The Myths That Prevent Us From Experiencing Sexual Fulfillment

Our culture perpetuates damaging ideas about romance and sexuality — and it’s time to let them go

Yael Wolfe
Dec 10, 2019 · 6 min read
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Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

friend Shona was sex-positive before being sex-positive was even a thing. When I began to spiral into a depression after blowing through a series of partners during my time in Santa Fe, she immediately and expertly diagnosed me with sexual and emotional starvation.

“You have got to masturbate more,” she told me at one point, and even hauled me off to a sex shop to pick out a vibrator with me, then called me later that night to make sure I had used it.

She said it was dangerous to rely on other people for orgasms, and even more dangerous that I was looking for validation from partners. (Unfortunately, that last part was not so easy to solve. They don’t sell vibrators that heal waning self-esteem.)

I was in my 40s before I realized how profound Shona had been. She was speaking an opinion that certainly wasn’t mainstream at the time, and nearly 20 years later, still isn’t recognized for the gospel that it is.

There are so many things we have to do to course correct when it comes to relationships. Feeding ourselves is at the top of that list, to be sure. But we also need to stop buying into the cultural mythology that contributes to this starvation.

Here are the kinds of myths I’m talking about:

If you’re not having sex with another person, you’re celibate.

I am over the word celibate. As far as I’m concerned, this word should only be used to describe people who are not engaging in any sexual activity whatsoever — including masturbation. If you, however, are having orgasms (by your own hand or someone else’s) then by the definitions of the Wolfe Dictionary, I say you are not celibate.

Celibacy does not even have a clear definition. As far as Merriam-Webster is concerned, it means “abstention from sexual intercourse.” Therein lies the problem. Everyone defines intercourse differently.

The term celibacy has negative connotations for many. Unless you have deliberately chosen to abstain from sexual interaction with other people, celibacy implies a failure on your part. If you’re a woman, you’re on your way to dowdy spinsterhood. If you’re a man, you’re failing to sow those wild oats.

I hear single people joke about it all the time, and honestly, I hate it. It’s perpetuating the myth that if we aren’t having sex with another person, then we cannot be sexually fulfilled.

The truth is, there is plenty of sexual fulfillment to be had when we are not engaging in sexual activity with others. If we are enjoying any type of sexual gratification then we are not, I’d argue, celibate. And unless we are choosing to use this word with empowerment to describe a certain type of emotional, physical, or spiritual journey we are taking, then I suggest we think twice before using this word as a self-deprecating joke.

Masturbation isn’t real sex.

When we believe that masturbation isn’t real sex, or even that it’s sloppy seconds to real sex, we will never feel fully satisfied with ourselves or our sex lives unless we are with a partner.

Why is that so dangerous? Because we’ll always be looking outside ourselves for sexual fulfillment. Because we won’t be able to find satisfaction or pleasure on our own. Because we’ll make choices to be in relationships or situations we don’t really want to be in just because we think that’s the only way to get what we want.

And let’s not forget that our culture tends to frame masturbation as a joke or something we should be ashamed about. Masturbation is for people who can’t get laid, right? And it’s kinda gross, too. Like kinky, but not in a good way.

Having sex with an actual person, however, is strangely revered in this culture. If you’re in a sexual relationship, then you must be hot, you must be desirable, you must be interesting, you must be worthy… If there are jokes to be made about that, it’s only congratulatory smirks and quips about what a stud or hot slut you are. Or perhaps it’s just quiet acknowledgement that you’ve achieved a certain desirable status of adulthood: marriage or at the very least, long-term partnership with regular access to someone else’s genitals. Good for you! You did it!

I think it’s ridiculous that we revere sexual relationships as much as we do. And I think it’s ridiculous that we don’t honor the sexual gratification we can give ourselves as much as we should. A little more of that and a little less of the former would do us a world of good.

So let’s be clear on this: Masturbation is real sex and can be just as enjoyable as sex with partners in a different — though not inferior — way. Don’t fail to satisfy yourself in that way just because this myth has been shoved down our throats. And don’t let it skew your perspective so much that you can’t find satisfaction on your own.

It’s better to be in a relationship than to be single.

I have heard this statement so many times in my life and it genuinely makes me want to vomit. Who is selling this nonsense? And why are we buying it?

When I came home from Santa Fe and was a year into being single, my dad asked to meet with me. He said, in a deliberate tone, “Yael…I’m so worried about you. You’re 26 years old and not married yet. A pretty, smart girl like you should at least be dating. It’s not normal that you’re still single.”

I was so stung by his comment — “not normal” — that to this day, it hurts to remember that conversation. Twenty years later, I never married. Dad still asks me regularly if I’m dating anyone, or if I’ve found my prince. He also asks me again and again why my younger brother Jack, at 32, isn’t married yet. “He’s so old,” Dad says. “He really should be married by now.” Then I remind him that I’m 11 years older than Jack and also not married so what does that say about me?

I think it’s so dangerous to perpetuate this myth that being in a relationship should be our endgame — that it’s the only way to achieve happiness or fulfillment.

It seems odd to me that we have no room for diversity when it comes to lifestyles. (Or maybe it’s not odd — I suppose we aren’t very good at honoring diversity in any form.) Our culture seems hell-bent on glorifying monogamous forever marriages over anything else. But the truth is, that model doesn’t work for everyone. And indeed, I’m not even sure it works for most people, despite our insistence that it does.

In truth, many of us will go through lots of breakups. Many of us will be single for long stretches of time. Some of us are even challenging the status quo of monogamy by exploring relationships with more than one person — a brave frontier that I suspect is much closer to what we need as humans than forever monogamy will ever be.

It’s true that being single genuinely sucks sometimes — most especially in a culture that fetishizes romantic and sexual relationships — but being in a relationship isn’t a nonstop joyride, either. Interestingly, we don’t often acknowledge that, whereas we are quick to vilify the state of singlehood.

I think every time we fail to honestly acknowledge the hardships of being in a relationship or the joys of being single (two things we don’t like to talk about), we are continuing to set ourselves and others up for failure. Because we will always feel like we’re starving if we buy into the belief that a relationship is the only way to find fulfillment.

(Read this amazing piece on singlehood by Brooklyn Thomas.)

It’s not our fault that we so often fail to nourish ourselves. When we live in a culture that so thoroughly brainwashes us into believing that sustenance can only be achieved through very specific circumstances, then we can’t help but feel like we’re starving unless we follow the script.

But the script is wrong. If we want to learn how to nourish ourselves, we’ll have to let go of so much of our cultural mythology. We can’t take care of ourselves and love ourselves through any circumstance of life if deep down we believe we are lacking because we don’t have a lover, or the right relationship, or enough sex with other people, or…

We have to change our behaviors, but ultimately, we must do the same with the stories we tell and believe, as well.

© Yael Wolfe 2019


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