What's fact and what's fiction when it comes to sex? As tight-lipped as the average person is about discussing sex, there are loads of rumours about the act - probably stemming from the playground - which seem to have worked their way into the mainstream.
Seeking neither to debunk or promote, we take a look at some of the most enduring conjecture, scaremongering, ridiculous theorising and (some strangely compelling) ideas about sex.
> Female ejaculation
Female ejaculation is hotly contested by sexologists. In surveys around 35 to 50 per cent of women have said that they have experienced a so called 'gushing orgasm'. There are references to the apparent phenomena in Indian sex tome the Kama Sutra as well as Greek and Roman accounts of it. Female ejaculation is also mentioned in early 20th century 'marriage manuals' such as Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde's Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique (1926), which says 'It appears that the majority of laymen believe that something is forcibly squirted (or propelled or extruded), or expelled from the woman's body in orgasm, and should so happen normally, as in the man's case. Finally it is just as certain that such an 'ejaculation' does not take place in many women of sexually normal functions, as that it does take place in others.'
> Masturbation causes blindness
Probably in an attempt to stop teenagers from doing it, some of the scariest sex-related myths have arisen about masturbation. Among the most common: masturbating causes blindness; will make you grow hairs on the palm of your hands; could cause sterility in later life. All such theories have been debunked time and again by medics but they continue to crop up - probably a reflection of the guilt associated with the activity. In 2007 the College of Optometrists took the, er matter into their own hands by declaring categorically that masturbation does not cause visual impairment. It said the only correlation between the idea is that semen contains a large amount of zinc and that a deficiency of zinc can cause visual decline, something which would be nearly impossible to achieve through masturbation.
Whether a man's penis size matters to his partner or not, you can bet it matters to him. The average penis size is between five and six inches erect and around three and a half inches flaccid. An internet survey in 2005 of more than 52,000 men and women revealed that only 55 per cent of the male respondents were happy with their penis size, whereas 85 per cent of participating women said they were 'very satisfied' with their partner's penis. Other studies have found that many men who believe their penis size to be inadequate are actually average sized. Such misconceptions derive from the ridiculous (Italian pepper grinder-sized members featured in porn movies) to the unfortunate (the perceptive foreshortening men experience when looking down at their genitalia). Despite the many penis enlarging pumps, pills and practises promulgated by spam emails and internet advertising, few experts would endorse such tools and they are widely thought to be bogus
> The G-Spot
The mythical G-Spot, an erogenous zone in the vagina which when stimulated can lead to powerful orgasms, has been a matter of some debate with men and women for the 60 years since German gynaecologist Ernst Gräfenberg hypothesized about it. However, a recent study of 1,800 British women by King's College London has raised serious doubts about it existence. The research was conducted on pairs of identical twins between the ages of 23 and 83 and, because identical twins have the same genes, it was expected to show that if the G-Spot existed both sisters would have one. Which it didn't. 'This is by far the biggest study ever carried out and it shows fairly conclusively that the idea of a G-spot is subjective,' co-author of the study and professor of genetic epidemiology Tim Spector,said.
> Men think about sex every 52 seconds
Every couple of years scientists come up with an estimate about how often the male mind thinks about sex. Every 3 seconds, 7 seconds or most commonly every 52 seconds, they haven't yet reached a consensus. Either way it is an awful lot. Dr Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain claims 'Studies have shown that while a man will think about sex every 52 seconds, the subject tends to cross women's minds just once a day.' Ask the average man, however, and he'll likely scoff at the findings. How anyone can negotiate the morning commute, working life and normal human interaction successfully if erotic images are popping uninvited into one's subconscious at 52 second intervals, I can't imagine. But then, I'm not a bloke...
> Women prefer circumcised men
There is huge online debate about whether women prefer their partners' penises to be circumcised - an operation, usually conducted in infancy, where the foreskin is cut away. Issues such as whether a man's penis looks more attractive, gives more satisfaction (both to him and his partner) and is more hygienic are under keen discussion. In Uganda last year 500 women interviewed found their circumcised partners just as satisfactory between the sheets as their uncircumcised counterparts. While a 1999 study by the British Journal of Urology International revealed that men circumcised as adults reported a loss in sensation, but more control in reaching climax. The huge number of studies rarely consider the same data or reach comparable conclusions so in the end it seems to come down to personal taste. However, as the majority of the world's men are uncircumcised many women will never be able to make the comparison.
> Women get emotionally attached after sex
'Can a woman have sex like a man?' ponders Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw in one of her entertainingly obtuse newspaper columns. She's not talking strap-ons and testosterone injections, but is asking if women can shake off the assumption that by getting into bed with a man their pink and fluffy minds will whiz off into the realms of marriage and babies. By and large sex therapists agree that women are more prone than men to depression after casual liaisons. And during orgasm the body releases oxytocin, dubbed the 'cuddle hormone', which is believed to foster post coital feelings of love and attachment in both sexes. However, a survey by magazine Marie Claire showed a mixed response from women debating the issue. A third claimed to actively enjoy casual sex without emotional repercussions, while the rest found their experiences emotionally unfulfilling or sometimes fulfilling.
> Men need to spread their seed
Differences in sexual politics between men and women are often shrugged away by the idea that guys 'need' to experience sex with different partners as a means of 'spreading their seed' before they can settle down with one woman. While ladies might snigger or harrumph at this idea, there is some scientific research to back it up. In August Dr Achim Schützwohl of Brunel University published research in Human Nature claiming that men are far more interested in casual sex than women. He asked 427 male and 433 female students from Germany, Italy and the US to record their responses to sexual advances from members of the opposite sex ranked either as 'slightly unattractive,' 'moderately attractive' or 'exceptionally attractive'. He found that men were far more likely to claim acceptance of a sexual advance than women, as well as far less choosy about the attractiveness of their prospective bedfellow.
> Casual sex is emotionally harmful
Conventional wisdom determines that sleeping with many different partners on a casual basis is harmful to a person's emotional well being. Not according to a study by the University of Minnesota, published in December, however. Researchers found that the self esteem and well being of the young adults who had last had a casual sexual encounter- one fifth out of the 1,311 questioned - showed an emotional status no different from the four-fifths who were in committed relationships with their sexual partners. The researchers were 'so surprised' by the results, which go against decades of sexual health teaching, and stressed that they in no way advocate casual sex which poses the physical risks of STIs and teen pregnancy.
> Ejaculation shortens a man's lifespan
Controversial book The Multi-Orgasmic Man: Sexual Secrets Every Man Should Know by Mantak Chia & Douglas Abrams claims that frequent ejaculation can drain a man's energy and ultimately shorten his lifespan. But before you guffaw and roll your eyes, this is actually a widely held view in Chinese medicine. Also, a study published in August 2009 called 'Ejaculation Control and Mental, Spiritual, and Physical Health Part 9' found that there was a decrease in prostate cancer among the men with the lowest category of ejaculation frequency between the ages of 40 to 49 years old. However, other studies have proved the opposite, that frequent masturbation can actually reduce the chances of contracting prostate cancer.