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The Blue & Gray Press | August 21, 2019

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Definition of Sex Not Necessarily Clear Cut

Guest Columnist

What is sex? Quick, before you go running to Webster, what is sex to you? Okay, before you go running to Wikipedia, it isn’t that kind of question. Sex isn’t simply a penis entering a vagina, although that may be the dictionary definition.

I realized that sex had to be much more flexible than that dictionary definition last year. I was talking with a good friend of mine who is a lesbian. As you might guess, the topic of sex came up. I was curious what she meant when she said that she’d “had sex” with someone. I had a sneaking suspicion that lesbians outside of pornography used strap-ons very infrequently. There had to be a different definition, a different meaning, for her. She explained that she felt sex was any time she penetrated her partner.

It seems that we’d both left the dictionary definition behind, and stayed surprisingly close to it.

What I would like to determine is not a definition of sex that takes into account homosexual as well as heterosexual actions, but rather a convincing explanation of what we should attempt to achieve with our sexual behavior.

I was not satisfied by my friend’s description. I am clearly not a lesbian, but I would think that if I were, I would consider my partner and I as having sex if I were performing cunnilingus on her, regardless of whether or not there were any penetration.

Would stimulation of the genitals count, then? Rubbing your boyfriend’s hard on through his jeans would count by that definition, and thus I find it lacking as well. Skin on skin contact between you and your partner’s genitals? While this definition is unambiguous, it is again too vague.

I don’t think we can define sex in those terms. I would argue that sex doesn’t have to do with who is putting what where, how quickly, and with what sort of repetitive motion.

To me, what is important is how what you do makes you feel. Don’t misconstrue my definition to require orgasms either. One can have sex with their partner without orgasm. I think our definition should be based on the emotional response we have to our sexual acts. When you have sex, it should be clear because of how close, connected, and emotionally attached you feel to your partner.

There are, I will admit, both strengths and weaknesses in this definition. The weakness is obvious: sex becomes ultimately subjective. If you and your partner perform exactly the same act as your best friend and his or her partner, one pair may not have had sex. There are strengths to this definition however. It (with a few exceptions) describes only healthy sexual behavior. Rape, by the dictionary definition of sex, is still sex, forcible as it might have been. Sex with an acquaintance, whom you don’t know too well, would likely also not fit under this definition. As a counter point, this definition would also include very meaningful intercourse with someone other than your partner, which I would not necessarily describe as healthy.

Perhaps at this point I should make a further distinction. I believe what I am getting at is not sex, per se. Sexual intercourse isn’t what you talk about with your friends, its not what you giggle or gossip about. It is clinical. If I started talking about “sexual intercourse” at the dinner table, folks would wonder when I became so stuffy.

I think the better term to use in this case is “making love”. This term is the one I prefer to use because I think it most accurately captures what I am referring to, and captures what I think should be the goal in sexual behavior.

If one refers to two men having sex, I would generally assume that they are having anal sex, but I would argue that two men making love would not have to indicate that type of intercourse. Two women making love, therefore, could include penetration, cunnilingus, or any manner of battery-powered fun. Making love in a heterosexual relationship could be any of the above as well.

I am not arguing that one must be monogamous, or that one must know a person for a set amount of time before making love. I am simply arguing that making love is the most emotionally and physically fulfilling of all sexual behaviors.

Sex is awkward. There are a million things you’ve got to get right: She has to be wet enough, he has to be hard enough, you both have to be comfortable and relaxed, you’ve got to get the lube in the condom, the condom on the dong, and then more lube on the outside; you’ve got to bite hard enough, soft enough, not at all; you’ve got to go fast enough, go slow enough, last long enough, be long enough; you’ve got to be a gentleman and make sure that she has an orgasm; you’ve gotta shift your weight, no, not like that…

I’m not saying sex is always going to be awkward, or even that your first time will be awkward. (It will be.) What I am saying is this: if you love and trust your partner, and your goal is physical pleasure for both of you and emotional fulfillment for both of you, that awkwardness really won’t detract from the experience. Trying to have sex with someone who might laugh at you if you mess up is incredibly nerve-wracking. Trying to have sex with someone who will laugh with you when you mess up is incredibly stimulating.


  1. Jacqueline M.

    This column used to be witty and sometimes a little vulgar, but this clearly oversteps the boundaries. No matter how “open” our society claims to be regarding sexuality does not mean we must be subjected to the “definition” of sex, which frankly isn’t even completely addressed in the article. This article is more awkward than sex even could be and it seems like the point of it was to test how many times you could refer to cunnilingus.

  2. Laura

    This is a subject that could have been addressed in a far less vulgar way and I am surprised that nobody edited it.

