Our Visitor Experience Assistant Sophie Ramsey tackles sexual health myths in our latest journal post. With the museum’s Private Parts exhibition opening, we’re looking at some of our collections related to the thought-provoking new display.
In this blog we are going to be talking about the wonderful and sometimes strange world of sexual health myths. Can you think of any?
Much like our mental health, which thankfully is now becoming a more open topic of discussion, our sexual health has long been a stigmatised subject in society. Even though it is an important aspect of many of our lives, it has not been given the attention it deserves. A good understanding of sexual health benefits most, if not all, of the population, especially young people.
Whenever someone brings up the topic of sex or sexual health, how does it make you feel? Does it make you feel embarrassed? Awkward? Reserved at the idea of talking about it openly with friends or family? Or are you someone who doesn’t mind talking about it, because you know how important it is to value your sexual health?
A lot of people are still embarrassed about looking after and discussing their sexual health, but this should not be the case. Our sexual health is just as important as our physical, mental, and emotional health. Each of these links together to create better personal well-being.
So, let’s get onto the myths. Here are just a few sexual health myths that I have heard. And I also got a few suggestions from Thackray Museum colleagues. So, thank you to those guys who helped out!
First, who has ever heard the myth that someone cannot use a condom because their penis is just too big? Well, this just simply is not true. A condom can fit any sized penis. You can even fit your whole arm in there! So, if someone ever tells you this, you should know it is a myth. If you want to use condoms when having sex, then use one. You are in control, and if a situation makes you uncomfortable then you do not have to carry on. There are many varieties of condoms today, so there will be one that suits everyone’s needs.
Next myth: Only same-sex couples can get STIs. Obviously, this is not true. Anyone can get sexually transmitted infections. This can be from sex with someone who is of the same sex or someone of a different sex. STIs have no preference. Even using sex toys that have not been properly looked after can spread STIs, so keep them clean! Many STIs can be symptomless, especially at first. Getting regular checkups is important, especially when starting a new relationship or if you are having sex with different people.
Another myth is that disabled people cannot or do not have sex. People who have any kind of disability are just like everyone else, so of course they can have sex like everyone else. The only thing that could stop someone with a disability from having sex is not being able to give their consent, which leads me onto my next myth…
‘Consensual non-consent’ is consent, right? Or, if a person with a vulva seems aroused, isn’t that consent? How about if a person with a penis is ready to have sex, but the other person may not be? No, none of these mean consent in any way. The only thing that can be considered consent to have sex is if the other person actively tells you that you have their consent. And this is the same even if you are in a long-term relationship. A relationship is not itself a permanent consent to have sex.
Our next myth is that penis size matters. This is a myth that is still very prominent today and can have seriously negative effects on mental health. The size of a penis does not decide who is a ‘real man’, nor whether the sex will be any good. Sex can be enjoyable regardless of what shape, size or whatever else your penis looks like. There are so many things that can help sex feel better even for someone concerned with their size. There are sex toys available to help you out. There are even things on your body you can use to help. Why not use your fingers too?
Perhaps the biggest sexual health myth of all, though, is the old-fashioned idea of ‘virginity’ and ‘losing’ it. I put this in quotation marks because the thought of losing your virginity or someone ‘taking’ it is simply inaccurate. When you decide to have sex for the first time, it just means you have had sex for the first time (and you do not have to be a pro at it either!). The idea that the hymen must break for you to be considered no longer a virgin is just as much of a myth. The hymen is just a thin piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vulva. It may tear or stretch when you have sex for the first time, but this does not have anything to do with you losing anything. The hymen can tear or stretch when doing exercise too! Virginity is a myth and should not be used to add pressure.
This brings me onto my last point, not so much a myth but something that is not talked about enough in our society: Everybody is normal, beautiful, and wonderful in their own way! No matter what you look like, where you come from, what your gender or sexual identity is, what colour skin you have, or if you have any kind of disability: you are normal and you are amazing, and everyone should be able to feel this way about themselves and each other!