sex drive myths
Trigger warning: discussing subjects of
Sexual Violence
warning: Adult content
Article by:
Céline Vonlanthen
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October 21, 2021
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A (Much-Needed) Catch Up On Sex Drive

As you may know, next week is Asexual Awareness Week. Asexual people are an integral part of the LGBTQIA+ community and are included under the ‘A’ letter, like aromantic people. However, people often have trouble understanding what asexuality means. Some of them even have trouble grasping the fact that asexual people do, in fact, exist. And I blame our poor sex educational models for it, because we know next to nothing on sex drive. Have you ever talked about asexuality or libido in sex ed? Yeah, me neither.

Today, we will try to address some of the huge gaps sex ed has left us to deal with. And why not have a little fun doing this? Maybe a little myth vs reality? It is more than time to debunk myths on sex drive, is it not? So, sit down and grab something to drink, because this may take a while. Oh, and by the way, I have decided to illustrate this article with cute pictures of beetles, because these subjects can be hard sometimes and we all need a little cuteness from time to time.

Cute beetle
Photo credits: Thimoty Dykes/Unsplash


Myth 1: Everybody has a sex drive

I think I will not surprise you if I say that sex has been given enormous importance in our Western societies. From free, easily accessible porn to sexist advertisement or the taboo and stigma of sex work, it is difficult to escape it. People have tried to tell other people how to have sex and what their sex life should be like for the longest time – think about bans on gay sex and blowjobs, or pseudo alpha male influencers’ posts on how many times a day you should have sex. This has participated into creating heavy social expectations on people’s libido. Maybe you have read stuff on how sex life is essential for the well-being of a couple, because if you stop having sex then it means your relationship will crumble. Maybe you have been told that you should have sex at least once a day. Maybe you have been told that you are not normal if you do not want sex.

Well, it is all bullshit. Not everyone experiences a sex drive and it is perfectly ok. You do not need to have a libido to be happy. You do not need to have sex to have a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Asexual people exist. They are thriving. And they can have perfectly happy relationships without having to have a sex life.

Also, remember that asexuality is a spectrum and it can go from people wanting to have sex to please their partners because the activity is nice without being thrilling, to people being completely repulsed by the mere thought of sex or even just the word ‘sex’ itself. All of them are perfectly valid. Not wanting to have sex does not mean that you are broken, much less that you should be fixed. Let me add here that forcing someone to do something they do not want has never ‘fixed’ anyone. So, do not do it.

PS: because the lack of asexual representation is abyssal and no one can explain asexuality better than asexual people, here is one asexual activist you will want to follow: Yasmine Benoit. You can also check the Asexual Visibility & Education Network’s FAQs on asexuality, it is very complete and super useful if you feel like you might be asexual or if someone you know is.

A super cute family of beetles - yes, I decided that they are family
Photo credits: Krzysztof Niewolny/Unsplash

Myth 2: Men have a higher sex drive than women

Ah, the patriarchy! It has given us such wonderful stuff, like deciding that half of humanity are lesser human beings and should not have access to the same resources as the other half <3. By now, I should be used to it, but I am always taken aback by the extent of the stupidity patriarchal societies can demonstrate. Honestly, I think that pretty much every myth in this article comes from the patriarchy.

So, women and sex, then. This is the start of a very long chapter, I am afraid. Following the general, absurd and overbearing idea that everything has to be binary, people have tried to make a distinction between (cis) women and (cis) men, happily ignoring every other gender identity along the way. This wonderful thinking has led to us differentiating between two genders with supposed intrinsic characteristics, such as all men having a high sex drive and all women having a low sex drive.

I hope this does not come as a shock but like, no. Not at all. According to sex therapist Leigh Noren, we only started differentiating between men sexual drive and women sexual drive at the turn of the 18th century (Lelo, July 2021). Before that, both were considered ‘equal’, in the sense that human beings in general were thought to be obscene and immoral (yay, we love a good sex-shaming!). So, the difference is pretty recent, reflecting the shift in society’s attitude towards women. From the 18th century onward, at least in Western societies, women’s desire has been heavily frowned upon. We have taught women to repress their desire, keep it hidden and not love sex. In short, a whole fun program. Cue to today’s society expectations on women (and men), and you obtain a wonderful cocktail of injunctions about sex.

Believing that men have a higher sex drive than women is not only wrong, but it is also harmful, because it reinforces rape culture by making us believe that women have to force themselves to have sex in order to make up for the gap in libido. This is awful. And also frightening. If you ask around you, chances are that every woman having relationships with men has, at least once, consented to have sex when they did not want to. To please their partner, because of emotional blackmail, because they have been taught that they ought to satisfy their partner, because they are afraid that they will leave her.

We need to change that.

