Question of the Week: How Do You Define Sex?

photo via flickr

Occasionally on this site, we ask you guys an impertinent question and you can share your answer in the comments section below. Feel free to share your age, gender, relationship status, sexuality, etc., if you feel that it’s relevant to the answer. This week’s burning (in a good way) question:

How do you define sex? (Intercourse only? Do you include oral? Anything that ends in an orgasm? Anything past third base?)


  1. Oh dear, once again I’m out on a limb. I should build a nest or something. 😉 Because the first thought I had when I saw the title was: “Anything that gets you off.” So, to me, that includes kissing, oral sex, anal intercourse, rimming, vaginal/penile sex, masturbation, mutual masturbation, cyber sex, phone sex, erotic email exchanges, group sex, porno, etc.

  2. Yeah, figleaf and Johnny, I almost phrased it something like that in my response, too, but figured kissing made it too broad. Huh. Interesting.

  3. To me sex is anything that results in me getting my rocks off. But that excludes masterbation there has to be another participant and my right hand doesn’t have a name. Cyber sex is only good at leading to masturbation.

  4. Man, if these definitions all count as sex, I’ve done it with, like, ten times as many partners as I previously thought. And the expanded definition means I lost my virginity in 7th grade, not 11th! Awesome!

  5. ^Holy shit, Figleaf, I actually included that exact std-or-pregnancy thing in my initial answer. I deleted it on technical grounds because a kiss – which doesn’t count as sex in my book – can transmit an STD. I had no idea an actual, real-life sex writer agreed with me.

  6. My preferred definition of sex is anything one or more people can do that results in sexual arousal. Which leaves room for cyber- and even snail-mail sex. (Don’t knock snail-mail sex — when a partner and I were back country rangers in separate time zones the letters we sent each other could have burned your fingers.) It can also include just kissing or even holding hands. Hand-holding might seem a little chaste to include in a definition of sex but consider that there are a number of fetish and D/s activities that involve even less actual physical contact… while still being intensely arousing and pretty incontestably sexual. Point being, if you want to include all the different ways people can be aroused and/or gratified sexually you have to cast a pretty wide net.

    Because otherwise you’re going to leave someone out. Speaking of which, going the other way? There was a fascinating survey on the question taken for a college-level human sexuality textbook a few years back — and some fraction of the tens of thousands of people surveyed denied that PIV intercourse to ejaculation wasn’t “really” having sex either! I have no idea what further conditions needed to be, well, satisfied for those people. But it was after that I decided it might be a better idea to stop trying to narrow it down and instead open it up.

    However one might wish to define it I think the sex writer Jayme Waxman has a fairly depressing but definitely unambiguous definition of sex that everyone needs to keep in mind: if there’s a chance you could transmit either an STI or a pregnancy by doing it then it’s sex.


  7. Uh, I think manual sex counts. It not only involves an exchange of fluids (sweat and whatever fluids the touched genitals may produce, at the bare minimum), but often ends in orgasm, and is a deliberate, intimate activity. I don’t know how hand jobs would -not- be included in this, for men or women. Extended, intimate stimulation for one or both partner’s pleasure, almost always involving the genitalia of at least one partner, frequently resulting in one or more orgasms of at least one partner. I don’t count masturbation; there’s an inherent risk and intimacy in partnered sex that doesn’t happen there.

  8. It has to have “sex” in the proper name. So, vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex. Just hands don’t cut it – there’s no such thing as “manual sex.”

    It also has to include a mutual exchange of fluid, as oral, vaginal and buttsex all do (kissing doesn’t count – “oral sex” is an already-taken term).

    Some people include practically anything erotic in their definition, but not me.

  9. Anything that includes touching someone else’s (or your own) genitals in order to attain pleasure (your own or the other one’s or for both).
    Although just quickly stroking a man’s penis wouldn’t be sex, it would be either just a playful gesture or plain awkward.

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