The biggest misconceptions men have about sex, according to sexologist Andrea Koh
Let's talk about sex
You’ve probably believed a few of these surprising sex myths—from the right way to “pull out” to the nuances of consent, we’re deep diving into the biggest misconceptions men have about sex.
“Bigger is better”. “It’s only good sex if it looks like it does in porn”. “Harder, better, faster… stronger”. There’s a chance you’ve encountered these ideas—or even believed them yourself—at some point or another. It’s no surprise—with the abysmal state of sex education in Malaysia, there has been little opportunity to correct these ideas before they had festered into mainstream thought. As it stands, sex is still very much a taboo topic on our shores, but there is fortunately change on the horizon.
To help us debunk the biggest misconceptions about sex, we spoke to Andrea Koh, a sexologist and a professional counsellor at Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy Malaysia, who is also a member of both the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM) and the All Women Action Society (AWAM) as well as a partner of Durex Academy. Ahead, find the full debrief, from whether size actually matters to what really counts as losing your virginity:
Misconception #1: The bigger the size, the better the sex
In our phallus-obsessed world, a bigger penis is often seen as more desirable. But, does size really matter? According to the experts, unfortunately, being well-hung doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a stallion in bed. Koh asserts that it’s actually very subjective: “While some individuals may place importance on size, it is crucial to note that sex isn’t solely focused on penetration or intercourse; it involves a variety of activities like arousal, foreplay, intimacy, technique. The ability to meet each other’s needs and desires plays a significant role in determining sexual satisfaction.”
“Additionally, the preferences of your partner play a significant role because not everyone enjoys a larger size, as it can be uncomfortable or even painful for some individuals,” she elaborates. “Hence, it’s not the size that guarantees better sex, but open communication, mutual respect, and a focus on overall sexual well-being that are more likely to contribute to a fulfilling and enjoyable sexual experience than a specific size alone.”
Misconception #2: The harder you thrust, the better it feels
Rough sex can be fun, but going harder and faster (and stronger) isn’t always better. Koh explains that engaging in rough sex without proper care and consideration can lead to several potential harms, including:
- Physical discomfort and pain: “Rough or aggressive thrusting can cause significant discomfort and pain for women, making the experience unpleasant and potentially causing injury, especially for individuals with medical conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, or other pelvic health issues. It can also cause damage to the cervix, leading to pain, bleeding, or other complications.”
- Vaginal tears and abrasions: “Excessive force during intercourse can result in tears or abrasions in the vaginal area, which can lead to pain, bleeding, irritation, or a burning sensation. This can also increase the risk of STI transmission due to potential exposure to bodily fluids and microtears in the vaginal area.”
- Emotional and psychological distress: “Rough sex without proper consent or communication can lead to emotional and psychological distress for both partners, potentially causing a strain on the sexual relationship.”
- Other physical injuries: “Engaging in excessively rough sex can have less common consequences, such as injuring one’s own genitals and increased risk of heart attack or back pain. Similar to exercise, pushing beyond safe limits can result in self-inflicted harm.”
Overall, Koh reiterates that “it is important to approach sexual activities with care and consideration for both partners’ well-being, ensuring that the intensity and pace are suitable for everyone involved.”
Misconception #3: Sex is just like it is in the pictures
Of course, by pictures we mean pornography. An unfortunate fact is that, for many young people in Malaysia, pornography is the primary source of sexual education, which has led to a warped perception of what sex actually looks like among the population. In fact, according to Durex, a whopping one in three Gen Zers believe that the sex shown in pornography is normal sex.
Koh emphasises that “at the core of it, porn stars are actors, and just like any other movies we watch, they are performing to make the scenes visually appealing and captivating. Thus, what is depicted in pornography may not reflect real-life sexual experiences accurately.”
Some of the major differences between the sex portrayed in porn and sex in real life include:
- Unrealistic expectations: “Pornography often portrays exaggerated and unrealistic scenarios, where sexual activities focus primarily on performance and visual appeal. There are a lot of crucial aspects of real life that are often omitted in porn, such as the need for foreplay or emotional connection. In reality, the emotional bond between partners and taking the time for foreplay is necessary to ensure both partners are properly warmed up and able to be intimate before engaging in the main actions. Unrealistic expectations for individuals can lead to disappointment or dissatisfaction in real-life sexual experiences.”
