Thursday, February 21, 2008

so... what IS sex, anyway?

Reading over the comments to my last post, and rereading the post itself, I realized that your attitude towards the "your-turn-my-turn" issue actually depends a lot on what you think qualifies as sex. That's a classic conversation I think I've had a hundred times with different groups of lesbians. Just what IS sex between women?

In reality, most of what lesbians do in bed is considered foreplay (or the sexier "heavy petting") when straight people do it. As Zuhn pointed out in her comment, there are so many things we can do with each other sexually, how do we distinguish between "sex" and "making out" or "fooling around?" And does it matter?

When I was a freshman in college, I took a very touchy-feely humanities class called "Relationships," and one of our assignments was to create a "lips list" on which we were instructed to list each person we'd ever kissed in our lives, and to look for patterns, unfinished business, etc. At 18, my list was short and contained almost all boys, but the assignment itself had a huge impact on me. Turns out, I LOVE to quanitfy things and list-making is right up my alley. once I had a taste of listing my partners, I couldn't stop. Since then (fall of 1993) I have been keeping a running, written list of all the women (I shaved off the boys because I don't really care about them) I've kissed, including a sublist of the women I've had sex with. Which means I had to decide for myself what qualifies as sex.

It seems every lesbian has her own definition and here's mine: for me, it's sex when there is prolonged touching of the genitalia (either digitally or orally) with the goal of orgasm for one or both parties. Orgasm is just a goal and not a requirement, and this separates "sex" from "heavy petting" in my little world. I've slipped my hand down someone's pants before, enjoyed the wetness, felt the engorged lips, and then pulled my hand out again: that wasn't sex. But if I'm touching someone in that focused, building, intense way that naturally tends towards climax of some kind, that's sex whether she cums or not.

Of course an orgasm isn't dispositive. Just because one party has one, the act itself isn't necessarily elevated to "sex" in my mind. Example: I made out with a woman once who came while I sucked on her nipple and she ground her (fully clothed) mound against my (fully clothed) knee: not sex, at least not in my book. It was fun. It was hot. But she's listed only in the "kiss" column. Too much clothes, not enough direct contact with her cunt. In my mind, it just didn't rank.

I also don't count "dry humping," although sometimes "wet humping" can count. I'm a lot more likely to think of it as sex if both parties are naked and fluids are getting smeared around, regardless of where they're getting smeared. I think my definition of sex is heavily influenced by my own inclination to have a one-at-a-time sexual experience. I appreciated Zuhn's comment that there is no such thing as "my turn, your turn" because your turn WAS my turn. Meaning: the person doing the fucking can often get off just as much as the person getting fucked. That's certainly how Mera operates, but it's definitely NOT how I operate.

I definitely enjoy doing the fucking, but I don't cum while I'm fucking someone else. My body isn't stimulated in the same way when I'm fucking as when I'm being fucked. It's like a whole different set of sensors and reactors are activated. I go into a completely different head-space. This means that I'm a lot more inclined to have one-sided sexual experiences, which also means I'm more likely to end up in those "your-turn, my-turn" situations. And I have to admit, I've been in a *lot* of relationships where the sex was all your-turn, my-turn. I know I seemed to disparage that style in my last post, so I should clarify that I don't so much mind the one-sidedness, it's the obligatory flip that I can't stand.

But that's just me. What about you? Start with this very inadequate poll and please, please add comments. I'd love to know what everyone else is thinking about this topic. It opens up lots of other areas for exploration too, as far as I'm concerned. I'm especially interested in whether different sexual styles are fluid or fixed and whether people identify their styles with roles or labels, but that's a topic for another day.


Grumpy Granny said...

To me, "sex" is what ever you do to each other with fingers, hands, lips, teeth, tongues, toes, or toys while naked, or intent to get naked, in bed, on couch, floor, table, or kitchen counter, or in car, that takes somewhat longer than 15 minutes.

It's the getting out of the clothes, or trying to get out of the clothes, that does it for me.

Otherwise, I'd call it just "heavy petting" even if there's orgasm involved.


ksf said...

great post. really got me thinking. i decided that for myself, my definition of sex can change depending on the circumstances. for example, say that i date some chick, and slide my hand down her pants and bring her to orgasm. the next day i participate in a survey that asks, "did you have sex with your date?", my answer would be no. now lets say i'm with my partner and i bring her to orgasm the same way and the survey says, "did you have sex today?", my answer would probably be yes! so i'm wondering if maybe it's an emotional thing that makes it sex for me - but... nah. here's why. say i have another date and we get naked and serious and i make her come under those circumstances. survey says, "sex?" my answer would be, "yea, sort of" If she didn't come, my answer would prolly be,"no, we messed around - but we didn't really have sex" But if i made her come - oh yeah - that means I had sex with her. But if she didn't make me come, then in my mind i don't feel as if she had sex with me. I'm not in to the obligatory flip either, but i'm just saying - if there's not an orgasm for me, from the one i'm with, then in my mind she didn't have sex with me. So in my offbeat little world, I can have sex with you - but you might not be having sex with me! Maybe I have issues! ;-)

Zoe said...

I'd say I define sex as an encounter where the intended outcome for one, or both, participants is orgasm.

L said...

I will leave defining sex to Bill Clinton, to me it does not matter, if I'm emotionally involved, just about anything is sex, if not, then I would say it's not.

mcCutcheon said...

doesn't make much sense to comment on a month-old post, but here goes anyway:

I stand firmly by the point that you can have sex with someone without even touching (and I don't mean cybersex - that's just getting too complicated for definition) - it's all a state of mind.

but if you'd specifically ask me if I had sex with someone I'd probably only say yes, if genitalia got directly touched and stimulated in one way or another. BUT I wouldn't count some half-hearted blow-job in a pub's toilet where the guy didn't even get a proper boner (Not my fault, I'd like to add. He was simply a pussy ;)

So I guess it's a combination of the facts and a state of mind.