst things that has ever happened to us as a society around sex is when we learned the fallacy that one must achieve an orgasm for sex to be considered completed and successful. While yes, an orgasm can feel great for some people, not everyone can have one. So what do we tell those people? The amount of pressure this notion has put on individuals of all genders has resulted in them experiencing a wide variety of sexual dysfunction. If we can spend more energy focusing on everyone involved enjoying the experience instead of trying to achieve an orgasm, we can then create an environment focused on pleasure instead of performance.

Penetration is required for it to be called “sex”

When I am meeting a new client for the first time, I am always curious to hear how they define sex. Most of them state something like, “sex is going all the way and everything else before that is foreplay.” While that is one definition of “sex,” I find it to be restricting and problematic. You see, when we define sex as just penetration, we miss out and can rush through all the fun stuff that happens before it. We also can then discount it as well. When we think of the social construct of “virginity,” it makes us feel like we are missing out on something unless we have penetrative sex, but we are not. I define sex as an over-encompassing word to describe intimate actions taken by two or more people. Whether it is intercourse or outercourse, you are having sex. So, enjoy it!

Everyone has a desire to engage in sex

The great Emily Nagoski pointed out in her seminal work, Come as You Are, that sexual desire is not something innate within every human but instead, a learned behavior that develops once we are born. This message needs to be shouted from the rooftops because people tend to think that if they have a low sex drive, or none at all, that something is inherently wrong with them, and that they are “broken.” This could not be farther from the truth. Just like we can learn to ride a bike, we can also learn how to enhance the desire we have for more intimacy with our partner(s). Think of it as learning something new. Practice allows us to create insight, which then can lead to new behaviors.

Spontaneity is the goal

Speaking of Come as You Are, another crucial piece of information came in the discussion of responsive desire. You see, we all have excitatory receptors (accelerators) and inhibitory receptors (breaks) that drive our desire. Spontaneity, although shown to be quite frequent in media and pop culture, can be extremely rare for people to attain. Because of this, when sex and intimacy are not “spontaneous,” people feel like they have “lost a spark” and that they may be doomed. Quite the opposite. Spontaneity works on a completely opposite spectrum compared to responsive desire, which is something humans can all tap into when it comes to arousal. So instead of focusing on trying to make sex more spontaneous, focus more on figuring out what your accelerators and breaks are so that you can tell your partner(s) what to do to get you in the mood for intimacy.

Masturbation is cheating

Well, if this just isn’t purity culture at its finest. Self-stimulation, solo sex play, or masturbation is the process of engaging in sex with oneself. Individuals engage in this sort of behavior for several reasons: stress reduction, feeling unwell, sleep aid, enjoyment, etc. Among some of the top reasons I am a fan of masturbation is because it allows people to explore their bodies and their fantasies in a safe, controlled environment. There is a notion that if one masturbates, they are cheating on their partner (s). I see no reason why this would be the case. Usually, these individuals are dealing with their own insecurities or jealousies within the relationship, typically around sex, so they try to control their partner’s actions. Masturbation is one of the few ways we can be with ourselves in an intimate environment and we should not give that up for anyone.

Attraction (to others) goes away once you are in a relationship

This is a notion I deal with quite often, especially within cis-hetero-monogamous relationships. This again comes back to some sort of fear and insecurity within us that says we must be the only one our partner is attracted and aroused by. If not, we must be doing something wrong. It is strange to me that this concept exists in the world. Somehow people think attraction and desire are automatically turned off the moment we entire a relationship. As if, we have drunk a potion that makes us only find our partner attractive. This can lead to mistrust, miscommunication, and secrecy. Instead, focus on how you can take the attraction you may feel for other people and bring that energy into your current relationship. You won’t be disappointed.

Having sex on the first date is wrong

If shows like Sex and the City and Sex Education have taught us anything, it is that sex is not something we should be afraid of. Women, more specifically cis-women, have been taught that “no man is going to buy the cow if you give the milk away for free.” Outside of how comical that saying it, it also depicts the added pressure that women face as being keepers of sexuality within a relationship. When it comes to sex, all genders should engage with it whenever they want to when meeting someone new. Sexual compatibility has been pushed aside in favor of finding shared values and moral compatibility, among other compatibility measures. This is not a competition. Just like you want to be sure that the person you are dating shares your same love of hiking and binging Netflix shows, you want to be sure that you two are sexually compatible as well. I am bummed that I still have to say this in 2021, but there is nothing wrong with you if you enjoy sex.

You must push through the pain during (penetrative) sex

Messaging surrounding pain in this world is a little clunky. When it comes to sports, we are taught to “push through the pain” by coaches and our parents even though trainers and medical professionals say not to. We are then taught that if we like pain in any way something must be defective about us (i.e., liking BDSM play). I want to talk about pain during penetration. The answer is pretty simple: if you are feeling any intense pain during intimacy, STOP! Your body is telling you that something is wrong and that it needs a break. What is key here is that “intense pain” is subjective and different for everyone. I tell my clients that there is a difference between feeling “uncomfortable” vs something hurting them. Do yourself a favor and when you are noticing your body reacting, take a quick break and do some deep breathing. If the problem persists, stop penetrative sex, and go back to focusing on outercourse. Remember, penetration is overrated.

You can’t love more than one person at a time

The battle between monogamy and consensual non-monogamy is a sad one to me. Although both relationships styles are completely healthy and research points to sustainable outcomes for both, there are still people in this world who want to put one over the other. This is a battle I will be fighting until the end of time, and I am up for the challenge, but why is there this competition? Well, for one thing, people fight about it because of how they view love. We are taught in this society about finding our “one true love” or “soulmate.” We grow up viewing Disney movies and television programs that talk about this as well. So, we set down the path of trying to find “the one” and when we see others who are doing it differently than us, we shame them for it. If we truly want to look at the feelings of love then we look at what chemicals get released. Research shows that a wide variety of chemicals are activated when we experience affection for another person (e.g., oxytocin, acetylcholine, serotonin, dopamine, etc.), yet we put these artificial guidelines in place to separate one kind of love from another. At the end of the day, love is not a zero-sum game. We experience love with multiple different people each and every day, whether it be with family members and friends, or a significant other. So instead of shaming others who may love two significant others at the same time, ask yourself why you feel so threatened by the notion?

Being single means you are defective

Let’s wrap up this post with one that I see our society coming to terms with quicker than the other ones I have mentioned. Couples Privilege, or the benefits one gets when they are in a monogamous partnership, is promoted heavily in our culture. You do not need to go very far to see this phenomenon in action. Think of all the messaging you received growing up about finding a partner and starting a family. People view relationships as a goal they must knock off their list. Because of this, individuals who are single feel like they are missing out on “important” milestones in a person’s life. This then leads to people going into dating trying to be liked by the other person instead of trying to find someone who will see and know them for who they are. Being single is a perfectly healthy relationship style. I have seen this promoted more and more recently and it makes me happy. Do me a favor, stop asking your friends or family members when they are going to be married. They don’t like the question and being in a relationship is just not for everyone, and that is okay.

Cleveland Sex Therapy is owned by Matt Lachman, a licensed professional clinical therapist who specializes in working with individuals, couples, and polyam folx on their concerns relating to sexuality, intimacy, and overall sexual health. The goal of Cleveland Sex Therapy is to promote inclusivity and nurture sex positivity. For more information, feel free to contact him at Matt@ClevelandSexTherapy.com