A cute and determined beetle climbing its way up to destroy the patriarchy
Photo credits: Krzysztof Niewolny/Unsplash

Myth 3: Women’s desire has to be provoked

The other side of the ‘Women have a lower sex drive’ coin is that many people think that women’s desire has to be provoked. In other words, women are not capable of feeling sexual desire on their own, but men must first touch them for them to realize that they do want to have sex.

I guess I will not really surprise you if I tell you that this all participates in maintaining rape culture. I have said this over and over in this piece, and I will repeat it again, but everyone has a different sex drive. There is no norm, no rule you should conform to, no gender-based differentiation. If someone does not want to have sex with you, you should respect it and not try to push your desire onto them. You can express it, sure. But do not assault people. I promise you, if and when someone wants to have sex with you, they will tell you.

So no, women’s desire does not have to be provoked. Some of them have a really high sex drive, some of them no sex drive at all, and sex drive is fluctuant. It depends on an infinity of other parameters; your mental health, level of anxiety or tiredness, whether you are worried about something, medication, birth control, menstrual cycles, hormones, how your day went, your body image and so on. Maybe we should also consider women’s mental load and the pressure we put on them to conform to society’s beauty standards before making gender-based assumptions on libido, as if it was something intrinsically linked to your gender identity.  

Seems like those two are having fun!
Photo credits: Egor Kamelev/Pexels

Myth 4: The lesbian bed death

This myth is directly linked to the societal belief that women have a lower sex drive than men, mixed to the lesbophobic and heteronormative assumption that sex between women cannot be real sex (Idk, apparently some old dudes had too much time in their life and decided that they were important enough to decide who was having real sex and who was not). So, if you take women’s lower sex drive, add the apparently natural tendency of women to be more emotionally than physically affectionate (old dudes again, what can I tell you), plus a pinch of ‘lesbian sex is not real sex’, congratulations you have cooked the lesbian bed death.

But what does it mean, exactly? Well, that people who are not lesbians themselves have decided that after sometimes together, lesbians stop having sex altogether and just cuddle instead, meaning they have less sex than other couples. I think we all realize how absurd it is. First of all, others’ sexuality is none of your business. Second, you cannot make assumptions based on wrong, sexist and lesbophobic hypotheses. Third, leave lesbians alone. Some of them have a lot of sex and some do not. But that is not for you to determine. Also, yes, lesbian sex is real sex and will not be less real because you think that no penis is involved – and if you think so, congrats, you have managed to be transphobic as well, thank you for the effort.

Cuddly moment
Photo credits: Egor Kamelev/Pexels

Myth 5: Women with high sex drive are nymphos

It kind of feels like we will never finish with myths on women’s sexuality. This one is a pretty old one. The fear of uncontrollable women’s desire or women becoming insane due to (lack of) love or sex are already mentioned in Greeks writings, by authors such as Aristotle, Hippocrates or Galen. The idea of nymphomania as we know it today took its root during the 19th century – not long after the stigmatization of women’s desire. Nymphomania was considered a specific disease, that could be identified and cured. And the main symptom of the disease was, of course, an ‘excessive female sexual desire’ (Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter 1994).

This classification of women’s desire as wrong and unhealthy has harmed a lot of women over the years. Cured varied from regime changes, to changing your pillows or shoving things into your vagina, and, in worst case scenario, asylum. Patients diagnosed were women caught flirting or having a higher sex drive than their husband, or women having a sexual behavior that they were uneasy with, like compulsive masturbation (Journal of Women in Culture and Society, Winter 1994). Because they were all diagnosed as nymphomaniacs, patients whose only fault was to enjoy sex were given unnecessary treatments, and patients who actually suffered from their sexual behavior did not receive appropriate treatments.

I would like to point out that I am not an expert here. However, it has been pretty much agreed upon in recent years that nymphomania does not exist and is a sexist concept, stigmatizing people percieved as women. People, however, can have compulsive sex behavior that they do not feel comfortable with. It can be the case, for instance, of rape or abuse victims, who can then develop a hyper sexualized behavior. Hypersexuality is also an acknowledged disease that can have a negative impact on your health, job and relationships. If you feel like it might be your case, the best is to seek professional help. Here is a website that could be useful to help you understand hypersexuality better: mayoclinic.org.

My favorite of all the beetles in this article
Photo credits: Egor Kamelev/Pexels

Myth 6: Men always want to have sex

So far, we have talked mainly about women. But men also sometimes suffer the consequences of society’s expectations on sex. Indeed, if women are thought to have a lower sex drive, we have grown up with the idea that men want to have sex, all the time.

This is obviously not true. Just like everyone else, men’s libido varies throughout their life, and they are not always thinking about sex or ready to engage in sex. They do not have a high sex drive by definition, just because they have been assigned male at birth. Libido depends on many different factors, as I have pointed out before.

