Myth-Busting Monday: Why we must myth-bust
Nearly a year ago, I started myth-busting Mondays, wanting to offer educational material to the public that countered the false, harmful, yet still pervasive, information we have acquired about sexuality throughout our lives. From parents, friends, media, religion1, even medical providers2 – sex-negative, poorly modeled, and/or ill-informed seems to be the norm. (Examples of myths I have addressed in my writing3 are around orgasms, bisexuality, the hymen, PIV sex4; other inherited cultural norms I have addressed with clients -the sexual imperative5.) This is the main work I do as a sexuality educator and counselor – tackling inherited cultural interpretations and falsehoods around such a deeply personal construct. I don’t have some secret that is inaccessible to anyone else per se; rather, I am a systems-thinker and insatiably curious about life with the stamina to follow through. Studying and navigating sexuality suits me well.
What is it about sexuality that makes it so…..mythological? Its complexity as well as the silence surrounding it.
Sexuality is a multidimensional, biopsychosocial, changing, personal and political entity that determines how we move individually and collectively in pleasure (sexual and non) and shame (sexual and non), even determining how and what we define as sexual and non. Sexuality is so expansive and broad-reaching that it is almost impossible to fully name and articulate (and this is likely why books on sexuality fail to specifically define sex or sexuality well). The breadth and depth and potentiality of what sexuality is and can be makes nuanced conversations and self-reflection and awareness difficult, so we stay more comfortable by being quiet about the peculiarities of sexuality. It is easier to kick the can down the road, pretend that we are somehow autonomous and exempt from our individual and collective traumas (big T and little t) around sexuality, and, by doing so, fall into oppressive ways of engaging in our sexuality (partnered or solo) in which we lack agency (perceived or real lack) to be our most aligned selves.
If we are to undo our culture’s current and outdated model of sexuality – the limited definitions, old stories, the sexual myths, the misunderstood cultural contexts, the sexual scripts6, the gender norms, the lack of skillful sexual communication, the gendered pleasure gap, othering and sexual hierarchies, body policing, our non-consensual ways of engaging in almost everything7, etc., we need new visions and stories to replace what isn’t working. And that is what myth-busting does. New stories help individuals feel seen and understood when navigating their sexuality with partners, providers, family, and culture when they may have felt silenced and shamed7. By empowering individuals and deconstructing inherited toxins, we also change our culture’s definitions and limitations around sexuality, one person/relationship/family at a time, for a healthier, more consensual, more pleasurable, more autonomous us.
I hope you find these myth-busting articles empowering and resonating. Seeking out educational materials to support your own journey is a massive, individual undertaking, but we are in this together. By moving into self-awareness, you are doing great things.
Good luck community. Thanks for reading and, more importantly, myth-busting.
- Even if you are not religious, it is impossible to remain uninfluenced by that dominant narrative in Western(ized; colonialized, patriarchal, all the interlocking oppressive structures) culture
- Medical providers are expected to have current, accurate knowledge of sexuality. However, the training many receive is inaccurate secondary to the sex-negativity that has permeated sexual medicine, and based in and reinforcing of oppressive systems. Medical providers often fail to explicitly recognize how they operate in systems of power – that is, they are the individual in power in most (all?) patient/client interactions. So what the providers says, their own biases, their approachability, their reception or dismissal of a topic all carry greater weight in an patient encounter that we as a culture take for granted. Patients and clients trust the provider with offering accurate information, but are sometimes (more than sometimes?) shamed or dismissed by the provider. I have personally experienced this and so have many of my clients. This is also why I became a trained sexuality educator and counselor.
- Myth-busting page: https://ignitewell-being.com/myth-busting-monday/
- Most people with clitorises do not orgasm from the PIV mode of sexual engagement, and this idea that PIV “should” be orgasmic for those with a clitoris stems back to Freud’s privileged and biased thinking that vaginal orgasms were “mature” (said a man, in a position of power, with a penis…..ugh. next!). Further, this focus on PIV is part of the sexual scripts we have inherited (see below), gives folks a narrow range of what is perceived as normal or acceptable sex and pleasure, keeps the gendered orgasm gap in place in part by centering the person with the penis’ experience and ejaculation. The fixation on PIV also plays into how we name and navigate other options. For instance, “foreplay” – this is seen as less than, even though it is often how/when those with clitorises will climax; this event is often short and a lead up to the real thing. Some sexuality professionals recommend calling foreplay “coreplay” to decenter PIV as the main event.
- The sexual imperative implies that sex is equally important for everyone (it isn’t and shouldn’t be, we are all entitled to our specific levels of desire and interest in sex), you should prioritize sex (see earlier statement), and should be having both great and normal sex (let me know how that balance goes – it sounds like and impossible tightrope, but it is effective when we think about capitalisms impact on sexuality – it guarantees stressed out and searching people willing to pay for solutions). Some people also cope with un/undersatisfying sex and relationship challenges by cutting off or diminishing their desire for sexual encounters. You are entitled to your own embodied experience and understanding of your needs without being shamed (see #6
- Script theory: several folks have contributed to the sexual script theory, including John Gangon and William Simon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_script_theory) and used by sex therapists today, such as Ian Kerner in his latest book So Tell Me About The Last Time You Had Sex (systems-thinking sexuality educators, counselors, and therapists should all be able to speak to the scripts). The idea is that we have a script, like a theater script, in how we are “supposed” to behave during encounters and perform sex, which includes whose pleasure is centered, who initiates, who is more submissive, etc. We all like to assume we are makers of our stories and experiences, but the scripts shows how cultural learning can impact our encounters and experiences.
- We live in a non-consensual culture. Think historically (and the echoes, even screams, currently) of indigenous genocide and the stealing and forced labor of various racial groups – most notably, African people. Think of our undervaluing and stealing of various forms of labor currently, from the gendered and sexuality pay gap, to the unpaid, household and childrearing labor of (typically) women. Think of how we expect children to obey their grownups – eat their vegetables, kiss their grandmothers, etc. Think of our media representations of relationships and social behavior; most on point?, porn rarely features conversations around consent and we know that lack of consent is part of the porn industry. This consent issue in porn is changing with ethically made porn.
- Shame is a control mechanism of oppressive systems and operates heavily around sexuality to keep people small and out of touch with themselves. Shame victim-blames and silences, keeping the individual and the culture stuck and feeling like “its just me”. The way to end shame is to speak to it, in safe places, with safe people. We are less alone than we were led to believe. If we don’t have safe places or people to help us navigate our shame, accessing similar stories from other people may help.
The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT500; sex-positive, trauma-informed sexuality counselor and educator (she/her/they/them); copyright protected, please cite accordingly. The graphic is mine.
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