...from a former adult retail worker, current sex educator, and writer.
I’ve worked in adult retail for a cumulative two years across two stores, and in the adult industry for almost six years now. What I mean to say is, I’ve gotten a lot of questions, and nearly as many shocked gasps when I’ve dropped some tips and trivia about sex and sexuality. Here are some of the most common misconceptions I’ve come across in my tenure in the adult industry.
Anal sex always hurts. I didn’t learn about safe and pleasurable anal sex until I was working in adult retail; I was filled with as many preconceived notions about how it hurts as most other people who hadn’t had a lot of exposure to the gay community. I also encountered many straight, cis-gendered women who conceptualized anal sex as this thing you put up with for the pleasure of a male counterpart, going through a painful ordeal to show devotion to their pleasure. I’m here to tell you that that’s not true. I’m especially here to tell you that if you’re a straight woman being pressured into making the “sacrifice” of anal for a male partner, it doesn’t have to be that way. Not only does it not need to be painful, it can be pleasurable if done with a little process and patience. The keys are never to force things, to start small, use lubricant, and relax into it. Having an orgasm or two beforehand can make it more pleasurable for both parties: believe me, if the person receiving is enjoying themselves, it’s much better for the person giving.
A big part of this issue is the companies that seek to profit off of this stigma and lack of readily available information about the butt stuff. Anal numbing creams, gels, and sprays are not only unnecessary but potentially harmful: pain is your body’s way of saying, “Woah! Slow down! This could hurt us!” So if you’re numb, you don’t receive those signals. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend the book Anal Pleasure and Health by Dr. Jack Morin for an in-depth look, but there are plenty of great guides online.
Sex toys make you go numb and ruin sex for you and your partner. I don’t know how many times I encountered heterosexual men who were threatened by vibrators when I worked in adult retail. There were jokes and nervous laughter covering real and present fear that an inanimate object could more efficiently pleasure their partner and make them obsolete. Sex toys are not a threat to your sexual partners (unless you or they make them as much), and can even be a way to enhance and refresh partnered sexual experiences. Many people with clitorises have a difficult time orgasming without clitoral stimulation (up to 70%, by some accounts), and a small vibe can help enhance sensation for penetrative play and make everything a lot more pleasurable for everyone involved.
One thing that fueled this fear of bringing toys into the mix is the myth that vibrators “numb you” permanently. Some kinds of vibration can contribute to a buzzy-numb feeling during or after use, but the effects are not permanent.
Sex needs to be a certain way. Usually, people think a strong vibrator or a rabbit vibe is the be-all-end-all for people with vulvas, and that dudes just want to stick their penis in something soft. This can’t be farther from the truth: pleasure is deeply unique from one person to another. It’s informed by our entire lives up until that point–the mental and physical stimuli that make us tick come in endless combinations and complication levels. Many people would come into the store I worked at, see that I was femme, assume I had a vulva (which is none of anyone’s business, but that’s a rant for another day), and ask me what to get for their girlfriend. My answer was always: "I’ve never been intimate with your girlfriend, let alone met her, so I have no idea!"
Not everyone is going to like the same things. Our bodies and minds are all different, and not everyone responds to the same kind of stimulation. We’re all unique and different, but sometimes that can make people feel “broken” if their body doesn’t work the way they think it should. That anxiety, in turn, can become an “off switch” for arousal.
Another factor is that new sensations sometimes take a few tries before your body knows what to do with them. If you want to try something new, give yourself a few attempts at conscious and focused trials of different kinds of stimulation to let the body and brain decide how they feel about and want to react to it.
Pelvic floor exercises are just for after giving birth. Pelvic floor exercise (kegels), like that which you can do on your own, or with the aid of kegel balls or a prostate massager, is not just for those who have given birth! Pelvic floor exercise can help prevent or treat incontinence, make orgasms stronger (it’s the muscle that contracts during orgasm), and help relieve tension that can result in pain. Plus, a toned pelvic floor can contribute to making anal play more comfortable. For people with penises, pelvic floor exercise can result in ejaculating harder, or over longer distances. For people with vulvas, pelvic floor exercise can be beneficial both before and after birth.
Piggybacking off of that, since some pelvic floor exercise is accomplished via prostate toys: Prostate massage can feel good, of course, but can also contribute to overall prostate health and functioning, including helping ease issues like painful ejaculation, treating or preventing poor urine flow, helping prevent or treat erectile dysfunction, and more.
However, always make sure to check with a medical professional before performing these exercises.
General misconceptions about how vulvas and vaginas work. This is actually one of the most common misconceptions, and it takes so many forms as to be difficult not to generalize. There is this idea that vulvas are mysterious, unknown things: something with only question marks filling the Wikipedia page dedicated to the topic. You could fill whole volumes with pop-science “research” about whether or not the g-spot exists. The only really mysterious thing here is that the structure is mostly internal and out of sight: and that most scientists studying anatomy have historically been male. Here is a small sampling of some of the most common misconceptions:
The clitoris and the complex internal structure (many liken it to an iceberg: there’s more under the surface than what you can see) is erectile tissue like the tissue which makes up the penis. It engorges with blood when physically aroused, becoming more sensitive and even creating something akin to an erection.
“Tightness” in vaginas is actually a sign of a few different things: not being aroused, anxiety, or fear, primarily. If you or someone you know experiences frequent pain in response to penetration, they may have a medical condition that they should speak to a doctor about. That aside, tightness is actually a sign that things aren’t going right and you should slow down, put a focus on getting the person aroused or relaxed, or even stop the activity all-together.
Most people, some reports claim 70%, who have clitorises report that they require clitoral stimulation to orgasm. This can be solo, or in conjunction with penetration or various forms of play. Get creative, and remember that clit stimulation can often be a good thing if done right. If you have a clitoris, feel free to experiment with different kinds of stimulation to see what feels right. If you’re a partner of someone with a clitoris, ask them what feels good! Asking for direction can be part of foreplay and the sexual adventure itself, and can add to the experience.