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18 Myths About Sex You Need to Stop Believing

To better separate fact from fiction, we've debunked some of the most common sex myths.

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Sex burns major calories

Truth: Experts estimate thirty minutes of sex burns 85 to 150 calories. Theoretically, you need to burn about 3,500 calories to lose a pound of body weight, so if you were using up 100 calories every time you had sex, you could lose one pound if you had sex 35 times. The problem is this: Most people are not having sex for thirty minutes. Instead, the average duration of sex is closer to three to seven minutes, according to a study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. (Fun fact: Sex may not burn a lot of calories—but having sex once a week may help you live longer.) Your best bet is to enjoy sex for all the great things it can do for your pleasure centres and feelings of closeness and intimacy, and save your calorie-burning rumination for treadmill time at the gym.

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There’s a 10-year difference between a male and female’s sexual peak

Truth: Men’s testosterone peaks at around age 18, but women’s estrogen levels peak in their mid-20s. Since low hormone levels have been associated with a low sexual drive, some have asserted that when your levels are at their highest, your drive must be at its peak. But if we believe frequency of sex to be the factor that matters most in sexual peak, then there’s no difference between men and women. Sexual desire constantly fluctuates in both, and is related to many more factors than age. Over the course of a lifetime, you will see your sexual desire and activity go up and down many times.

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Sex can give you a heart attack

Truth: Having sex more often is associated with having a healthier heart. A study in The American Journal of Cardiology found that men who reported having sex twice a week or more had a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than men who had sex once a month or less often. This seemed to be independent of erectile dysfunction, which is a known risk factor for heart disease. The chance of having a heart attack while you are having sex is also thought to be very low. What if your heart has already had problems? The reality is that the physical exertion most people put in when having sex is similar to walking up two flights of stairs. (Find out which libido type best describes you.)

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Oysters and chocolate are turn-ons

Truth: No study has ever shown any sexually enhancing effect from oysters. They do contain a lot of zinc, which sperm need to be healthy, but otherwise, scientists have found no special ingredient to suggest it has any sexually enhancing effects. Several studies suggest that chocolate is tied to lower blood pressure and better functioning of blood vessels, which may enhance blood flow to the penis (important for erections), but this is just speculation.

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Men think about sex every seven seconds

Truth: A study in the Journal of Sex Research effectively debunks this myth. Looking to tally up the true number of times men (and women) actually thought about sex in a day, the university had 238 students keep track of their thoughts about food, sex, or sleep for one whole week. The findings revealed men think about sex far less than you think, averaging about 19 sex thoughts per day instead of the nearly 8,000 thoughts per day that would be netted if men were really thinking about sex every seven seconds. Thoughts about food came in close second, with 18 thoughts per day, while sleep garnered 11 thoughts per day. As for the women, they averaged about 10 thoughts about sex, 15 thoughts about food, and 8.5 thoughts about sleep per day.

(Psst: Here’s why men always fall asleep after sex.)

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Woman always experience orgasm with penetrative sex

Truth: Not all women have an orgasm during penetrative vaginal sex. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that only 18.4 percent of women said intercourse alone led them to have an orgasm while 36.6 percent said clitoral stimulation was necessary for orgasm during sex. Meanwhile, an additional 36 percent indicated that, while clitoral stimulation was not needed, their orgasms felt better if their clitoris was stimulated during intercourse.

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Sex can affect sports performance

Truth: This theory has been debated for many years, with coaches often telling their athletes to abstain from sex before big games or competitions. However, a 2016 study in the journal Frontiers in Physiology suggests sex has little impact on athletic performance—and could actually have a positive effect instead. (Plus, here are some natural ways to boost your libido.)

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Having sex can cause a pregnant woman to go into labour

Truth: This myth is so pervasive that even doctors will tell their full-term patients to give it a try. But not only does having sex near your due date not start labour, it may actually delay it, according to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. Researchers found that women who were sexually active in the final three weeks of their pregnancies carried their babies an average of 39.9 weeks, compared to 39.3 weeks for women who weren’t having any sex. The science remains shaky.

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Women take longer to get turned on than men

Truth: It turns out that there may be no difference in the time it takes men and women to reach peak arousal, according to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The researchers used thermal imaging to measure blood flow to the genitals in a group of 28 men and 30 women who viewed videos that were either neutral, humorous, or erotic. They found that arousal time, as measured by the time to peak genital temperature after viewing the sexually arousing video, was the same in both groups. So if you are female and feel like it takes you a lot longer to get turned on than a male partner, it may be true, but the cause may be more mental than physical. (Trouble getting turned on? Wait for nighttime; science says the best time to have sex is right before bed.)

