The semantics of sex

The other night I was making a delicious curry dinner with a few friends when the topic of our respective sexual histories arose. While numbers, lists, best-of and hall of shame stories were being tossed around, I casually referenced the fact that giving someone a blow job doesn’t constitute sex for me.

I cited my original list, which still exists on a small square of nearly-torn paper written in various colours of pen as names were added, in tinier and tinier print so as to accommodate them all. As a testament to my teenage relative inexperience, that list consisted of an XX and XXX column. Over the years, a few lucky names from the left were circled and moved over to the right by way of an arrow once fluids were actually exchanged, not just swallowed.

One of my friends chimed in, saying if she gave a guy head, it would be the equivalent of just “messing around” or “getting some action” more like giving some action! My gay male friend was a bit surprised by this, as at this point in his sexual life, considered that act to be “sex”.   This led me to meditate on the question of how we define sex, both culturally and personally.

Culturally, I came of age in a time when the semantics of sexual relations almost cost the most powerful man in the world his job.   Therefore I wasn’t all that surprised when I stepped back and realized I had a very masculine-centric definition of sex. Before I really starting thinking about it, I defined sex as when a man penetrated my vagina with his penis, until the point of his orgasm, thereby ending the sex act, although if I were to cum before him and we stopped, it would still technically be sex to me.

After offering this definition, my friend inquired as to whether it would be sex if my lover fucked me with a dildo. I mediated on that gray area for a second.

“Well, I guess that would be sex,” I said with a certain amount of trepidation. “Or would it?”

“What about lesbians?” another friend chimed in.

This was proving to be more difficult that I had initially anticipated, so I decided to consult some outside sources for an expert opinion. Merriam Webster had this to say about sex “sexually motivated phenomena or behaviour, see also sexual intercourse”.   But who goes around saying, “I had such great sexual intercourse last night”.

I needed to go straight to the slang source, the Urban Dictionary. Their definitions ranged from the cheeky “the number six in Swedish” or the only exercise most Americans get anymore”, to the all-encompassing “insert tab A into slot B”.

While I didn’t scroll through all 53 pages of definitions, I wasn’t too surprised that most of them featured a reiteration of the “when a man uses his erect penis to insert it into a woman’s vagina and he pumps it in and out of the vagina or the woman bounces up and down on it” definition.

Defining sex is difficult because people have their own personal definitions that differ from those dictated by society.   I think that’s part of the reason people, especially men, are fascinated by the mechanics of lesbian sex- it differs so much from what they’re accustomed to.

As one of my friends noted, perhaps the reason we don’t constitute blow jobs as sex is because for experienced, highly evolved sluts like us, they’re just an exciting and fun part of foreplay.

One thing’s for sure I certainly wouldn’t deny having had sexual relations with any man who’s had his penis in my mouth!

How do you define sex, and what factors influence that definition for you personally and for society?

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  • Hmm, what a question!

    I think I’m with you that everything up to “Insert Slot A into Tab B” goes into the category of “messing around” more than that of actual “sex.” But that definition really does leave out legitimate lesbian sex.

    Maybe we need a new word entirely? “Sex” is so painfully loaded with preconceptions and meanings…

  • Sex, to me, is just about anytime I &/or my partner gets off.

    So, yes, I’ve had “sex” on a roller coaster, even though both of us were fully clothed & strapped in in such a way that we were lucky he could get his hand down my pants…

  • Great article, food for thought indeed…

  • Sex is a different sensation for each person. I think when you feel closer to a person to the point where you have shown and received some vulnerability (good or bad kind), or “fulfilled” by an act, it can be called sex.

    Anyway, What is this new thing they call Mind sex?? 🙂

  • Mind sex? I’ve never heard of it. But it sounds pretty intriguing.

  • Hooray for the all responses to this post! I’m pleased as punch that I was able to inspire discussion.

    @Megan – Alright, I’m on for coming up with new language to describe sex. While we’re at it, can we do-away with “boyfriend”, and come up with some new terms in that area also??

    @misskitty – After researching and writing this post, I’m starting to redefine sex for myself also. I love the thrill of roller coaster sex… watch out for me this summer at La Ronde 😉

    @anna – Mind sex, never heard of it. I’ll look into that one – sounds…interesting?

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