Experts Debunk Things Movies Taught You About Sex

Sex in movies paints a picture of two people who most likely look perfect, act perfect, and perform perfectly in the bedroom. And these unrealistic expectations of how sexual activity should be can end up doing more harm than good, even informing some people's ideas of what sex is supposed to be. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, only thirteen states mandate that sex education be medically accurate. 

Perhaps even more worrying, a 2000 study published in the Western Journal of Medicine revealed that more than 80% of adolescents reported that a lot of their information about sex comes from television, movies, and other forms of entertainment. An additional 10% of adolescents said that they learned more about such topics as AIDS from media than they did from parents or educators. 

With numbers like these in mind, we turned to a pair of experts who walked us through some of the most common movie misconceptions about sex – and how reality is so much better than fiction. 

Myth: Consent isn't needed

In the movies, we often see a man or woman sweep his or her partner up, kiss them passionately, and have their way with them with barely a word spoken on either end. This notion that a person can simply take what they want when they want is not only false; it can set an unreasonable and dangerous precedent. 

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women has experienced rape or attempted rape during their lifetime. In addition, close to a quarter of men have also been victims of sexual violence. With these statistics in mind, it is clear that both partners need to be on the same page when it comes to getting physical. 

"Communication is essential in any relationship — even a long-term partnership," says Dr. Juliana Hauser, a licensed family and marriage therapist, an expert on sex and sexuality, and a Kindra Advisory Board Member. "I encourage couples who want to try something new to discuss it openly and honestly with their partner. One of my favorite ways to practice consent is my four quadrants exercise — it's a helpful tool to openly discuss what you want to try in the bedroom, and what you don't! Consent is sexy, should be enthusiastic and clear and reciprocal." 

Myth: Couples don't routinely practice safer sex

When a couple enters a monogamous, committed relationship, the "Hollywood ending" mentality might lead one to believe that sex can now exist in a sort of consequence-free environment. With two sexually exclusive partners, the risk of disease is likely very low, if not nonexistent. And, if both partners are thinking long-term, there may not be any issues or concerns about getting pregnant. There can even be a societal element to couples electing to forego safe sex. A 2016 study published in Global Health Action showed that, among monogamous partners in southeastern Tanzania, there was a feeling that married partners who do not practice safe sex are "not really married." 

However, experts say that safe sex can be a way for couples to keep exploring and find new ways to connect and bond. "Safe sex can mean a variety of things for couples," Hauser says, "whether it is to avoid pregnancy, lessen the risk of transmitting a sexual disease, try something new in a safe environment, or feel emotionally safe during intimacy. Be open and honest with your partner about what safe sex means to you. Experiencing safety in many forms during sexual connection is considered a powerful aphrodisiac for many individuals." 

Myth: Older people don't have sex

Older couples in movies are usually portrayed as leading chaste, almost sexless lives. Sometimes their lack of intimacy is even played for laughs, with jokes flying about men's inability to perform or women's postmenopausal lack of desire. However, in reality, older people can be just as sexually active as younger people. A 2019 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that a third of adults between the ages of 60 and 82 had more sex and even sexual thoughts than younger adults. 

Hauser herself points to a Kindra/Harris Poll survey that showed that 70% of women over 50 say they still enjoy having sex. "There's a myth that quality of sex declines and orgasms become more elusive for women as we age," she notes. "That doesn't have to be the case. In fact, many couples 50+ report finding a renewed interest in sexual connection, an increase in investing in sex toys and seeking professional support in experiencing more fulfilling sexual lives. There are practical things women can do to become 'sexperts' and reclaim their sexuality as they age to make sex more fulfilling, pleasure more abundant, and orgasms more potent — better than ever." 

Myth: Lubrication is unnecessary

Movie sex would have us believe that women are always so turned on that there is no need for any outside assistance, and the natural lubrication from her arousal is more than enough. If only it were that simple. The truth is, even if they are completely aroused, women still may need a little help with vaginal lubrication. A 2012 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology  revealed that 62% of women have used some type of lubricant during sex. This can be a particular issue as women grow older. 

Hauser notes that more than half of women who are experiencing perimenopause and menopause can be affected by vaginal dryness. "This vaginal change can have a significant impact on body confidence, sexual connection and relationships," she says. "Vulvovaginal moisturizers and lubricants make a significant difference for many women, especially those going through the hormonal shifts of menopause. Using a vaginal moisturizer helps rebuild moisture over time so you're always ready for intimacy, and using a lubricant during sex can help increase feelings of pleasure." 

