What is sex?
That probably sounds like a Google search straight from a confused (and/or curious) pre-teen who is searching far and wide to find out what really is meant by “the birds and bees”. However, that question is not only relevant for young, uneducated folk. In fact, it is just as relevant for grown women today who are reaching (or have reached) the age of sexual autonomy.
Sex, for many generations, has been portrayed as crudely biological – a penis in a vagina. Biologically correct? Somewhat, yes. But as we have progressed, it is definitely somewhat strange and backwards that this is still what pops into people’s heads if they are presented with the question of what sex really is. However, while this seems to be a harmless definition, it is actually a problematic (not to mention, heteronormative) portrayal of what sex really is.
Why? Firstly, because it excludes many ‘types’ of women. Notably, queer women. Lesbians, bisexual women and beyond; there is a whole sub section of women who aren’t having the dictionary definition of sex. This leads to age-old questions by heterosexuals: how do they do it? This, in straight people speak, more often than not translates as “how can you have sex if there’s no cis man involved?”. You can’t blame them. We’ve been conditioned to believe that sex is directly equal to intercourse. However, we must all learn that you cannot equate sex between a man and a woman to sex between two women – these are different bodies, different situations, (often, but not always!) there are entirely different physicalities involved. And it saddens me deeply that there are young gay and queer women feeling that they are “lesser” to their straight counterparts having their first sexual experiences – and beyond – because they feel as if they aren’t really having sex because the textbook body parts aren’t involved. When, really, they are having sex. And they’re having it wonderfully, evidently, as 65% of straight women – on average – orgasm during sex compared to 88% of lesbians. So, next time you pause to cause harm to a gay woman by questioning if her relations with a fellow woman are really valid, maybe use that moment to take a leaf out of their book instead.
Leading on from this, while many straight (and bisexual women) do choose – and enjoy – having the textbook definition of sex, there are many who don’t. While penetrative sex can be wonderful for some, it can be traumatic for others. Unbeknown to many people, there are many conditions which make having sex this way painful or even impossible. For example, women who suffer from Endometriosis can experience painful sex when it is done penetratively. As if being an Endo-sufferer isn’t difficult enough (symptoms can also include painful, heavy periods and fertility issues), these sufferers often experience increased levels of anxiety due to their sex life – feelings of incompetence, of worrying that their partner will leave them due to not being able to have penetrative sex, worrying that their sex life is dead. This feeling is also mimicked by Vaginismus sufferers. Vaginismus is – in short – a medical condition where a woman cannot (sometimes due to trauma or anxiety) partake in penetration as the vagina essentially blocks itself off, as this is the body’s natural response to the fear of penetration.
These conditions cause millions of women upset, fear and anxiety – natural responses to having a medical condition. However, what isn’t natural is the mental decline that many of these women experience due to feeling a lack of sexual competence. What’s sad here is the fact that these women can have glorious sex lives – non penetrative sex is a vast spectrum, and its what women experience the most sexual pleasure through, on average. No matter the gender of the partner the woman has, they can both have a fulfilled, comfortable, non-penetrative sexual experience – yet, this ridiculous standard of sex equalling intercourse is leaving these women in states of depression, low self-esteem and anxiety because they cannot fulfil their (or their partners’, or the worlds’) ridiculous standards.
When we refer to sex is singular, as textbook, as universal, we are not being harmless. We are contributing to women’s mental decline. We are contributing to the anxiety of trauma victims, sufferers of complex conditions, gay women – women that should, in short, be protected. And its time to have a rethink.
So, with that in mind, what really is sex?
Well, sex isn’t universal. It isn’t like a morning coffee or brushing your teeth; an experience that we can all relate to. For some, textbook sex is great. For others, its uncomfortable, impossible, boring, painful, traumatic… the list goes on. But what sex definitely is can be attributed to a short checklist, for example; are you and (at least) another person not wearing clothes? Check. Is there an air of excitement, healthy nerves, mutual consent? Check. Is there a possibility that you, or another person present could have an orgasm? Check. Afterwards, do you feel content that you had an experience ranging anywhere between satisfactory to life-altering? Check. Well, all that in place, you’re probably having sex. Or a really f*cking weird séance. I’m not here to judge.
What I can judge however, is the fact that whether or not someone has penetrative sex, they can definitely have sex. The other acts which you can do are not “everything but”. Foreplay doesn’t mean before play. It can be the whole event and more. And when we start including all and every act within the definition of sex, it leaves us with the most powerful tool a sexually autonomous person can have: choice. The choice to decide what we’re doing – our bodies and sexuality do not limit us. They leave us with room to explore, to love, to experience.
Oasis were right. I am going to start a revolution from my bed. And so are you. Go out there, enjoy yourself, and remember that sex is whatever you damn want it to be – because your choice and experiences will always triumph an outdated dictionary definition.
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