I’d like to start by making a specific point crystal clear. People who know me well (or I suppose have ever been in a room with me) will find this truth to be self-evident, but I’ll state it anyway:
I really like sex.
However, circumstances have led me to an interesting question, namely “what is sex?” Everyone thinks that they know the answer, and that everyone else’s answers are the same as theirs. It’s just not true.
I am going to be teaching a workshop at Dark Odyssey Spring Fire this April on how to have ethical erotic play that includes spooky foo. As I’ve been thinking about my workshop, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the nature of sex. For instance, and this will be too much info for some of you, I do not have anal sex with my husband. It is a source of some discontent on my part, but for reasons of his own this particular area of sexuality is off limits with him.
Some would argue that this means that Summer and I have not had sex in almost two years. I would strongly disagree. We have a lot of sex; we just don’t have that particular type of sex. However, if your idea of “sex” is based on the *insert tab A into slot B* model than you could make the argument that we have been having doesn’t count.
Even the *tab A slot B* world view has its problems. How for instance to you define what tab A or slot B even is. Many conservative arguments against gays are based on the idea that the only true sex is the penis-in-vagina variety. President Clinton brought the question of whether oral sex counts into the public consciousness. I think it is safe to say that now, over a decade later; the question has yet to be resolved in the public sphere.
It could be argued that the oral sex issue has been beaten to death. Let’s try less familiar territory. In gay sex there is a practice called “docking” in which an intact (not circumcised) man rolls his foreskin over the head of his partner’s penis. There is a tab A and a slot(ish) B involved, but is this “sex” in such a literalistic worldview? I somehow doubt the current president of the United States will be accommodating and bring this question into public discourse through his indiscretions, as much fun as that would be.
I suspect that many of the readers of Barking Shaman discarded the *tab A slot B* concept some time ago. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a better grasp of what sex is.
The magnificent Lee “Bridgett” Harrington passed on this definition of sex from one of hir partners: “Did someone get off? If yes, then it was sex.” I must admit that there is an alluring elegance to the simplicity of this definition. I think it is safe to say that in most contexts it can be applied without problem. However, just in the course of my conversation with Lee, we found some circumstances this definition doesn’t quite cover.
The first and perhaps most obvious is the case of professional sex workers. If a prostitute or porn star has professional sex and someone comes, the sex worker may not really consider the experience “sex” even if they were the party orgasming.
Similarly, there are situations where one activity, even with the same people involved, can be sex one time and not another. For instance, take CBT. If, as a shaman, I engage in some form of genital torture with another person as part of a sacred endurance ritual, I would not call it sex. However, if I was shoving needles through someone’s dick to get him (or me) off, that would be different, even though the act and the participants might be the same.
The question of what constitutes sex is largely academic for most people. However, for folks involved in the BDSM or Kink communities the question takes on greater import because the lines are more blurry. A friend of a friend is a serious dom who is in a relationship with a woman who is not interested in BDSM at all. They have had several conversations about whether it is ok for him to go to play parties and flog other women. He had to explain to his partner that for him, this was a form of “sex,” and if she was going to allow him to go play in that way she needed to first understand that. It took time for her to understand what he was saying because she couldn’t imagine getting off on what to her was a non-sexual activity.
Even outside of these communities the question is not always as straight forward as we might think. In college I knew a young woman who broke up with her boyfriend because she repeatedly caught him cheating on her. What makes this weird in my mind is that he was cheating on her with himself. In this young woman’s word view, the fact that her boyfriend masturbated was a betrayal of their relationship and constituted cheating. Most of the people I am close with are rather sexually open (some would say debauched) and to us this is a crazy idea. Neither I, nor my friends can imagine telling a young man that he can’t whack off, but then we don’t really considered masturbation to be “sex” in the same way that this young woman did.
Clearly this isn’t a question that will be answered here today. I could probably write at length about how I personally define sex, but what would the point be. While we all may have different ideas of what sex is, we should each make an effort to understand our own internal process on this subject. Gaining a better idea of what we think of as “sex” will help us to understand ourselves and in some ways be more tolerant of those around us. Defining our personal concept of sex and sexuality makes it clear that we need to remember not to assume that other people share our definitions. Anything you can think of someone, somewhere, probably gets off on it.
That’s part of what makes it all so much fun.