Is it sex?

How do you define sex?

I’ve written about this topic before, and I acknowledge that my definition has been very heteronormative. I’m a straight female who has only had sex with male partners. I consider it sex when there’s penetration vaginally or anally, but I don’t consider it sex when I give or receive oral sex.

I’ve been wondering lately, though, if my definition of sex marginalizes those who don’t identify with me. I would never question whether my lesbian friends needed to have penetration to be intimate with a partner so why do definitions matter so much? If my partner cheated on me with only oral sex, would I say that he hadn’t cheated on me? Of course not!

I started thinking about this a lot after reading the posts of one of my students, Carmen Rios. Carmen writes for Autostraddle, the world’s most popular, independently owned website for lesbian, bisexual and queer women. In a post on her blog about Learning About Sex Online, Carmen quotes the following passage from the e-zine:

We’ve gotten at least five billion questions via email and formspring from lesbians of all ages who haven’t had lesbian sex and are worried they don’t know “how.” Well, listen: enjoying sex isn’t about memorizing 16 positions or knowing the best angle to fuck from, enjoying sex is half-animal half-heart and only rarely has it got anything to do with your rational brain, or cognitive reasoning, or anything a person could tell you or anything you could read on the internet.

And whereas it’s true that one day you’ll be more confident and experienced than you are now, it’s also true that your body was born knowing how to have sex like it knows how to eat and knows how to walk. Your first time doesn’t have to be a big deal; some of us don’t even remember our first times. Alternately, if you want it to be a big deal, it can be. But ultimately every woman is different — totally, completely, entirely different — from the next. So what could we tell you, really?

In her project for my Sexuality and Social Media class, Carmen is exploring "the intersection of queer people, sex, and the Internet. The Internet is the new forefront for education. But for people who didn’t learn anything that applicable in sex education, it’s the entire classroom experience. [She wants] to examine how that changes the understanding of sex for queer people, and how the Internet has impacted their sexual lives."

Carmen included this chart on her blog recently, and I smiled when I saw it:


I like the way Autostraddle defines sex by not defining it narrowly or in a way that excludes anyone. I guess it’s time that I do the same. Does that mean I have to change my number, though ;)?

So, how do you define sex? Do you have a number of partners, and what had to happen to include a person on that list?

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