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Blackouts, storms, and terrorist attacks cause a baby boom nine months later

Truth: The theory is that thanks to a blackout, a blizzard, a bomb scare, or some other factor that interrupts the lights and internet, people decide to entertain themselves in other ways. While this sounds like a fun plot to a rom-com, this is an urban legend, says S. Philip Morgan, a Duke professor of sociology and demography and author of a study looking at the  effects of these events on birth rates. The data simply don’t support the idea of a “blackout baby boom,” he says.

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Sexting has a negative impact on relationships

Truth: Much has been said about the downsides of sexting. But when done in a consensual way in a committed, secure relationship, it may take your sex life from habitual to raging. Sending sexual messages and pictures to your significant other increases not only your sexual satisfaction but also your overall happiness in your relationship, says Emily Stasko, MS, MPH, lead author of a 2015 study on the impacts of sexting on relationships. The committed relationship part may be key, however, as people who identified in the study as single found that sexting had the opposite effect, reducing sexual satisfaction.

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Sex and intercourse are one and the same

Truth: Intercourse generally means penetrative sex. However sex can, and should, include so much more than that, says Melissa Coats, a licensed professional counsellor and sex therapist in Alpharetta, Georgia. Sex has an emotional component and encompasses a wide variety of sexual activities, which may or may not include intercourse, she explains. Conflating the two can cause a lot of trouble for people dealing with things like pain during intercourse, erectile dysfunction, or past traumas. “It’s a myth that every time you have sex, it must include intercourse or it somehow doesn’t count,” she says.

(Think your sex life is over at 40? Here’s what to expect when you’re getting it on in your fourth decade.)

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You can tell who has an STD

Truth: “A very common sex myth people believe is that you’ll be able to tell if someone has an STD by looking at them,” says Robert Huizenga, MD, author of Sex, Lies & STDs. The truth is that many STDs don’t show outward symptoms or may not show up until much later. There’s no substitute for getting a medical screening and being totally honest about the results with your partner—and expecting the same transparency from them, she says.

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Having a much younger partner means mind-blowing sex

Truth: Has Hollywood sold you on the desirability of being a “sugar daddy” or “cougar?” Don’t believe it. While a May-December relationship works for some people, a study published in the Review of Economics and Statistics found it wasn’t always ideal, at least in the context of marriage. Researchers found that those married to a much younger or older spouse had lower earnings and education levels than couples who had similar ages. Of course this is just one study and not the last word on optimal relationships.

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There’s no such thing as too much masturbation

Truth: Delayed ejaculation—meaning when men struggle to have orgasms due to a reliance on porn and masturbation—is more common than you think, says Cyndi Darnell, an Australian clinical sexologist and sex and relationship therapist. Both men and women can become so accustomed to a certain kind of pressure and speed from stimulating themselves that they find it difficult or even impossible to orgasm with a real-life partner, she explains. A reliance on porn can also give you unrealistic expectations of how your partner should look and act in the bedroom. (Plus, here’s how many times per week men should ejaculate to prevent prostate cancer.)

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Breakup sex is a terrible idea

Truth: Hooking up with your ex can make your breakup more complicated but it doesn’t seem to prevent you from moving on, according to a 2018 study published in The Archives of Sexual Behavior. Researchers found people who pursued sex with an ex were more likely to be emotionally attached to their former partner, but it didn’t seem to increase their chances of distress, intrusive thoughts, or low mood. The researchers conclude this challenges common beliefs about the potential danger of pursuing sex with an ex. (Also, these breakup movies will help you get over that relationship.)

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Sex toys are “cheating”

Truth: “I’ve heard a lot of myths about sex toys, such as they can ‘break’ you or ruin you for ‘real’ sex,” says Stella Harris, certified intimacy educator and sex coach and author of Tongue Tied: Untangling Communication in Sex, Kink, and Relationships. “It’s not cheating if you bring toys or masturbation into your partnered sex! Everyone needs a helping hand sometimes, even if it’s their own. Don’t hesitate to touch yourself during sex, or encourage your partner to do so.” As long as they are used in moderation, sex toys won’t reduce your genital sensitivity or do other physical damage. You do need to be careful, however, to pick only sex toys that are safe and non-toxic. Silicone, steel, Pyrex, glass, or specially laminated wood are the only materials certified as safe for use inside your body, according to a Yale University review. (Psst: These are the most popular sex toys in Canada.)

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A woman’s vagina can reveal how many partners she’s had

Truth: Vaginas can temporarily stretch to accommodate a large object—how else would women ever survive childbirth?—but they don’t stay stretched out, Harris says. That means multiple partners, a partner with a large penis, or using large sex toys don’t affect the vagina. How tight or loose a vagina feels depends on the woman’s genetics and the fit between her and her partner.

Next, read on to discover these interesting sex facts you probably didn’t know.