- Consent and communication: “In pornography, consent and communication may not be explicitly emphasized or portrayed but in real-life, clear consent, as well as open communication about desires and boundaries, are essential for a healthy and respectful sexual experience especially when engaging in high-risk activities such as those related to BDSM. Attempting such activities without proper consent and thorough research and understanding can be dangerous, especially for beginners.”
- Diversity of bodies and experiences: “Pornography often showcases a limited range of body types and sexual experiences, which may not accurately represent the diverse realities of real-life sex. Everyone’s bodies, preferences, and desires are unique, and it’s important to embrace and celebrate this diversity. Certain sexual behaviours that seem common in pornography may not be as common in real-life. For example, the idea that all women can squirt (female ejaculation) or orgasm through vaginal penetration are misconceptions perpetuated by porn.”
- Editing and scripting: “Pornography is carefully edited and scripted to create visually stimulating content. The timing of climax or ejaculation varies from person to person, but porn usually doesn’t show this variability. It’s important to recognize that editing techniques can create an illusion of quick and effortless experiences.”
- Safety and hygiene practices: “Pornography typically neglects to portray essential aspects of sexual health, such as the use of condoms, regular STI testing, and other safe sex practices. In real life, it is important to prioritise safety, consent, and practising good hygiene for everyone’s sexual well-being.”
Understanding these differences is crucial to developing a healthy and realistic perspective on sexuality, which in turn helps to promote safer, more fulfilling and more satisfying sexual experiences.
Misconception #4: Virginity is objective
There’s one thing we’ve all been told our whole lives—losing your virginity involves “p” in “v” action and the breaking of the hymen (a soft and elastic tissue found in the vagina). However, this isn’t necessarily the case. Koh stresses that “virginity is not determined by the condition of a specific body part but is rather a personal definition that varies among individuals”. In short, virginity is a social and cultural construct. Different people may have different perspectives on what constitutes sexual activity—some may consider only penis-vagina penetration as sex, while others include a broader range of sexual activities like oral sex or heavy petting as sex. Either way, as Koh puts it, “It is not our place to judge or impose a single definition of virginity on others.”
Misconception #5: The hymen only breaks during a girl’s first time
On the topic of virginity, the hymen is also a highly misunderstood organ. “Unlike other organs, the hymen does not serve a specific function and can naturally wear down or tear on its own,” says Koh. “It is not a reliable indicator of virginity since it can be easily broken through regular daily activities, and its rupture does not necessarily cause bleeding. In fact, identifying a torn hymen can be challenging, as it can blend seamlessly with the surrounding vaginal tissue.”
On that note, contrary to popular belief, not all women will bleed during their first sexual encounter. “Bleeding can occur due to various reasons, including the tearing of the vaginal entry or rough sexual activity, rather than the breaking of the hymen,” Koh expands. “The absence of bleeding does not negate someone’s virginity.”
Misconception #6: Condoms are optional as long as you pull out
Nothing is more freeing than throwing caution to the wind, but there is a time and place for it—and it is certainly not while you’re doing bedroom gymnastics. According to Koh, there are numerous risks associated with having unprotected sex, including:
- Unintended pregnancy: “The withdrawal method, where the man removes his penis before ejaculation, is not a reliable form of contraception. Pre-ejaculate fluid can contain sperm, which can lead to pregnancy if it comes into contact with the vagina. Using a condom provides a barrier that significantly reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy.”
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): “Engaging in unprotected sex puts individuals at a higher risk of contracting STIs. These infections, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and herpes, can be transmitted through various sexual activities, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. It’s important to note that some individuals may not exhibit symptoms of STIs, making it more challenging to determine if you or your partner are free from these infections. Additionally, there’s a risk of unknowingly transmitting these infections to other sexual partners. Condoms act as a barrier, preventing direct contact and reducing the risk of transmission.”
- Personal peace of mind: “Using a condom provides a sense of security and peace of mind to fully enjoy the experience. It allows individuals to engage in sexual activities with reduced anxiety about unintended pregnancies and the transmission of STIs.”
Overall, the key message is clear: Wrap your willy before you get silly. Cover your stump before you hump. When in doubt, shroud your spout. Wear a condom. Koh asserts that you should “consistently and correctly use barrier methods of contraception, such as condoms, to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies. It’s also important to ensure that the condoms are stored and used according to the instructions provided.”
