The word “sex” often means very different things to different people. It is important to understand this so that we can effectively communicate with each other about sex, since communication is the key to healthy sexual relationships.
Most of us, when we think of sex, think of a person with a penis and a person with a vagina engaging in sexual intercourse. This is problematic because a couple with two penises and no vaginas cannot engage in the same type of sex as a person with a penis and a person with a vagina. The same thing applies to two people with vaginas.
So how do two people with the same genitalia manage to have sex? Well, penetration is still possible. For people with vaginas, either fingers or sex toys — such as strap-on dildos — can do the trick. For people with penises, the anus can be used as a place of insertion.
For some people, however, penetration is not the be-all-end-all of sex acts. Oral sex, for both people with vaginas and people with penises, can be the preferred sex act for couples with any combination of genitalia. Additionally, stimulation with fingers or hands can be enough to get the job done for plenty of people.
All of these acts are “real” sex. I know you may have heard that a hand job “doesn’t count” as “real” sex, but that is just not true. If it feels like sex for you, then it is sex. It is as simple as that.
How I define sex for myself, personally, may be very different than how someone else defines sex for themselves. That does not mean that one of us is wrong, or that one of us is not having “real” sex by the other person’s standards because the definition of sex is fluid.
This is where the issues of communication and respect come into play. For example, if I did not include oral sex in my personal definition of sex, but you personally felt that when you enjoyed oral sex you were having sex, then I would not tell you that you weren’t actually having sex. I would not say that oral sex wasn’t “real” sex, and I would not try to make you feel bad about the fact that you “didn’t actually have sex.” What I would do is respect that you have had an experience that qualifies as sex for you, and consider it in the same way as I consider my own experiences that I refer to as “sex.”
Now, if you and I were preparing to engage in sexual activity together, it would be important for us to clarify what is sex and what is not, so that we are on the same page as we take steps forward in our sexual relationship. If we have decided that we are not ready to have sex yet, but I attempt to engage in oral sex because I don’t consider it to be sex but your feelings regarding this are different, things are going to get uncomfortable very quickly.
That is why communication is key. To avoid confusion, it is best to be straightforward with your partner. Statements like “I would like you to touch me here” are much better for expressing what you would or would not like than “I want to have sex with you.”
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is that everyone is different and that sex is personal. Try your best not to make judgements about other people’s preferences, and be clear when communicating your preferences with potential sexual partners. Then just go with the flow.
Katelyn R. is a Behind Closed Doors columnist who likes to talk it out before she makes out.