said Kristen Mark, a sex and relationship researcher and professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota Medical Institute for Sexual and Gender Health in Minneapolis.
Here, sex educators and researchers break down some common misconceptions, and share accurate information you might not have learned in traditional sex education.
“It’s about how we take care of our bodies in a holistic way. How we approach mental health, access to information and services, and the culture we live in,” Levkov said.
Understanding and promoting sexual health can allow people to feel empowered in their own sexual bodies and decisions, and can open debate on these topics, potentially allowing people to challenge these misconceptions head on.
“Normal” does not exist
The most common question in Levkov Fields is “Am I normal?”
“People don’t want to feel like they’re weird, they’re an outsider, that something is wrong with them,” she said.
There is no single definition of normal, according to Levkov. Since each person is unique, looking for a normal may not be the most helpful thing. Instead, Levkov added, people could learn about their own bodies and desires.
Sex can be fun
Growing up in a suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina, Alexa Hulse, 20, learned at a public school that people have sex to have a baby. There was no discussion of the female orgasm, and the male orgasm was discussed in the context that it helps the sperm find the egg to make a child.
The truth is, sex is fun, said Mark from the University of Minnesota. She added that the number one reason humans have sex is for fun.
“I was so afraid of sex,” Hulse said. “There was no discussion about fun. It was just about having children and being afraid, because you don’t want to get pregnant and you don’t want to get an STD or an STD.”
But for many people who have sex and are trying to avoid pregnancy, restricting access to reproductive health care can be a burden, Mark said.
“Contraception and access to reproductive health care such as abortion are really important components of ensuring that people can engage in their human right to have pleasurable sexual experiences,” she said.
STDs are not always visible
People may have an STI and not realize it because most are unnoticeable, said Debbie Herpink, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health and author of Sex Easy.
“The only way to know if someone has an STI is to get tested for an STI, which all sexually active people should do from time to time (frequency varies based on a person’s sexual behaviors and risk factors, so check your health care provider to see what they recommend for you), Herbenick said via email.
Sexual desire levels vary
Herbnik said that low or high libido doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. She added that people’s sex drive often fluctuates based on external factors such as stress levels.
On top of that, there’s a common misconception that men always want sex while women don’t, Mark said. These assumptions can cause people to worry that something is wrong with them, when really sex drive and libido are not based on sex or gender and vary by person.
Comprehensive sex education doesn’t mean people will have more sex
Some think sex education is about morals and values, but it’s really about health information, including understanding physical autonomy and consent, Mark said. She added that sex education gives people the opportunity to know that saying “yes” is just as important as saying “no,” and vice versa.
Mark said that covering topics like consent in sex education classes doesn’t mean people will run out and have sex. She added that this instead means that people will better understand how to navigate the world, both when it comes to sex and when it doesn’t.
“It will include talking about physical independence and the right to have the ability to say no to touching your body if it is not required,” Mark said of sex education for younger children. “It’s about learning about boundaries and respecting your body.”
Levkov said that young people may not have the same level of confidence in the future if adults do not answer their questions.
“If any young person, no matter how young or old, has a question, it deserves an answer,” she added. “It’s about the amount of information we provide, the delivery system, and the values behind it.”