“In addition, it’s highly recommended to get tested regularly for STIs (every three to six months), especially if you have multiple partners or engage in high-risk sexual behaviours,” she continues. “Regular testing helps detect any infections early and allows for timely treatment and prevention of further transmission.”
Misconception #7: Consent ends at “yes”
By now, most are aware that sex is not sex unless there is explicit consent (anyone arguing otherwise is likely a terrible human being). However, what isn’t often discussed are the nuances of consent. Was your partner’s ‘Yes’ enthusiastic? Have you checked that your partner is comfortable with you trying something new mid-coitus? The reality is that consent is an ongoing conversation that should continue throughout your sexual tryst. Here are some effective ways Koh suggests to ask for consent and ensure your partner feels comfortable during sex:
- Open and honest communication: “Talk about boundaries, desires, and comfort levels before engaging in any sexual activity. Create a safe space where both partners feel comfortable expressing their needs and boundaries. Use clear and affirmative language to seek consent, such as ‘Is this okay?’ or ‘Do you like it when I touch you here?’ Encourage your partner to openly express their desires and boundaries.”
- Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues: “Consent can be given through verbal affirmation or non-verbal cues such as enthusiastic participation, body language, and active engagement. Silence or non-action does not indicate consent. It’s important to note that a person who is unconscious or intoxicated cannot give consent regardless of whether they had consented earlier. Make sure to continuously check in with your partner and be attentive to their responses.”
- Respect and accept boundaries: “It’s essential to respect and accept your partner’s boundaries without question or pressure. If your partner says “no” or expresses discomfort, immediately stop, provide support and ensure their well-being. Never guilt or coerce your partner into changing their boundaries. Remember that consent can be withdrawn at any point during sexual activity.”
Koh concludes that “by prioritising open communication, active listening, and respecting boundaries, you can create an environment where consent is continuously sought and enthusiastic participation is encouraged. Ultimately, we want to ensure that all individuals involved in sexual activities feel comfortable, empowered, and fully in control of their choices.”
Misconception #8: You can only catch and spread HIV if you’re a gay man
This is dangerous rhetoric that continues to thrive despite mounting evidence against it—we reiterate: Anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, can be at risk of contracting HIV. Koh has listed the need-to-knows about how HIV is transmitted and the prevention methods for your reference:
- HIV is primarily transmitted through certain bodily fluids like blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. Common transmission routes are unprotected sex, sharing needles, and mother-to-child transmission. These fluids need to come into contact with damaged tissues, such as cuts or open wounds, or be directly injected/transmitted into the bloodstream.
- To prevent the spread of HIV, the most effective methods are using condoms and taking medication specifically designed to treat HIV. Condoms act as a barrier, preventing the transfer of fluids that could potentially carry the virus into any cuts or wounds that may occur during sexual activity.
- Taking medication can significantly reduce the risk of transmission and reduce the amount of HIV in the blood, to the point where the viral load becomes very low and is undetectable by tests. This helps prevent transmission to others and allows individuals living with HIV to lead healthier lives.
Misconception #9: If you’re suffering, you just have to suck it up
There’s a big ‘grin and bear it’ culture when it comes to mental health in men, but we’re here to remind you that it is okay to feel how you’re feeling and that you don’t have to suffer in silence. No matter how big or small your problems seem, do not hesitate to seek professional guidance—and that goes for all aspects of your mental health, not just the parts pertaining to sex.
If you have specific concerns or difficulties related to your sexual health or relationships, Koh urges you to consult with a healthcare professional or a trained sex therapist. “Reliable sources such as healthcare providers, reputable websites, or sexual health organizations can provide accurate information and provide expert guidance, support, and tailored advice to help address your unique needs,” she says. “This proactive approach ensures that everyone involved can navigate their sexual experiences in a safe, healthy, and enjoyable manner.”
About Durex Academy
When it comes to sexual health, education is imperative. Durex Academy is a comprehensive sexual well-being education initiative that provides excellent sources to dispel common misconceptions about sex. The campaign aims to host on-ground workshops in local universities and colleges, partnered with SPOT Malaysia, to provide the Malaysian youth with the necessary knowledge to have well-informed and safe intimate experiences. The workshops will cover everything from STI education to consent to keeping yourself protected. Find out more about the campaign here.
For more stories on wellness and sexual health, click here.
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