How do you define the word ‘sex’?

I use the word in a couple different ways. There’s “sex” the biological category – intersex, female, male, etc. For a long time, I thought of “sex” in this sense as being synonymous with “gender” and would use both words interchangeably. Eventually I learned that “sex” refers to a set of physical traits (hormones, genitalia, chromosomes and more), while gender has to do with a person’s psychological and emotional identity.

Of course, I’m not a super science-y gal, so most of the time when I say “sex”,  I’m referring to the physical act. But what physical act?  “Sex” is a word that open to a lot of interpretation. What I call sex may be very different from your definition of the word. What I call sex today is very different from the definition I had twenty years ago. Back then I would have told you that sex was  penis-in-vagina penetration because it had the potential to result in pregnancy and that everything else was a form of foreplay.

Then I experienced oral sex. Nothing about it felt like a warm up, a precursor or anything but the main event! So, I began to think of sex as not just vaginal penetration, but any partnered activity that was likely to produce an orgasm.

When I began working in sexual health and sex education, I began to understand how varied sexual experience can be. Again, I began to amend my definition of what consitutes “sex”, trying to find a meaning that was a bit broader and didn’t depend on partners or orgasms. Nowadays when I say sex, I mean something along the lines of “an intentional, consensual physical act which produces or enhances sexual pleasure.”

What do you mean when you talk about “sex”? Has its meaning changed for you over time or with certain experience? The comment section is yours!

 

Comments

  1. Emmy says:

    My definition of sex has changed as I’ve gotten older as well. I think that only considering penis-vagina intercourse not only limits what can be considered pleasurable or sensual, but it’s also heteronormative. When someone asks me now what I consider to be sex, I (partly joking but mostly seriously) say it’s anything where you might get an STD! :) As a former HIV counselor and teen health counselor I’ve found it really puts things into perspective, especially when talking with people who consider themselves straight but partake in naked activities with the same gender, trying to block out the fact that it is indeed sex.