  3. Kaitlyn M.

    While this article is unnecessarily vulgar, it is also just completely unnecessary in itself. The purpose is supposedly to define sex and instead the majority of the article is a subjective commentary on inappropriate descriptions of sexual acts. It is scattered, unorganized and frankly pointless.

  4. an alumnus

    The author appears to believe himself to be engaging in some sort of analytical, almost philosophical discussion of sexual activity. I can see, based on the pseudo-intellectual style in which the piece is written, how he might perceive himself as having made some sort of elegant or intellectually sound point…but ultimately this comes across as little more than the aimless ramblings of someone who delights in violating the generally accepted definition of social appropriateness. As others have stated, this article has no point–other than to explore a sensitive subject with a defiant disregard for the sensitivities of the average reader.

    When I wrote for the Bullet, both as a guest columnist and as a staff writer, I found that they never really made substantial edits to guest columns or letters to the editor, at least not content-wise. Additionally, they made an effort to print just about anything that was written, which is commendable in most cases. Here, however, the publication of this article reflects very poorly on the Bullet. Any reputable newspaper will tell some people “no, thank you” when they try to publish something that isn’t worth being seen by the reading public.

  5. liz e

    Surely you commenters must be outraged at a sex column that talks openly about sex. “Cunnilingus” in a college paper? Oh, won’t someone please think of the children! What term would you prefer for female oral sex? I’ve read more explicit material for Latin class for crying out loud, never mind Anthropology or English. Or perhaps different forms of sex shouldn’t be discussed at all. One of you wrote “no matter how “open” our society claims to be regarding sexuality does not mean we must be subjected to the “definition” of sex” . Really. Perhaps you could have chosen not to read an article SPECIFICALLY ABOUT THE DEFINITION OF SEX. Our society is Puritan enough without college students refusing to hear about sex. Doesn’t that worry you at all, that the most basic aspect of all life can’t be discussed openly? Yes, sex is by its nature awkward and vulgar. Get over it. This is not a sex-ed video from the 1980’s. The author is not going to talk about “becoming a woman”, or “life changes”. Nor is he writing for your grandmother, although I see how some of you could be confused for little old ladies by your scandalized responses.

    His style of writing is lacking? Fine. Poorly written articles clearly stand out like a gangrenous sore thumb next to the Pulitzer-quality reporting of the Bullet. Have I mentioned this is a college paper? I hope you spread that criticism to every article in this issue, because none of it is award-winning. But if you’re going to attack him for his writing style, leave the content alone. Surely you don’t think we need a return to the adolescent rubbish that was Sexclamations. If the author of that tripe told us about *gasp* dating one more time I think I’d vomit. It’s about time we had a sex column that actually discussed sex, in all its awkward and vulgar glory.

  6. an alumnus

    To address some of your points:

    I don’t think anyone would have any criticism if the article were well-written, informative, and offered some sort of new or interesting insight about something…even different kinds of sex. The problem, in my view, is that the article seemed to be talking about some pretty vulgar stuff for no purpose other than to say, “look at me, I’m in college, and I know all about different kinds of sex now!” Maybe I’m wrong about that, but the fact is that there’s nothing informative or compelling in this article. What did you find so great or new about this article?…or did you just like that he’s not afraid to talk about sex?

    I don’t think we need a return to Sexclamations…but we don’t need really need this either. I would actually kind of appreciate it if the Bullet became more or less a family-friendly newspaper, although I’m sure that would get be labelled a “little old lady.”

    Finally, I don’t see why it’s unfair to criticize both the content and the writing style of the piece. If both are lacking, why not point it out? It’s nothing personal against the author, I just don’t think the Bullet should publish pieces like this. I’m sure they will probably continue to do so, because–as you point out–this isn’t the only piece published by the Bullet that is lacking in quality, and it’s nice of them to give all students a voice. But in the defense of the other low-quality authors (including myself, when I wrote), at least they are (mostly) generally on the right track to producing quality journalism. This is just way out in left-field.

  7. I’m not so sure “sex is by its nature awkward and vulgar.” I think we as a society have chosen to frame it as such, which makes this article, whether well-written or not, potentially explosive. I think the larger issue is how uncomfortable we still are talking about sex because we have denatured it so and hidden it away from the public sphere.

  8. Curran

    I believe that people are grossly over-reacting to this article. I would hope to assume that the audience that this paper addresses would be mature enough to approach this article in its frank nature. The fact that it refers to specific acts of sex and questions what is involved in the act of sex is simply the search for the definition of the topic, which frankly lacks definition. I would hope that instead of ripping this article apart, the people of this institution would keep a scholarly mind open to address the points therein. And, come on, is anyone really learning anything new here?