Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

Sexual Intercourse Is...What?

This act can be seen from many perspectives from apalling to sublime.

The two elderly women talking quietly were from European background. From her accent I guessed Russian for one of them. She said to her companion “I have never understood the American attitude about sex. They smirk and snicker and talk about it like it’s candy, everybody wants some but it’s also somehow naughty. Sex is not candy, it’s medicine! You take it because you have to. What could be appealing about a man using a woman as a receptacle for his body waste, as if a woman is a…a spittoon!”

What? I was so appalled that I almost gasped it aloud, but then the women would know I was eavesdropping. A spittoon? I had never heard of such an ugly simile for the act of sexual intercourse.

Certainly I understood only too well that sexual intercourse could be many things to an individual. It’s why English has so many words for the same act – intercourse, love making, sex, doing the nasty, making the beast with two backs, the marital act, and the ubiquitous four letter word, to name just a few.

In any given person’s lifetime she or he could engage in this act for love or money, to fulfill someone else’s expectations, for lust, intimacy, to exert power, boredom relief, baby making, to feel more like a woman or man, express love, assuage skin hunger, take comfort, and many other reasons often too complicated to define. Sometimes we don’t even know why we we’re doing it. The opportunity arises and we take it.

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At its very best the act of sexual intercourse is an ultimate act of sharing and intimacy. The word “intimacy” itself is often a popular euphemism for it, as in “intimate relations”. What could be more intimate than inviting another person inside a private place in your body, or entering it, for the purpose of sharing pleasure?

Certainly we know sex isn’t always like that, but it can be. Many hold the one or few times it was like that for them as a high point in their life, or cherish the idea of this kind of coupling as worth pursuing as an ideal for some wished for time in the future. To descend from such an ideal to “being used as a receptacle for body waste” shocks me deeply.

My life’s work as a sex therapist goes far beyond the mechanics of Prong A and Slot B. Much of it is focused on making the act of sexual intercourse and all the other pleasurable acts that surround it as rewarding as possible for the individual and for the couple. Are orgasms involved? Do the partners know how to provide and receive them if they are wanted in a particular engagement? What are acceptable alternatives if this particular act is off the menu for any reason? Do both participants in this act feel validated, better for having done it, satisfied? Have their goals, whatever they are, been achieved?

Professionally and personally I endorse the fact that sex can encompass a variety of acts, not just intercourse, and can be entered into by all parties for many reasons, not just love or intimacy, and still be satisfactory to both if they are on the same page, so to speak. It doesn’t always have to be an act of ultimate transcendent intimacy. But it is vital that we never lose sight of the fact that it can be.

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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