Has The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary.
Lately, sexual freedom appears limitless. A series of significant reforms and bedroom revolutions seem to have finally broken our sexual shackles. The sexual revolution of the ‘60s, recent legalization of same-sex marriage and the ongoing fight for women’s rights have all merged to shape a society where adults can have whatever type of mutually consensual sex they’d like.
But are we truly free? What other societal factors influence how we perceive sex?
The reality is, sexual myths continue to define how we approach what happens in the bedroom. Opinions that the internet feeds us and pass from person to person have little to do with what goes on between the sheets. In this book summary, we’ll pull down the pants of these myths, discovering a more reasonable and realistic view of modern sex.
In this summary of The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills, you’ll find out
- what shared sexual fantasy 45 percent of men and 37 percent of women have;
- why current norms have changed our outlook on what premature ejaculation is; and
- what Disney movies can tell us about our views on female sexuality.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #1: Why People Today Aren’t Necessarily Having More Sex
Have your parents or grandparents ever complained about today’s generation being too sexually active?
Those types of concerns aren’t uncommon. There have been many societal changes over the past 50 years; changes that have thoroughly transformed the way we perceive sexuality.
Back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, there was a typical familial structure: the nuclear family. The morals of that period dictated a postponement of sex until after marriage.
Now, our culture is far more accepting of same-sex couples and single people being sexually active. As a result, there are considerably more single people lately. From 1960 to 2013, the number of single adults in the United States rose from 15 percent to 28 percent.
And just like sexually active singles and casual sex have become more widely accepted, the concept of people being in a committed but open relationship has as well.
With all of these societal changes underway, one can overlook those from previous generations thinking that people are having more sex than ever. Not to mention, there are shows like Girls Gone Wild that could lead one to believe it’s common for females today to get naked in exchange for branded clothing.
In reality, people aren’t having as much sex as some may believe. While it is more acceptable to be openly sexually active now, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is doing it all the time.
Sociology professor Paula England conducted the Online College Social Life Survey from 2005-2011 in the United States. It revealed that while 72 percent of college students engaged in some casual sex during their college years, it was not a daily occurrence.
The survey found that in college, 40 percent of students had less than three sexual encounters, and those encounters didn’t always involve intercourse. Only 30 percent of the students in the study had ever engaged in sexual intercourse.
So the next time your parents seem concerned about today’s generation, you can tell them that even the college kids are rather tame.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #2: The Existence of Sexual Taboos and Norms
In our modern day, politically correct society, it’s not only casual sex that’s considered acceptable. Sex-positive people often are unsurprised – let alone scandalized – by the vast array of fetishes out there.
That points to another sexual myth: that all sexual norms are extinguished and there are no more taboos. According to this myth, the real taboo now is suggesting there are “unacceptable” sexual behaviors.
It’s true that Western culture has become very tolerant of matters such as same-sex relationships, masturbation, and oral sex; subjects widely considered perverted not too long ago. There are indeed people who throw the very idea of perversion and normativity to the wind.
Consider Michael, a 32-year-old man who identifies as straight but will also occasionally watch gay porn and kiss men. He’s in an open relationship with a woman for the last four years, and it includes concepts like possibly engaging in a threesome. For Michael, “normal” doesn’t apply to sex.
But Michael’s attitude can’t be considered the norm, either. Most people’s conception of sex and sexuality is still saddled with opinions on what is and isn’t normal.
Though society has rejected many sexual constrictions from previous generations, other norms have emerged.
An example of a current sexual taboo is premature ejaculation, which only began being regarded as an issue in the twentieth century. At some point in the ‘60s, it grew to be considered shameful for a man to orgasm before his partner.
We can see the evolution that this has produced. In the first of the famous 1948 Kinsey Reports, Professor Alfred Kinsey found that 75 percent of American men ejaculate in the first two minutes of intercourse.
However, more recent studies show that most men last an average of 5.4 to 7.5 minutes. We can presume that these results are in response to the taboo of premature ejaculation and men’s desire to not fall victim to it.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #3: Advantages and Disadvantages In Sex, Based On Attractiveness
You may not want to admit you’re superficial or you find someone desirable just because they look good. Nevertheless, physical attraction is only a component of human nature.
