I recently had a first session with a new couple that wanted to learn how to have creative and connective sex; specifically, without a bio-cock. For the purpose of this blog, let’s call the two women of the couple Zoe and Gwen. They were having trouble with everything from initiation to knowing when it was over. Not to mention figuring out who comes first, or how to negotiate toys. For the first twenty minutes of the session, Zoe and Gwen’s questions poured forth and so did my answers. Until a very important question broke our flow. I am asked bizarre and fascinating questions on a daily basis and it is highly unusual for me to become tongue-tied, let alone frozen like a deer in headlights.

Zoe asked me, “How do you define sex?”

No one has ever asked me that before. Why haven’t I asked myself this before?

“I don’t know,” I said in shock. “I need to think about this.”

I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I keep a running list of the people I sleep with. That list includes men, women, and non-binary people. All of the encounters were extraordinarily different, sometimes involving no penetration whatsoever. Yet all these people made it onto my list. Why? Recalling my sexual exploration in my teens, I remember my peers stating definitively that they, “Did not have sex. We did oral, and other stuff.” I myself have made similar comments in the past. Yet the first time I slept with a woman, I was delighted with the encounter and considered it sex. Why was oral sex with a woman ‘real sex’ yet oral sex with a man was not the same?

Prior to their current relationship, Zoe and Gwen had each dated men almost exclusively. As a result, they had a conventional if not narrow view of how sex worked. Conceptually, sex was coitus, or heterosexual intercourse. The apex of the sexual pyramid. There is a hierarchy of sex acts, implicitly agreed upon in our culture, that proclaims coitus as the most important sexual act. Everything else is at best a precursor, foreplay, or not really sex. At worst, other sex acts are relegated as perversions. This set of beliefs are deeply ingrained in our culture. If “third base” is oral sex or penetration with fingers (but not a penis), then what’s a “home run” for sex between two women?

The California Penal Code discusses and defines terms like: intercourse, sexual relations, assault, lewd behavior, etc… the list goes on and on. It’s actually quite an interesting read if you have the time. California law define sex as intercourse. Clear. Reductive. However, the term ‘Sexual Gratification’ comes up quite often. It seems, in the eyes of the law, the intent to seek sexual gratification is much more problematic than plain old intercourse. The desire and pursuit of pleasure, seems to be a key factor in law-making regarding sex. And you know what — I think they’re on to something.

Merriam-Webster (the incontrovertible authority on the English language) defines sex as: “sexually motivated phenomena or behavior”. This definition is wonderfully broad, as it sites motivation to be a determining factor. And necessarily so, because many people never experience intercourse, yet we do not consider them virgins. Consider for yourself, the variety of sexual acts you have engaged in — do you have a favorite? If intercourse is something you have experienced — was it the most pleasurable? Do other acts arouse you more? Do other activities leave you feeling more connected to your partner? More cared for? More loved? Do other acts feel more valuable to you in a given moment? For each of us, there are sexual activities that make up our sex-lives. Everything on your list is part of how you define sex. And if intercourse was the definitive sex act, we would not also need legal or medical terms to define it. We would just call it sex.

Ultimately, it is up to each of us to decide for ourselves what constitutes sex. Not only is it our prerogative to decide which acts to engage in, it also the only way we can determine what kind of sex we want to have. To fully understand our sexual preferences and have truly mind-blowing sex, we must know what we like, and guide our encounters in that direction. For myself, it comes down to the feeling of being fucked. Whether I am the one receiving or giving, I want my encounters to to end in a haze of undoubted gratification. I want to smile to myself and think, “Yeah… I really got fucked.” Or, “They got properly fucked.” I define sex by the way that I feel, and this is what that I shared with my clients.

Certified Sex & Intimacy Coach, and CMT. Pleasure advocate for individuals and couples. shelbydevlin.com