No Really, What is Sex?

Dear readers,
I’ve got sex on the brain. Not even sexuality; or sex theory, or BDSM-sexy times.  Literal, actual sex.
The questions I’m turning over lately are these:  What makes an interaction sex as opposed to something else?  What are the markers of sex for me?  Why can the exact same physical act with one person feel like sex; and with another it doesn’t?  If it doesn’t feel like sex; am I still having sex?  What types of sex are required for me to be sated right now?  Does any of this even matter – or am I completely over thinking it?

Yeah.  Sex on the Brain.

Since it’s been on my brain, it’s been coming up in my conversations too.  Which is a bit unfortunate in that I never seem able to properly record these convos and I wind up with random scraps of paper that say things like: who gets orgasms? or control and penetration! or everyone has to be naked.  It generates a lot of laughter in my life, but doesn’t really give me answers.  So, let’s get into some of the questions and see what comes up.

What is Sex?
For a lot of people sex means a penis inserted into the vagina.  Which is one type of sex; but what about anal penetration?  What about oral?  What about a penetration with toys or non-biological cocks?  What is neither of y’all want penetration and prefer to get your orgasms through digital, oral, or mechanical stimulation?
Autostraddle’s even made a handy flowchart to help readers answer the question Is It Sex??  Which I think brings up two really great points: a) did someone have an orgasm(s), or are they about to/trying to?  b) is someone touching someone else’s neither regions.

Also?  Gotta love a flow chart that has opt outs for sandwiches.

Handy as that chart is, it raises some additional questions:   Is orgasm the ‘goal’ of your sex?   Do you even want orgasms with your sex, or not?  It may be hard to think of a scenario where you don’t want an orgasm, but if you’re a guy with a long refractory period and you’re on deck to fuck 3 people tonight, you may not want to have an orgasm during your first session (or maybe you do and you’re packing a back up cock!)  Also, the chart vere’s doesn’t appear to consider masturbation as sex; but I would argue that solo sex is a thing, and what about masturbating with your partner(s)?

What are the markers of sex in my world?
Consider this an incomplete list; and no, not all of these will need to be there every time.

Consensual – This had better be self explanatory y’all.

Intent for pleasure  – 3 hours ago I wrote ‘intent for orgasms; mine’, but there have been lots of time I’ve been down for sex knowing full well I wouldn’t be climaxing.   And I’ve fucked partners knowing full well the likelyhood of them orgasming was zero.

Power Exchange – Thursday night I got fucked by C; he used his hands because his dick was in the car and neither of us wanted to stop long enough for him to go get it.  Friday night, I directed S on how to penetrate with me her hand while she controlled the Hitachi.  Both involved beds, both involved nudity; so why does one feel like sex and the other just doesn’t?  Feelings?  Truthiness?

Engaged participants – if your focus isn’t on me, I’m probably not going to consider it sex.

We’ve agreed it’s sex – again with the sex explanatory, right?


Stuff that doesn’t factor in:

  • Nudity
  • Type of penetration
  • Material of penetrative object
  • Being the same room as the person I’m having sex with (hey there phone sex)
  • Number of people involved – even if i’m been knocked out of the number 1 spot for best lover yet; I’m still in my top three.
  • Location

Stuff I’m not sure about how it factors in:

  • Sexual activity in passing – Cock sucking that just happens to be part of a larger scene doesn’t usually feel like sex….   Yet if that was how we were fucking for that time, it would be sex…
  • Disconnected participants:  There’d be no denying sexy times in the presences of each other happened (like mutual solo masturbation) – but we weren’t really engaged with each other.

Does any of this matter?
For me, right now, it really does.  Because right now I’m not having the sex I want to be having and I can’t figure out what the type of sex I want to be having looks like.  And, go sleep with a bunch of people until you figure out what works, isn’t something that works for me anymore.  First, I hardly have the time.  Second, I find disappointing sexual encounters so off-putting that it’s likely to put me right off sexual connections.  No one wants that.  If circumstances were different and I left time with a partner fully sated, I probably wouldn’t be putting so much thought into it.

I also want to be clear (as I can get) on my sex/not sex lines because even while I engage in sexual activities with some people I don’t always want to cross the sex line with them.

And, yes,  numbers. Which is kinda what started this line of thinking.  A little voice in my head asked me how many people I’d had sex with; and when I guestimated, that voice got all technical.    Which is a bit silly because my comparisons range from 1 – 1000 (and that might be underestimating him) partners, and I’m already okay with the exactly level of promiscuity I engage in.  I’ve found the lines of where I go from feeling free, happy, and empower to cheap, used, and regretful and I stay on the good side of it.

For you, asking these questions can help give you ideas about the kind of sex you want to have.  It can help set boundaries in your non-monogamous relationships (these types of sex are fine, these are not; or penetration is fine, but no orgasms with anyone but me), and with new lovers (I’m up for oral penetration tonight, but I need to know you better before any anal penetration happens).  You might always want to think about why you want to know what’s sex and what isn’t.

