By Sarah Ellis
Popular culture and the media are filled with mixed messages about sex. Songs and movies often emphasize how mind-blowingly awesome it can be… but at the same time, quality sex education is severely lacking in the United States. As a result, misconceptions about female sexual pleasure are common, and it can be difficult to know where to turn to find accurate information about your body and your sexuality.
Sadly, there’s a lot of unreliable information out there. According to Planned Parenthood, only 13 states in the United States require that sex education be medically accurate, and 26 states don’t mandate sex education at all — which leaves it up to individual school districts to decide what to teach. And even when the facts are correct, sex education almost never includes a discussion about how to have a pleasurable sex life, especially for LGBTQIA+ folks. Only nine states require that discussion of sexual orientation be inclusive. Instead, people are left to their own devices to figure out what feels good — and sexuality (especially for women) can be exceedingly complex and varied.
That’s why Dr. Holly Richmond, Certified Sex Therapist and LMFT, has partnered with sexual wellness brand K-Y to help women have more fulfilling and pleasurable sexual experiences. I spoke to Richmond about the most common misconceptions about female sexual pleasure, and what you should know about how female sexuality really works. As it turns out, there are plenty of ways to have an amazing sex life on your own or with a partner — it all comes down to arming yourself with accurate information. Knowledge is power.
Read on to learn five major myths about women and sex.
1. Women Don’t (or Shouldn’t) Masturbate
One of the most common misconceptions Richmond hears is that masturbation is pleasurable for men, but not for women. This has a lot to do with social stigma around self-pleasure. “Women absolutely do masturbate and always have, though I believe with more language around sex positivity and healthy sex for women, the percentage of women and female adolescents masturbating is increasing,” Richmond tells Elite Daily.
A 2019 study by sex toy manufacturer TENGA found that 78% of U.S. women have masturbated, starting at an average age of 15.8 years old — so obviously, it’s not just an activity for men. Solo sexy time is one of the best ways to learn what you like in the bedroom. “If you don’t know what feels good, experiment,” Richmond encourages. “Get curious with your body and your mind.” If you want to learn to masturbate but aren’t sure where to start, check out this guide to get you started.
2. Women Don’t Want Sex as Often or as Much as Men Do
Richmond says she often gets questions about whether women’s libidos are lower than men’s (they aren’t). “Women wanting sex just for pleasure’s sake — not for reproduction — is still not perceived as normally as it is for adolescent boys and men,” she explains. It’s perfectly normal to want sex every day, and it’s also fine to want it once per week or even less. Your sex drive will ebb and flow, depending on your stress levels, your hormone levels, and even your sleep. Everyone is different, and your libido has more to do with your own life than anyone else’s.
It’s also important to note that some bodies take longer than others to become fully aroused during sex, and that’s OK. Richmond says people with vaginas take around 20 minutes to achieve full arousal, which is why foreplay is super important for a satisfying sexual experience. The research on sexual arousal is mixed — one 2006 study found that people with vaginas and people with penises both reach peak arousal in 10 minutes, while other experts have said it takes longer for people with vaginas to become fully aroused.
Everyone’s body is different, and you should never feel like you’re taking too long to be fully turned on. “Believe that you are worth the pleasure you are receiving, that you are not taking too long, and that your pleasure is equally as important as your partner’s,” Richmond affirms. Take your time and experiment with erogenous zones in different parts of your body — Richmond says the ears, feet, scalp, and stomach can all be hot spots for pleasure. The more you know about your body, the more you’ll be able to fully enjoy every moment of sex.
3. Penetration is the Most Pleasurable Aspect of Sex
In your sex education class (if you had one), you probably learned that penetration is the be-all and end-all of sexual encounters. But did you know that less than one-fifth of women can achieve orgasm from penetration alone? Most women require clitoral stimulation as well, which is not as easily achieved during penetrative sex.
As a result, men are having orgasms more often than women. This is what’s known as the orgasm gap, which Richmond describes as “the discrepancy between how many times a man has an orgasm compared to how many times a woman does in heterosexual partnered sex.” In a 2017 report, 95% percent of heterosexual men reported achieving orgasm almost every time during sex, compared with just 65% of heterosexual women. For lesbian women, the number is higher (86%), but still not on par with heterosexual men.
Richmond says this gap is a result of incorrect information about female pleasure. “I believe solid information, good communication and sex positive strategies will help to diminish [the orgasm gap],” she tells Elite Daily. “Women can teach themselves how to have orgasms through explorative self-pleasure and the belief that they deserve it (no shame involved!)” Talk with your partner about what turns you on. “Good, open communication is key for great sex, and most of the time, partners truly appreciate the feedback,” Richmond says. “If a woman is having great sex, her partner will almost certainly be having great sex, too.”
4. Period Sex is Not Enjoyable for Women
Worried that being on your period will make sex feel uncomfortable? Richmond says it’s actually quite the opposite. “Orgasms can reduce symptoms of PMS, including cramps and headaches,” she explains. When you have an orgasm, your muscles contract and release, and your body releases endorphins that make you feel happy and relaxed. Some research has even suggested that period sex could speed up the shedding of your uterine lining, making your period shorter.
5. Masturbation Decreases Your Chances of Having an Orgasm During Partnered Sex
If you masturbate regularly, you should never worry that it will make partnered sex less pleasurable. In fact, self-pleasure can lead to a more satisfying partnered sex life. “Masturbation helps teach women exactly what they want and need as far as arousal is concerned,” Richmond explains. “Helping her know that — and know how to ask her partner for it — actually increases her chances of having a partnered orgasm.” Self-pleasure is one of the most empowering ways to learn to speak up for what you want in the bedroom.
Ultimately, sexuality is so much more complex than popular culture sometimes likes to portray. There is no set formula for an amazing sex life, but with patience and a willingness to explore your body, you can learn what feels good to you. Busting the myths — and ending social stigmas about self-pleasure — is crucial to closing the orgasm gap and ensuring more pleasurable sex for women. “Better sex for women means better sex for everyone,” Richmond assures. Speak up for what you like in the bedroom, and make your pleasure a priority for both yourself and your partner — you deserve all that good lovin’!