i got some chicks in the living room gettin' it on and they ain't leavin' til 6 in the mo'nin'
I was recently chatting with a group of girlfriends, when one of them said something that really got my gears turning. I don't even remember what exactly it was we were discussing, but amid the conversation she mentioned that her and her girlfriend, "have sex every day" and continued on. The other girls continued to talk, but I had checked out of their conversation and checked in to my own thoughts (a little secret about me, my brain can only handle small chunks of information, so once it started down a path of contemplation, it was impossible to continue to absorb anything else).
Not because of the every day frequency of their sex.
But because she called what they did "SEX"
Here's why it stuck out to me... I knew that what she was casually, intuitively referring to as SEX was anything but PIV (penis in vagina) intercourse. Which is EXACTLY what most of us think of as the default definition of sex. In fact, I have the inside scoop to know that their sex includes zero penises - neither of them are penis-owners, the sex they have is just with each other, and they don't use strap-ons or dildos, etc. Penis-free sex. No penis in any vaginas. And yet, still SEX.
For all my straight, heterosexual readers out there: I want to challenge you to think about the last time you participated in the type of activities that this lesbian couple defines as sex (kissing, rubbing, thrusting, humping, grinding, licking, sucking, etc. - and yes, I asked what those behaviors were so I'm not just making assumptions here) with your other-sex partner and referred to it as SEX. Maybe (hopefully?) that's true for some of you. But I'm going to guess for many of you, you would refer to those activities as something more like "fooling around" or "making out." Right?! Riiiiiiiiiiiight?!
Why does that matter? Because having such a narrow definition of sex that essentially ONLY includes PIV intercourse....
- Minimizes the experience of those who have sex in ways that are outside of this definition. You know, like queer folks or those who are into kink or your gay uncle or PIV virgins or folks that don't have use of these body parts or your mom who experiences too much vaginal pain for penetration, etc. etc. etc. Many of these people are still - or are still capable of - experiencing pleasure, connection, fulfillment, and intimacy just like folks who have PIV sex.
- Is heteronormative and damaging. It perpetuates the idea that people of privilege (straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied people) are the only ones who get to experience the "real" version of sex. It systemically disvalues the sex that marginalized populations have, and prolongs the perception that these non-PIV behaviors are weird, dirty, abnormal, icky, deranged, sick, and all the negative social stigma that are often associated with oral sex, anal play and kink, as well as others.
- Is restricting! If we think the only way to "have sex" with someone is to put our P in their V or put their P in our V, that doesn't give us the option of exploring outside of those lines. Not in the mood to have someone INSIDE OF YOU (because yo, sometimes that's really encumbering, no matter how much you love or are attracted by someone), I've got good news! You can do other things (see above example from the lesbians 😉) and still have sex! Penis not feeling as erect as necessary for a strong penetration? I've got a secret! You can do other things (see above example from the lesbians 😉) and still have sex! The amount of sexual challenges that broadening your definition of sex can solve is endless. Yeast infection? BLOW JOB! Whiskey dick? BACK RUB! Feeling lazy after a long day? MUTUAL MASTURBATION! On vacation and forgot your birth control at home? DRY HUMP! I could play this game all day.
- On the other hand, it also discounts the impact that these quote unquote other behaviors can have on us socially, emotionally and physically. I'm going to put my prevention hat on for a minute (because it fits so well) and mention how many misperceptions there are out there about how STDs are transmitted, and how many folks believe that they're not having PIV sex they are not putting themselves at risk. ⚠️ NOT TRUE, btw! ⚠️ VtM (vagina-to-mouth), PtM (penis-to-mouth), AtM (ass-to-mouth), anal penetration, skin-to-skin contact, anything involving bodily fluids, and use of sex toys all come with their own risk of infection transmission, and require unique prevention measures in order to decrease that risk. Additionally, I could (and may) write a whole blog post of its own on the emotional and social impact of many of these behaviors, even though they may not be considered as "real sex" by many. Which, unfortunately, can lead to a lack of understanding, empathy and compassion for folks who have been impacted in some way by non-PIV sex. (I mean, look, for example, as many definitions of rape - they oftentimes will be dictated by penetration... what about all the other ways someone might be non-consentually sexually assaulted WITHOUT penetration?)
- Increases shame. And boooooooooo to sexual shame! Folks who engage in any of these "not really sex" behaviors are more likely to feel shame since they are not as widely accepted in conventional society. Which means that a) they may feel more internalized ickyness, b) they will be less likely to seek out support like health care for fear of judgement and c) will be less likely to be honest and forthcoming in their relationships, also for fear of judgement.
So, I'm going to encourage all of you to challenge your own definition of SEX. (And for the record, if you've never had to even consider it before, please recognize that you're at a place of privilege. So many others have already HAD to wrestle with this incongruence, because the sexual activities that they enjoy/are able to do don't fit with the conventional definition.) And if you're feeling super enlightened and motivated to change what world -to make it safer and more comfortable and more accepting and inclusive for those who don't have PIV sex, one baby-step at a time - challenge others' definition of SEX as well.