16 Things Sex Therapists Wish You Learned in School
Vaginas aren't supposed to taste like candy, and other information you need to know.
The questions you didn’t know to ask
The mechanics of sex haven’t changed, well, since humans started having sex. But even though you may have a good understanding of the basics, there’s so much more to a healthy sex life than understanding which part goes where. In fact, ignorance about sex is one of the leading causes of bad sex. Thankfully, this is also a problem that is relatively easy to fix, says Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD, clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and host of the “Confessions of a Sex Therapist” podcast.
“In my experience, there are some issues that come up repeatedly that were either not taught in school or were taught wrong,” he explains. “In addition, you need to take into account that people learn about sex in a lot of other ways, including from their culture, environment, religion, and societal norms—and not all of that is accurate either.”
You should be talking about sex more
“Too many people feel that they should not discuss sex, but talking openly about it is one of the best things you can do for your sex life,” explains Jones. Talking about it with your partner leads to better sex, talking about sex with others helps ensure that you and they are properly educated, and talking about it yourself improves your self-acceptance, confidence, and self-esteem, he adds.
The vagina is self-cleaning
All those douches, deodorants, sprays, powders, inserts, dyes, and even jewels (yes, “vajazzling” is a thing) aimed at helping women feel “fresh” or “clean” or “pretty” down there are nothing more than marketing, says certified sex therapist, Kimberly Resnick Anderson, LCSW, and assistant professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine. And not only are they not helpful and perpetuate the stigmas and myths around vaginal discharge and odor, but they can actually hurt your vagina. “Unless a woman has an infection, it is clearly established that soap and water is all that is needed to maintain vaginal health,” she explains. “These products can actually undermine the body’s balance of flora and cause irritation, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Girls should be taught that their natural vaginas are nothing to feel ashamed of or try to fix, mask, or change.”
Vaginas aren’t supposed to taste like candy
The vagina is a body part just like every other body part and so it’s going to smell like, well, a body part. The surprising part is how many people assume otherwise, says Myi Baker, a sex therapist and host of the sex-ed podcast “Quickies with Myi.” “Your vagina is not candy or fruit and it should not taste like them. Trying to make your vagina taste like something else really isn’t safe,” she explains. Instead, the goal should be to maintain a healthy vagina and for both sexes to be aware of what that really smells and tastes like. “Everyone’s body is different and there is no set guideline for how a vagina should taste,” she says.
Even the pros get a lot wrong
Tasha Reign, an adult film actress worries that too many people learn about sex from the internet: She says that, just like regular movies, a lot of what you see can be CGI, and all of it is staged, scripted, and fantasy. “I’ve been a part of the sex industry for decades, doing everything from posing for Playboy to adult films to reality TV shows, and I’ve seen so many misconceptions and flat-out wrong information,” says Reign, who is also a writer and sex educator. “I think everyone can benefit from better sex education.”
You can get an STD through oral sex
Too many people still think that anything short of penis-in-vagina penetrative sex isn’t “real” sex, and that can lead them to do risky things that could end in contracting a sexually transmitted disease or another bad outcome, Dr. Jones says. (This is just one of the 25 common sex mistakes people make.) “Even younger generations still have the misconception they cannot contract an STD through oral sex and so often people do not consider practicing safe sex during fellatio or cunnilingus,” he says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stresses that any exchange of bodily fluids or genital contact can spread disease—always remember to use barrier protection, such as condoms or dental dams—to protect yourself and your partner.
A woman can get pregnant any time of the month
While a woman is more likely to get pregnant during the fertile window surrounding ovulation, it isn’t impossible to get pregnant during other times of her cycle, Baker says. Unfortunately, too many people think they can “time” it so they can have unprotected sex without using birth control. “Most people believe that a woman can only get pregnant two or three days out of the month, or that she cannot get pregnant during menstruation, but this is a myth,” she says. A woman can ovulate more than one egg in a cycle that can be fertilized. Sperm lives up to five days, meaning even if you don’t have sex on the day she ovulates, sperm from previous days can still linger and fertilize the egg leading to pregnancy.” (That’s just one of the 50 interesting sex facts you probably didn’t know.)
There’s no such thing as safe sex
Sex simply has too many variables to control, yet too many people think that just by doing the few things they learned in school they should be perfectly safe from disease and pregnancy. “‘Safe sex’ is a misnomer, really it should be called ‘safer sex’,” Dr. Jones says. You should still take precautions like using condoms but you should still get regular check-ups and screenings from your doctor; more importantly, if you ever feel unsafe before or during a sexual encounter in any way, walk away.