If you’re questioning ‘what counts as sex’ because you’re looking for a definition that helps your number stay on the “appropriate” side of promiscuous, I’d suggest you spend some time thinking about why staying on the appropriate side of promiscuous is important to you instead of what counts as sex.

If you want to know if you had sex with someone because you think sex fundamentally changes the way you interact with someone ask yourself three additional questions.  Why would sex change things?  And do I want things changed?  Do they want things changed?

And I think that’s all I got.  Not bad for 12 hours of thinking (there was sleep, dinner with the ladies and my very frist trip to a strip club in there too).  There were also multiple conversations what started with:  Hey; random, awkward and slightly inapprops question; have we had sex?  Everyone who answered that automatically became my favourite people of the day.
So!  What are the markers of sex for you?  What are the hallmarkers of good sex for you?  Is there a something else and do you have a better name for it – or is it just all sex?  Comment below and let me know, because I’m genuinely interested!

Further Reading:
Are we Having Sex now or What?  – Greta Christina
Are we having sex now…and why should we care? – Greta Christina

8 thoughts on “No Really, What is Sex?

  1. Zed says:

    I’m curious about the concept of “engagement” that you mention in the stuff that might not factor in.

    So – in the things that don’t factor in you say that not being in the same physical location doesn’t matter. So engagement clearly isn’t a location thing. Is it about intentionality? Where at least one participant is specifically concerned about the status of the others’ pleasure/orgasm?
    Or is it simply about paying attention? So that two people who just happen to be masturbating in the same room didn’t have sex, but two people looking at each other did? On that line of thought, what about a situation where two people are focused on the thoughts of each other but are in no way in contact? Then there’s the question where A is thinking of B while B is thinking of C and C is thinking of A – who had sex with who there?

    Gha- this goes Centipede’s Dilemma in a hurry.

    For my own internal “count”, it’s pretty much been a “did I think I was having sex?” – then yes, I had sex.
    But now you’ve got me pondering…

    1. Heather says:

      Yes, engagement would relate to intentionality.

      The two people masturbating in a room thing is interesting; because in most cases (voyeurism, groups wanking to the same porn) I wouldn’t consider that sex. But two people focused directly on each other and each masturbating I would count as sex.

      As for the last scenario; clearly A, B and C should just have a threesome 😉

      1. Zed says:

        Hmmm… if it is about intentionality then I would say it fit’s into the “doesn’t factor in” category. It’s just something that ends up being too nebulous to really take into account. Not only is it impossible to know what the intention of others is, it can be very hard to figure out what one’s own intentions really are.

        Hmmm… perhaps the difference between the two masturbatory situations is that in the one that would count as sex, the other person’s specific participation is integral to the experience. In the case of voyeurism or a group wanking, the other people there are in a sense interchangeable – the exact makeup of the group is not of primary importance.
        But in the two-people-focused situation, who the other person is is very much relevant.

        *chuckles* indeed they should 🙂

  2. M. J. Lance says:

    After thinking about it, I find that I don’t really use the s-word. If someone’s inquiring about my history, I say that “I’ve had X partners.” If I think they’re specifically asking about PIV, then I tell them “…but I’ve only had vaginal intercourse with Y of them.” Likewise, I don’t think I’ve ever told someone that I want to have sex with them… specifically because their idea of sex might be different from my. I think the vaguest I get is saying “I want to fuck you.” But that implies that A) I want to take on a top/dominant/aggressor role, and B) I want to penetrate one orifice or another on you body (with my penis unless otherwise specified.) And I usually specify the orifice. And if I want something other than PIO (penis-in-orifice), I generally spell it out explicitly. And if it’s a non-consent scene, then skip the talk (talk should have already happened at that point), and do whatever comes naturally within the bounds of their limits.

    The “What is sex?” debate was a frequent one between myself and my friends back in college. The fact of the matter is that, even if you clearly define what sex is for you, it will not be that for everyone else. And since the point of words is to communicate information, “sex” is essentially useless. It brings up more questions than answers. Might as well say what you mean the first time.

    And then there’s the question of whether “sex” is inherently heteronormative, and whether we should even bother trying to define what we do as sex.

    I mean, the word still affects us. As a male-bodied individual, I definitely feel social pressures to “have [poorly defined] sex,” both for the sake of obtaining bragging rights amongst other males, and to gain experience with which to have even better sexual experiences in the future. (Neverminding the conflicting social pressures to do just the opposite.) How many people have I had sex with? I don’t know.

    I think, as you say, that understanding why you want to pin it down is more important than pinning it down.

  3. M. J. Lance says:

    Oh, and the other thing I was going to mention: I think the best way I could define sex is “an act in which one or more people, if they were otherwise healthy, COULD have an orgasm, and which induces the secretion of oxytocin.”

      1. M. J. Lance says:

        The average person probably couldn’t quantify it, but they could recognize the signs that they’re brain is squirting oxytocin. It’s the hormone that’s responsible for a general feeling of well-being, as well as trust and bonding between individuals, Our secretes it when we’re sharing physical affection with people or having sex (the PIV kind.) I sure you could draw blood or get some kind of fancy lab equipment to determine the actual quantity being produced, but you probably know just from interacting with people what it feels like.

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