The Power of Myth
I am a big fan of the website Cracked.com. They classify themselves as a humor website and their primary content is listicles that comment on various aspects of pop-culture. They have an impressive range of material, from lighthearted snark (such as deconstructing the fashion of hipsters), to surprisingly-insightful and well-researched commentary on human psychology and behavior (like this entry discussing how feelings of hate and anger in humans are actually psychologically addictive, which I have thought about almost every day since the first time I read it). And yes, since they are a humor site and not a academic journal, their conclusions can be prone to hyperbole, but I enjoy their general writing style and can often be found scrolling through the latest entries on my phone while eating sushi by myself before dance class.
This week, one of their top stories discusses six commonly-held myths about sex. Now, not to be all sex-hipster about it, but I already knew most of these points were myths, since I run with a very sex-positive crowd and actually know some professional sex-educators. But I thought Item #1 on the list was very interesting, not because I didn’t know it was a myth (I did), but the fact that it’s apparently such a common belief that it was cited as #1 on the list.
The myth is that for women, losing their virginity through vaginal sex is always a painful experience. The article describes it as such:
“For a guy, losing his virginity is like winning the lottery while simultaneously eating bacon and playing an early-release copy of GTA V, if all those things only took 30 seconds. Girls, on the other hand, dread their first time because it’s less winning the lottery and more getting repeatedly stabbed in the groin with a fleshy harpoon. It’s in pop culture all the time: A happy young couple attempts to lose their virginity. Cue comedic/creepy scene of the girl awkwardly trying to endure the pain, immediately followed by the obligatory off-screen premature ejaculation. Starring Jason Segel or Seth Rogen.”
The article goes on to discuss why this myth is false, citing evidence like the fact that the hymen is usually broken by the time the woman reaches reproductive age (there are medical conditions where this is not the case, but they are uncommon), and that situations where the woman does feel pain are often do to things like poor lubrication and muscle tension (ironically caused in the first place by stress from worrying that the sex will hurt). And while anecdotes are not data, I can personally confirm that it is possible for a woman to lose one’s virginity pain-free, as my first time was easy-breezy.
So if I knew this myth was false, why am I dwelling on this? Well I got to thinking that if the general public believes that first-time sex for women is painful, does that affect how they respond to erotica that does not portray it this way? One of the things I have learned from my general studies on writing and storytelling is to be mindful of “believability” in writing. Even if you are literally describing something that actually happened, if the audience doesn’t believe it, it will ruin the story (Cracked has an amusing article on this phenomenon as well). This is one reason why so many unrealistic tropes persist in popular culture; storytelling media are held hostage by the beliefs of their audience.
So say someone writes an amazing coming-of-age story about a young woman discovering her sexuality and having a passionate first time with a hunky man? It happens quite often in the romance-romance genre. In my experience, though, people seem to find this theme just as much idealized fantasy as the rest of the story, but accept that because they knew that’s what they were getting into when they picked up the book. But the world of erotica seems to be struggling with public conceptions and mainstream acceptance, and many skeptical readers seem to be looking for reasons to write off (ha) individual stories or the genre as a whole. Perhaps they might use this preconception as a weapon against a story, no matter how realistic and sex-positive it is.
I don’t have any answers, of course, this is just something I’m thinking about. I’d welcome discussion in the comments!