This belief is also harmful because it can cause men not to listen to themselves and engage in intercourse, even if they do not want to. Because they have been taught that if they do not, they are not manly enough. In addition, this myth has another dramatic effect; we are reluctant to consider that men can be abused. Think about it: a man saying that he has been raped or abused, and especially by a woman, is often mocked and ridiculed. Because he should have wanted it and he is lucky to have gotten laid. This often prevents men from speaking up or receiving appropriate help. And it is not ok. So, here is a list of resources that can help men who have been sexually abused if you need it.

Oh, hi there!
Photo credits: Pallam Anil/Pexels

Myth 7: Gay men have sex ALL THE TIME

This one is pretty well known. I mean, if men want to have sex all the time, then if you are a man in a relationship with another man, it must mean that you spend all of your free time having sex. It is only logical. Plus, you saw this TV show, where all the gay characters ever do is having sex. So, it has to be true.

Well, sorry to disappoint, but no. Gay men have other hobbies and, like any adults, they have responsibilities and stuff to attend to. I do not know about you, but personally I have never come across an article like 2 Found Dead: A Gay Couple Had So Much Sex They Forgot To Eat or His Dog Dies: He Forgot To Feed Him, He Was Too Busy Having Sex! or Gay Man Fired: He Could Not Stop Having Sex At Work. We have already covered this in myth 5, but hypersexuality is a disease. Not a queer personality trait.

So, do gay men have sex a lot? Frankly, it is none of our business what other people do in bed (or in the kitchen or anywhere private they like). Maybe some do. Some definitely do not. The important thing to remember here is: leave people alone and stop putting pressure to have sex on them.

The queer community in general is often over sexualized and it is an issue for people who do not want to have sex, who want to wait, or who have sex-induced trauma. It is a great thing to be sex-positive and construct a safe space where people can be themselves, find their boundaries and discuss their experiences. It is not, however, to make feel people like it is mandatory and that they should always be thinking about sex or doing sex. Think about it next time you catch yourself making an assumption on queer people.

Super cute beetle helping their super cute friend climb up the flower – or pushing them but you know what, I like the first option better
Photo credits: Peter Szabo/Unsplash

Myth 8: People with chronic illnesses or disabilities do not have a sex drive

We cannot really say that Western society has ever had a good or appropriate look on people living with a disability. One take has often been to infantilize them and regard them as pure, innocent beings, like we tend to do with children. Well, it is bullshit and it is not helping anyone.

Adults living with a disability are like any other adult not living with a disability: some of them want to have sex and some do not. They are not pure and courageous beings from another world. They are people. They are real. They have strengths and weaknesses, dreams, habits, things they want to do and things they hate. They are not more courageous or better by essence. They do not live outside of the physical realm. Their bodies exist, and they are valid. And yes, some of people want to have sex and actually do.

If you want to challenge your stereotypes on sex and disability and start learning, or are yourself living with a disability, I recommend visiting this website: crippingupsexwitheva.com. It is managed by a sex educator who focuses on sex and disability and it provides you with tons of useful resources!

Cute beetles teaming up
Photo credits: Krzysztof Niewolny/Unsplash

Resources

Once again, I am not pretending that I know everything about sex and sex drive – far from it. I am not an expert and I am not a therapist. I am just trying to help a little but contributing to debunking some common (and dangerous) beliefs around sex.

The most important take here is: only yourself can know what you like and do not like. Listen to yourself. Explore yourself. Find your boundaries and establish them as such. Your well-being is non-negotiable and other people cannot know for you; not your companion, not your mother, not your sister, not your brother, not your uncle, not society. Trying to normalize other people’s sex life based on your own expectations and wishes is an enormous red flag and just a no go. Never pressure anyone into having sex or perform specific sexual acts.

That being said, if your sex life causes you any issue, please seek professional help. They are many competent and safe professionals who can help you. It is perfectly ok to ask for help and asking for help regarding sex is not shameful. Please take care of yourself.

And if you do not know where to start, here are a bunch of super cool and useful queer projects regarding sex:
Discover O.School: An Inclusive And Consent-Based Sex Education Platform
CLIMAX: Focusing On Vulvas’ Pleasure And Health
Masha Is Here To Teach You How To Have A Healthy Sex Life With Yourself
Fera Daemon, The French Brand Changing The Game Of Inclusive Sextoys
The Vulva Gallery Is Here To Remind Us That All Vulvas Are Beautiful

Also, you do not have to have sex or be in love to build healthy relationships. If you want nice date ideas for platonic relationships, we also have a very nice project by Annika Hansteen-Izora devoted to it.

In the meantime, take care of yourself and see you soon,

Love, xx

Super cute beetle says bye and thank you for having read the article
Photo credits: Stephen Hocking/Unsplash

Header credits: Romi Yusardi/Unsplash (edited)

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