What’s your definition?

This article in the New York Daily News about a new study about Americans’ sexual habits got me thinking about a big pet peeve of mine – the concept of “virginity.”

The last two paragraphs highlight the fundamental problem, in my view:

“The study also confirmed the popularity of oral sex among teenagers, with nearly 40% of both 16-year-old boys and girls saying they’ve received oral sex. Among teens who are virgins, 16% of boys and 21% of girls who said they are holding out for religious or moral reasons admitted to having had oral sex.”

Teenagers don’t consider oral sex “real sex.” Hell, many adults don’t consider oral sex to be “real.” There’s this myth that “sex” is heterosexual vaginal intercourse, and everything else is something else. This is not new. It’s problematic for many reasons, not the least of which is from a safer sex standpoint – how can we educate people to practice safer sex if they don’t think they’re having sex? It’s also extremely invalidating to those of us (and we’re not in the minority) who find more pleasure in oral, digital, or anal sex, or in “outercourse.”

This doesn’t just affect queer people – plenty of straight people aren’t all that into “intercourse” – but queer people are often the most likely to see the problem with defining “sex” and “virginity” too narrowly, since our sex lives inherently deviate from the standard expectations.

Years ago, my friend Michael and I sat at Shari’s in Oregon and had a conversation in which we re-formulated our own definitions of “virginity” and “sex”. At the time, he proposed that sex was anything that made you come, or had the potential to make you come. I’ve always liked that definition. It also fits better with what I have always seen as my first “sexual experience.”

So now I ask you, blog readers – what’s your definition of “sex” and “virginity”?


~ by realsupergirl on September 16, 2005.

13 Responses to “What’s your definition?”

  1. Sex-Mutual activity in which one or more people come. So it covers a lot more than just intercourse. When I explained this definition to a girlfriend she told me that her first time having sex with a woman was on an overnight bus. “Well,” she corrected herself, “I had sex.”

    When I conducted safer sex workshops for women many moons ago, (I can still put a condom on a dildo without using my hands) I came to the conclusion that while “good” girls used to pretend they didn’t have sex, now they pretend they don’t plan on having sex (the reason all those Christian virgin pledges have astronomical STD and unwanted pregnancy rates). I should say that this attitude wasn’t apparent just among the young women in the workshops. I noticed it among my coworkers (fellow sex-ed facilitators) and before I made a decision to actively work against this mindset, in myself as well.

  2. I like your definition even better than the one I’ve been using, which is essentially, “where there’s orgasm [and more than one person involved], there’s sex.” Not, possibly, great sex, but sex nonetheless.

  3. I’m always debating this topic. I feel the definition of sex is too narrow…
    I think everyones definition of sex should be how they themselves feel. If they dont feel a blowjob is sex, then its not. If they consider finger fucking sex, then it is. Whatever you are most comfortable with really.
    When I came out as a lesbian everyone was like ‘your always going to be a virgin’ and I’m like whaaaat??? Thats total crap. Just because some dude doesnt stick a piece of anatomy in me, does not make me a virgin.
    As for oral sex being sex- I dont know. For some people its much more intimate and intimidating and important, its almost more than sex. And for some, its just a way to get off and is not sex. I think its gross that 15 year olds are having oral sex and not thinking about the consequences, but I feel its pretty much up to them to define what they feel is sex.
    As for one or more people coming as a definition of sex- would that include masturbation? So sex with yourself? Just wondering because my girlfriend has the same definition as you.

  4. Ok, to add- what about a woman who can not physically come for either medical or other reasons? Does she never have sex? Ever? Even if she enjoys it?
    Lol, I’m thinking too much.

  5. In response to you and ‘s comments, I would say very specifically that sex is anything that makes, or can make, YOU come, whether there is another person involved. I think masturbation is sex.

  6. Oh, that just seems sad.

    I wouldn’t want to label her experience, but at the same time if a person can’t ever have an orgasm, that does seem like a huge loss, and I wouldn’t want to understate that loss.

  7. Maybe for you, but I didn’t have sex until there was a woman involved. Could have been a man, but a line was definitely involved when I first got naked & enjoyed the sexual company of another person to our mutual pleasure.

    I didn’t have a blowjob/whatever first though, so I can’t say whether that would have affected how I feel about it.

    Have to say actually that I was a nervous mess first night, and I’d say I lost my virginity – that mutual pleasure thing – but by penetrative definitions, probably not. So I agree that’s too narrow.

  8. I think you’re right…although I think masturbation is sex, I also think “a line was definitely involved” when I first became sexually involved with other people. While I think “sex” is anything that could or does makr you come, I’ve often though that “virginity” is anything you do that you hadn’t done before – so having sex with a man for the first time, a woman for the first time, practicing B/D for the first time, having an orgasm for the first time… these all seem like “virginities” to me, in a way.

  9. So if one person comes, and the other doesn’t, has only one of them had sex? (=

    If masturbation is sex, then I had my first sexual experience at 11. But there’s such a huge qualitative difference between how that felt then and how sex feels now that it just doesn’t seem correct to even call them the same thing.

    But then, I use a language that drastically overloads “love,” so maybe that’s okay.

  10. Well it may be sad- but its a reality for a lot of women. Either b/c of anti-depressant medication, a physical malifunction, stress, a lot of shit. It’s a huge loss- but what is sex if she cant have an orgasm? Penetration? What?

  11. I think it’s still sex. By “possibility” or orgasm I meant that if a particular sexual activity could give someone, somewhere, an orgasm, then that person can consider it sex, even if a particular person is physically unable to orgasm.

    Although, I’m not sure that definitely works, because I’ve heard of women who have had spontaneous orgasms from clitoral piercings. Perhaps that’s an urban myth. Or perhaps that would fall under the heading of masturbation.

  12. So if one person comes, and the other doesn’t, has only one of them had sex?

    No, no. If a sexual act does or could make someone come, then it’s sex – but that doesn’t mean if it DOESN’T on any given night or for any given reason, that certainly doesn’t make it not sex. That would be silly. So if someone goes down on you, but you don’t come, that’s still sex, because you could come, may have come in the past, probably will come in the future from someone going down on you.

    If masturbation is sex, then I had my first sexual experience at 11. But there’s such a huge qualitative difference between how that felt then and how sex feels now that it just doesn’t seem correct to even call them the same thing.

    Well, yeah, as I told I think masturbation is sex, but I also think there’s a line of significance when you move from having sex with yourself to having sex with someone else. For me, that was the significant “virginity” – when someone else gave me sexual pleasure and made me come (17) rather than when I first had intercourse (18). The latter was a much less important moment in my life.

  13. That would be silly.

    Yeah, that was more or less tongue-in-cheek — basically me being “nice and accurate,” to quote Good Omens. (=

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