That indicates being more “attractive” comes with some sexual benefit, a concept that brings us to our next myth. The myth is the idea that those living in democratic societies tend to believe in equal opportunity, and like to think everyone has an equally good chance of finding a sexual partner and sexual fulfillment, but this isn’t truly the case.
Take Sam, for instance: a classically handsome 28-year-old computer scientist with dark hair and blue eyes. Since hitting puberty, he’s been encouraged by those around him and told of his attractiveness. That, in turn, gave him more confidence in his sex life. Sam started going on dates early on, and his successes only worked to reinforce his confidence, making him even more attractive to others.
As presented above, attractive people can enter a cycle of positivity, a fact sociologist Catherine Hakim recognized in 2008. She saw that attractive people are considered also to be more intelligent, kinder and successful than their less-attractive peers. This type of treatment can spark the positivity cycle, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more that a person is smiled at and treated as if they are is smart and sweet, the more likely they are to be happy and confident.
Another sexual myth is that “unattractive” people don’t have a sex drive.
We often refrain from indicating a person’s unattractiveness as a reason for their inability to find a sexual partner, preferably imagining they don’t have sexual feelings or even that they’re not entitled to having them.
Natalie was a shy and chubby adolescent who frequently daydreamed about having sex with boys from school or anonymous men, but never dared to share those feelings with anyone. Now, at 26 years old, Natalie believes there’s an unspoken rule in college that you’re not allowed to talk about sex unless you are attractive.
Unfortunately, these kinds of rules in society make people feel unworthy and shameful regarding their sexual desires.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #4: Our Sexuality, Fitting Into Society and Identifying with Culture
Some people think of sex as only a natural impulse, but if that were the case, then why is it such a significant part of human existence?
Sex isn’t solely a biological concern; it’s also a reflection of our social and cultural lives.
Human expressions of attraction depend considerably on the society you live in. For example, let’s say you’re attracted to someone of the same sex. If you live in a conservative community, you might hesitate to express your feelings. The potential consequences – violence or social exclusion – may not be worth risking.
This sort of fear can be overwhelming. According to a 2014 study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, secrecy regarding homoerotic tendencies is far more extensive than previously estimated.
In the United States, openly homosexual people make up just a fraction of society: only 2.3 percent of adults identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual. The less obvious and unspoken truth is, 45.2 percent of men, and 36.9 percent of women, have fantasized a same-sex erotic encounter.
Another reason that these feelings are so pivotal to our lives is that they’re crucial to how we understand ourselves and each other.
It’s natural for people to want to be part of a social group, so we observe how people think of sex and behave, adapting our sexuality to fit the norms. As a result, sexuality becomes a central point of how we see ourselves fitting in with a social group.
For example, if the societal norm is losing your virginity as a teenager, then a person who remains a virgin after turning 20 might be thought of as awkward, unattractive or uptight.
Also, current Western norms suggest an active sexual life is a symbol of liberation and open-mindedness. However, this attitude can produce some anxieties. Many women feel pressured to orgasm during intercourse, but neurologist Kim Wallen has found that 75 percent of women can’t achieve orgasm through vaginal stimulation alone.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #5: Male Homosexuality and Stigmas of Femininity
The Supreme Court decision to establish gay marriage as legal in the United States is just one sign of how significantly attitudes about homosexuality have relaxed in recent years. For men, male homosexuality has become less threatening overall and what was once an enormous taboo, especially among men, has become much less of a concern.
That's quite remarkable because it wasn’t too long ago that a man who had just one sexual encounter with another man would be branded gay and shunned by his peers.
In 2008, American sociologist Eric Anderson, a scholar of traditional masculinity, concluded that the lines between being gay or straight were steadily blurring.
Forty percent of men who participated in Anderson’s surveys admitted to having a same-sex experience. In 2012, he discovered that 89 percent of straight British men had kissed men on the lips as a sign of friendship.
Though those statistics suggest a widespread acceptance of homosexuality, there are still prejudices that persist, like the ones toward feminine men.
The male rejection of femininity is so strong that even people in homosexual social circles often isolate the more effeminate men, even though their community includes several.
Yusuf is a 26-year-old gay man living in Sydney, and he’s fully aware of the paradoxical truth that many gay men don’t like overly feminine guys. The effeminate men are often viewed as kitschy, or even worthless.
