Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Redefining the Idea of "Having Sex"

The definition of "having sex" is not as narrow as many people believe.

We’ll start with a basic definition: sex does not equal penis in vagina intercourse.  I know, many people use the terms interchangeably, but if I suspect that’s what is happening in a counseling session I always ask the speaker to clearly define  his or her terms. “Can you tell me exactly what having sex means for you?” Other than a counseling client I don’t really need to know explicitly what acts were included or omitted in the event on which a person is reporting.  I get the general idea!

When a woman who habitually is sexual with other women or a man who has male partners as a rule uses the term “having sex” we understand that some sexual interaction occurred that was not penis in vagina intercourse. Why we assume that’s what happens when a heterosexual person uses the term, I’m not sure. It all may stem from the original weasel by a public personality and then picked up by teenagers everywhere that oral sex, for instance, is not “real sex”. Nor is any other act involving genitals, state those who skirt the issue but insist on remaining technical virgins.  “Only penis in vagina intercourse is real sex” .  Not so at all and we need to say it loudly and often.

It may be stating the obvious to many people but many others need to hear it again and again.  Any two people (or more!) – men, women, or a mix of both – can have sex, be sexual, enjoy themself and another person sexually, give and receive pleasure, experience satisfaction and/ or orgasm, with any number of acts that do not include PIV intercourse. Insisting that sex must be PIV and only PIV is as limiting as insisting that ice cream has to be chocolate and that any other flavor or variation is some sort of heresy.

People who don’t use or can’t rely on birth control, those who want to remain technical virgins, those who are sexual with their own sex, those women and men for whom PIV is painful or physically impossible need to be reminded that physical intimacy of many sorts is still doable.  Orgasms for women are certainly possible without vaginal penetration and orgasms for men can happen without an erection. As a sex therapist I can recommend all sorts of sexual helpers such as lubricants or ED pills and devices, exercises and visual aids to enable  penetration .  However, these physical helpers are only a small part of the array of tools available for sexual enhancement. 

What is most essential is a willingness to experiment, to think beyond the limiting tried and true, and see what might work between you and the partner of your choice.  Remember,  the world has long gone beyond Howard Johnson’s original 28  and even Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors of ice cream.  Surely you and a partner can go beyond PIV in search of broadening your pleasures by choice or necessity.  Happy hunting.

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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