The mystery surrounding sex, a natural and basic human need, has made it a taboo topic for centuries. And this has spun a web of misinformation and rumours that are just plain wrong and even harmful. The world is changing and so is the Indian mindset. With shows that discuss sexual health issues, like Sex Education on Netflix or Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon on DD National and Disney+Hotstar, raising awareness about vital gender issues, questioning patriarchal gender norms, and changing attitudes have become easy. It’s time to say shut those, ‘haye besharam’ phrases dished out by desi aunties and uncles, and resurrect the conversation around sexual health.

Dr Saba Fathima, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist at Motherhood Hospital in Bangalore is busting myths and clearing the air about some common misconceptions Indian women have about sexual health.

1. The concept of virginity: An intact hymen is proof of virginity and a broken hymen indicates otherwise.

It is a common belief that a woman is considered a virgin if her hymen is intact. However, contrary to normal beliefs there is no actual scientific proof that a woman with a defect in her hymen is not a virgin. The hymen is a membrane in the vaginal canal with mostly no use. Many are under the impression that the hymen is a balloon-like membrane that covers the vaginal canal or a ring-like flesh in the opening. However, contrary to belief, the hymen is said to be more like the petals of a flower. It has notches, folds and clefts even during the state of virginity. Some are thin and some are thicker than the others, even during penetration the hymen might be scarred. Yet in most cases, the hymen is merely stretched and left undamaged. There have been cases where women with a perfectly smooth hymen have been sexually active for several years, and cases which also talk about women who aren’t sexually active but their hymens have crevices. Thus, concluding that the presence of a hymen is in no way an indication of proof of virginity in a woman.

2. The need for lubrication only means lack of interest.

Vaginal lubrication is not only meant to make intercourse pleasurable but also make it safe. Lubrication takes place to make penetration easy and create friction during intercourse without causing any damage to the vaginal lining. The main reason for reduced lubrication is the lack of estrogen; women tend to produce less estrogen as they age. However, there are other reasons to cause a lack of estrogen in women like breastfeeding, cigarette smoking, depression, stress, immune disorders, childbirth, rigorous exercise, cancer treatment and surgical removal of ovaries. So the need for external lubrication does not mean it is a lack of interest, it is also a remedy for dryness caused by the various factors mentioned.

3. The first time will always bleed or hurt.

Some women bleed after their first time while others don’t, and both are perfectly normal. Some women bleed when they have penetrative sex for the first time due to the disruption of the hymen. However, disruption of the hymen can also be caused while horse-riding, active participation in sports or while using a tampon. The first time a woman has intercourse she might experience some soreness but if there is considerable foreplay involved and the woman is aroused enough, chances of feeling any kind of pain is almost insignificant.

4. Condoms ruin the fun.

Condoms are very important in practising safe sex. Taking a minute to put on the condom is extremely important, especially if one wants to make sure to avoid STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). During intercourse it is important to communicate with each other, this helps in easing tension and making it a fun activity. With the right attitude, intercourse can be a fun activity to indulge in without the worry of a condom killing the mood. 

5. Sex is better when you’re younger.

Contradictory to general belief sex actually gets better with age, when combined with a youthful attitude. Research has shown that older women have reported better and more frequent orgasms compared to younger women. By the time people are older they are quite comfortable with their appearance and so less conscious of themselves and have less performance anxiety.

6. Too much sex can loosen the vagina.

Vaginas are elastic, meaning they can stretch to accommodate things coming in (a penis or a sex toy) or going out (like a baby). It may become slightly looser after childbirth, but overall the muscles expand and contract just like a rubber band. A vagina will not lose its stretch permanently. The term loose vagina came about as a way to shame women for their sex lives, in no way actually referring to the size and elasticity of the vagina itself. Meanwhile, a tight vagina isn’t a great thing either. In fact, if penetration causes extreme pain or discomfort due to the tightness of the vagina it should definitely be of concern.

7. Penis size matters, the bigger the better.

No, the size of a penis does not necessarily matter when it comes to sex. Contrary to belief the size of the penis has nothing to do with giving or receiving pleasure. The bigger than average penis, in fact, can be associated with a higher risk of injury and infection. Extra length can also make certain positions difficult and more painful. The size of a penis does not affect its stamina or its fertility. In the end, being good in bed does not rely on the size of the penis. Figuring out what feels good for the participants is a much better way to ensure a good time.

8. Standing up or jumping up and down immediately after sex can prevent pregnancy.

Standing up or jumping up and down will not stop the sperm from entering your vagina. Neither will douching or rinsing your vagina or having sex in water stop this from happening. The chances of getting pregnant after sex during periods are slim, but not zero. This is where condoms and birth control come into play. They are the only effective ways to avoid pregnancy. Even if a man pulls out early before ejaculation (which is hard), pre-ejaculatory secretions also carry sperms which can result in pregnancy.

9. Genital discolouration/hyperpigmentation (especially in and around the vulva) is a sign of bad hygiene.

Darkening of the skin occurs during puberty. As sex hormones surge through the body, melanin is also secreted resulting in darkening in a man’s nipples and penis, and a woman’s labia and areolas. Other reasons for sudden darkening are hormonal changes, polycystic ovarian changes, certain infections, insulin resistance and physical factors. Usually, darkening of the skin is a normal thing however if it is extreme and accompanied by vaginal redness, itching, bleeding and pain during intercourse, it is important to consult a gynaecologist.  

10. The G-spot is just an urban myth.

Yes, the G-spot is nothing but a myth. There is, in fact, no way to find the famous G-spot. It is not an actual organ. However, the G-spot is an area which is said to contribute to orgasms within the walls of the vagina. A vaginal orgasm is not to be confused with a clitoral orgasm, which is caused by the several nerve endings in the clitoris and labia. Scientists have researched the presence of a G-spot only to find nothing. The G-spot is not present in the same place for every woman and it is definitely not the only way to make a woman have an orgasm.