Consent must come first
One of the most damaging yet widely believed myths about sex is that you’ll “just know” if someone’s into it and that asking permission will break the mood, Reign says. “I wish kids learned in school, right from the beginning, that consent is the most important part about sex,” she explains. And getting consent isn’t simply asking “Hey want to have sex?” says Samantha Heuwagen, LMFT, a sex therapist in Atlanta, Georgia. “Sex is a very complex term that encompasses so many things from intercourse to heavy petting to kissing, and you need a clear, verbal ‘yes’ at each stage in order to move forward with partners, leaving nothing up to chance,” she explains. (In addition, everyone should know the signs of sexual assault and how to get help.)
People are actually having less sex
Perhaps the most surprising change of recent years is that while our culture has become more sexualized, according to national surveys people are actually having less actual sex than ever before. The average “first time” age has increased over the past generation with teens now experiencing sex for the first time at around 18 years old, according to a 2014 study published in Women’s Health Issues. At the same time, the percentage of high-school students who’d had sex dropped from 54 to 40 percent according to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. “This means that in the span of just one generation, today’s young adults are on track to having less sex and fewer sexual partners than both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers,” says Alexis Taylor, a sex therapist and relationship expert and founder of Tinderoplus.
Anal sex requires lube
Anal sex was probably not discussed in your sex ed class but the taboo is gone and these days many people enjoy it, Jones says. But this is one scenario where lack of education can really hurt: “People may not realize the importance of using lubrication during anal sex,” he explains. “Since the anal cavity does not self lubricate, lubrication is not only necessary to make the experience more pleasurable, but even more importantly, to help avoid any injury or damage.” (And don’t forget to use protection—just one of 11 secrets your butt wants you to know.)
Healthy sexual relationships take work
Having sex isn’t that tough for most people but having good, quality sex where you feel connected to your partner is another story altogether. “If there was one thing I wish adults knew about love and sex, it would be what a healthy relationship looks like and how much work it is to maintain,” Heuwagen says. “A lot of my clients think once you get married or coupled up, you can put the relationship on autopilot and good sex will be a given. That’s simply not true. It takes work to have a happy, healthy sexual and romantic relationship.”
Sexual orientation is more fluid than you think
“Current research indicates that sexual orientation is not something that is fixed in utero and may change at different stages of people’s lives,” Jones says. This is important to know, says Jones, because he has seen too many people have an identity crisis when their attraction doesn’t align with their stated preference. “This can produce a lot of anxiety,” he says. “By recognizing that for many people sexual orientation is fluid, they can be assured that they are normal.”
The first time with a new partner can be like the first time ever
Sex is a lot of fumbling and feeling around, literally and figuratively—and that’s true not just the first few times ever, but also the first few times with each new partner, says Taylor. “The first time you’re intimate with someone, there’s a learning curve,” she says. “Luckily, bad first-time sex doesn’t condemn you to a lifetime of bad sex or mean your partner is bad at sex. It simply means you need to communicate better.” And make sure you’re avoiding these 25 little sex mistakes you don’t even realize you’re making.
Virginity doesn’t mean what you think it does
The issue is in the many different ways people define sex, and the truth is that the answer really doesn’t matter, Taylor says. “‘Virginity” as a concrete status is largely a myth: “Not having p-in-v sex doesn’t make you pure, hymens can be broken on their own, and not everyone has sex with penises anyway,” she explains. “Virginity is a social construct meant to tie a person’s—usually a woman’s—worth to her sexuality and having or not having sex does not define who you are.”
Men can have low libidos too
Popular culture tells us that men are always ready for sex—a stereotype that is hurtful to men and boys, Anderson says. “Men have emotions (depression, anxiety, stress) that can interfere with their libido and they also experience physical barriers, such as fatigue, illness, or medication side effects that can undermine their sexual drive,” she explains. “The message that men should be ‘Energizer Bunnies’ when it comes to sex can make men feel inadequate and unmasculine if they do have periods where they don’t want sex and it can make their partners feel like they are unattractive.” Here are some reasons men say “no” to sex.
- Women's Health Issues: "Trends in Ages at Key Reproductive Transitions in the United States, 1951–2010"
- Centers for Disease Control: "Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing
- National YRBS: 1991—2015"
- Kimberly Resnick Anderson, Certified Sex Therapist, LCSW, and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.
- Tasha Reign, an adult film actress, writer, and sex educator.
- Christopher Ryan Jones, PsyD, clinical psychologist, sex therapist, and host of the "Confessions of a Sex Therapist" podcast
- Alexis Taylor, a sex therapist and relationship expert and founder of Tinderoplus
- Myi Baker, a sex therapist and host of the sex-ed podcast "Quickies with Myi."
- Samantha Heuwagen, LMFT, a sex therapist in Atlanta, Georgia