Mate, Relate and Communicate

How to talk about sexuality and other hot-button topics

When the Meaning Is Everything

Defining sex terms

There – you did it! You and your partner decided to share a bit about your sexual histories and feel like you know each other a little better. But do you really?

Whether seeking to learn about one’s sexual health risks, hoping to gain a better understanding of another’s sexual agenda, or longing to simply feel closer, lovers may actually be speaking different languages in having those tough sex talks. This is because key words are often defined in very different ways. 

If, for example, a potential sexual partner claims, “I’m a virgin,” what does it mean to that person to be a “virgin”? It may be far from typical dictionary definitions, like those in Merriam Webster’s, which capture the term as one who has been “absolutely chaste” or who “has not had sexual intercourse.”

I remember a story one of my graduate school professors shared as a case in point. He recounted a research study that had been administered to high school girls in the West Philly area. When participants answered the question, “Are you a virgin?” a number confirmed that they were. Yet later in the questionnaire, when asked, “Have you ever had anal sex?” many of these same girls checked the box marked “Yes.” To them, losing one’s virginity was only about having had vaginal-penile intercourse.

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 Another sex-related term that has many shades of grey is “abstinent.” Having been a sexuality educator for well over 15 years, I’ve had a number of students claim that they’re practicing “abstinence,” yet admitting that they’re engaging in sexual behaviors like oral sex. In their eyes, if they haven’t “gone all the way,” then they can say that they’re practicing abstinence. 

In either case, you’ve got sexually active individuals who, while not intentionally lying, are misinforming a partner. Lovers are far from being on the same page in understanding each other’s sexual histories, including the risk exposure that goes along with certain behaviors. And this can be incredibly problematic both physically and emotionally.

So in having conversations about your sexual backgrounds, be sure to ask how your partner is defining certain terms. Let your lover know what you mean in using these words. The same goes for talks involving what it means to be monogamous or to be cheating, as these words have been known to mislead lovers in their multiple interpretations as well. While not easy, these talks empower both of you to make better decisions in being more informed.

 

 

Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a certified sexuality educator, sexologist, professor, columnist and author of nine books, including The Better Sex Guide to Extraordinary Lovemaking. more...

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