Myth: Don't bother with foreplay

When you're watching a movie, it's understood that there is a need to keep the plot moving forward, so you can't pause too long for a sex scene. But in a Hollywood tryst, we often see couples go from kissing to full-on intercourse in a matter of seconds. In reality, things should be moving at a much slower pace. Foreplay isn't just enjoyable; it's an important part of sexual intimacy, according to Healthline. Kissing alone releases a number of stress-reducing hormones, such as oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine

"Being mentally and physically ready for and interested in sexual activity is so important — especially as we age," says Hauser. "Foreplay allows your mind and body time to transition into receiving pleasure, to become present and to prime your body and if engaging in partnered sex, a connection with your partner without the focus of an end result. Embrace a curious mindset and give yourself permission to experiment to find what you like — solo pleasure can be so helpful here." 

Myth: Women always orgasm

Onscreen, women are almost always completely enraptured by their partner's performance, to the point of achieving a blissful, even earth-shaking, orgasm. And, while it would be nice if vaginal intercourse were sufficient to bring all women to orgasm, it's not always the case. In fact, a 2016 study published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Pyschology revealed that, while 90% of men experience orgasm through intercourse, only 50% of women can say the same. The issue stems from the fact that most women achieve orgasm via stimulation of the clitoris. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy showed that nearly 37% of women required their clitorises to be stimulated in order to reach orgasm. An additional 36% said that, while they could achieve climax without it, stimulation of the clitoris improved their orgasms, making them feel better.

"While some women do reliably orgasm through intercourse, women are generally more likely to orgasm through oral sex, fingering, masturbation, and/or use of sex toys — in other words, acts that provide clitoral stimulation," says Suzannah Weiss, resident sexologist for the pleasure product brand Biird. "Make sure the clit is getting attention!"

Myth: Sex in the shower is easy

Of all of the sexual myths that are better in concept than execution, sex in the shower could arguably top the list. In theory, it's got all of the right components. It's warm, it's steamy, and everyone is naked by default. As such, it's become a common love scene trope in movies, one that people try and replicate all too often at home. A 2020 survey conducted by Drench.com showed that more than half of adults have attempted to have sex in the shower. However, that poll also reveals that 32% have been disappointed by the experience, and an alarming 44% have actually been hurt during shower sex. 

"If only sex in the shower — or bath or hot tub or pool — were as easy as they make it look in the movies!" Weiss says. "Unfortunately, water washes off natural lubrication, which increases friction during penetration. Not to mention, the shower is a confined and slippery place! If you are looking to have sex in the shower, manual or digital sex is probably the easiest kind. Silicone lube is the least likely to wash off, and you can also bring in a waterproof vibrator. Showering can also be great foreplay: You can kiss and feel each other up in the shower, then move to a more comfortable place like the bedroom." 

Myth: Simultaneous orgasms are easy to achieve

When movie couples achieve climax during one of their perfectly lit and artfully shot love scenes, it is usually in perfect sync, with the sequence fading to black as both couples relax in the afterglow. In reality, a simultaneous orgasm, particularly from vaginal intercourse, is a little harder to achieve. A 2018 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that only 41% to 50% of women in particular were able to climax from unassisted intercourse, making a shared climax a challenging goal.  

"Because most women don't reliably orgasm through intercourse, simultaneous orgasms during intercourse are not the norm," Weiss says. "There's also just a low probability that both people will take the exact same amount of time to orgasm in any given encounter." Weiss suggests a few ways to help couples increase the odds of them simultaneously orgasming. "One way to do it is to have one partner touch their own clitoris or use a vibrator during intercourse (I'm speaking mainly about heterosexual intercourse here). Both people can let each other know when they are getting close, so one person can ease up if they are approaching orgasm faster than the other. Another way to do this is to have one person touch themselves while they are pleasuring a partner with their hands or mouth. Or, two people can masturbate side by side — something we unfortunately rarely see on screen!" 

Myth: Everyone performs perfectly every time

Sex scenes in movies look so great because, well, they're movies. Everything is scripted, choreographed, and planned out, and couples have multiple takes to get it right. Clothes come off without a hitch, every movement is perfectly executed, and both partners perform like pros. If only it were that easy! 

But, because so many of us have been conditioned to view sex the way we see it onscreen, the idea of falling short of that mark can be a trigger. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, up to 16% of women and 25% of men feel some form of anxiety around their performance in the bedroom. 

"Sex doesn't usually look like scripted sex scenes!" Weiss says. "Often, it involves talking, fumbling, pausing, not getting hard or wet when you want to, losing erections, not orgasming when you want to (or orgasming when you don't want to), pets jumping on the bed, and more." Weiss explains that the only things that can truly ruin sex are being embarrassed about it and taking it too seriously. "It's OK for sex to be silly, messy, and unlike a Hollywood sex scene."