Yusuf admits he’ll poke fun at effeminate men occasionally, saying that those who receive anal sex are sometimes described as “dirty little bottoms.” He also notes that this isn’t different from how some straight men make fun of their female partner’s behaviors.
Oregon University sociologist C.J. Pascoe reinforces these tendencies. He’s observed that when the word “faggot” is used as an insult on the schoolyard, it doesn’t refer to a boy’s sexuality, but rather his lack of masculinity.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #6: Cultural Reinforcement
There’s a common saying: When men are alone, they talk about sports; when women are alone, they talk about men.
Yes, while this statement is reductive and a little sad, it also contains some truth. Our culture tends to encourage women to define themselves through men, an inclination that can start at an early age.
Often, culture has dictated that a girl becomes a woman when she finds a male partner. And, even before that, the thought of males is a constant recurrence in the lives of females.
Two sociologists in Illinois conducted a study on elementary schoolgirls in 2008. They asked the girls how they experienced girlhood, and, surprisingly, all of them circled back to the same theme: boys.
When the girls were in a group, they would continuously end up talking about their crushes, and frequently take turns admitting which boy they were interested in. It was evident their experience of girlhood was predicated on their relation to boys.
It’s clear to see how this infatuation with boys is reinforced in popular culture.
Even without taking into consideration more mature media, children’s films tend to reinforce the notion that a female should be in a relationship with a male.
A 2009 study in Gender & Society revealed that children’s movies commonly portray heterosexual romance as magical, special and transformative. Falling in love is connected with romantic music, deep eye contact and surroundings resembling the Garden of Eden.
In the Disney film Aladdin, falling in love is linked to a magic carpet ride over a city on a starlit night.
Disney movies put particular emphasis on the transformative power of heterosexual love. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel needs a kiss from the prince before she can talk, and, in Beauty and the Beast, a kiss from Belle is the only thing that will change beast back to a prince.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #7: Modern Lovers and the Pressure of Sex Standards
To the virginal, sex can look like a mystical rite of passage. And a person’s first sexual act is usually full of pressure because it’s supposed to be as magical and incredible as we’ve been led to believe. This pressure doesn’t ease over time, either: it often increases as we get older.
This brings us to our final sex myth: we have to meet the various criteria of “good sex” if we want to have a fulfilling sex life.
Good sex is supposed to be several different things nowadays: passionate, exciting, spontaneous, inventive and ultra-orgasmic. The concept of good sex is so commonly accepted that it can seem like we’re failing as humans unless we achieve that level of ecstasy regularly.
So it shouldn’t be surprising that we tend to look for help in getting there.
Mobile apps have even gotten into the lucrative market of helping people with their sex lives. In 2013 the app Spreadsheets became a success by turning people’s devices into a tool sensitive to sound and motion. It can keep track of how often someone is having sex, how long it lasts and how many “thrusts per minute” there are. Then, it takes all the data to inform you how your sex life rates on a bigger scale.
Being that we live in an age where even our phones can tell us whether or not we’re good in the sack, modern lovers face some considerable pressure to perform.
According to a 2008 study by S. Anderson, an increasing number of young men are taking Viagra before sex to ensure they perform well.
A 2010 study by psychologist Gayle Brewer reveals that women often feel like they have to perform by being loud during intercourse. But this isn’t occurring when they are having an orgasm; it’s when they think their partners are climaxing.
Even men occasionally act in the bedroom: 28 percent admitted faking an orgasm, according to a 2010 Kansas University study.
It may be time to relax, be yourself, focus on having fun and enjoy the moment.
The Sex Myth Key Idea #8: In Review
The key message in this book:
We’re often confused as to why our sex lives don’t appear to be flourishing. Haven’t we discarded all the taboos and made sex guilt-free and empowering? Well, not really. Instead, we’ve created new standards of what it means to have good sex. It drains sex of most of the fun and can turn it into a very anxiety-inducing experience.
Try having sex without the pressure.
Don’t consent to do something you don’t want to, and never do anything harmful. Also, if your partner climaxes too quickly, doesn’t have an orgasm, forgot to shave, or even is someone who chooses not to shave – give them a break and let go of your expectations and judgments.