Wise Guys: How Do Most Men Define “Sex”?

photo by Ad Meskens

Advice from three of EMandLO.com’s guy friends. This week they answer the following: How do you define what constitutes sex? Ask the Wise Guys
Your Own Question!
Is it penetration (with anything or just a penis)? Oral attention? Mutual orgasms? Mutual naked pleasure? etc.

Gay Single Guy (Angelo Nikolopoulos of The White Swallow):  After being single for ____ months, lighting a scented candle before touching myself, as far as I’m concerned, qualifies as sex. So, clearly, you’re asking the wrong gay. But in more prosperous times, anything that exposed me to the illogical possibility of contracting an STI qualified as sex. Call me a thrill-seeker if you want, but if there’s no potential for a rash or sore, then I’m not interested.

chris_diclericoStraight Single Guy (Chris): I’m not sure my opinion on this represents the majority of people I know, but I actually think sex is a penis inside a vagina. It seems to me that other sex acts are far less serious and consequential, so can be taking more casually. Since sex-sex can involve more serious diseases, pregnancy potential, etc, its feels, for me, to require more trust, intimacy and meaning. I think guys generally classify sex as intercourse, maybe including anal. It seems that we say, “I just got a blowjob in the bathroom” vs. “We just fucked in the bathroom” — they actually do mean different things. I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority on this.

Straight Committed Guy (Johnny): First of all, it has to say “sex” in the proper name for it. So, “oral sex,” “vaginal sex,” “anal sex,” etc. Nobody says “manual sex” – hand jobs don’t qualify. Second, anything “sex” must involve the potential internal exchange of sexual fluid. Oral counts – sexual fluid from one partner can get in the mouth of the other. Vaginal sex counts – fluid both ways. Buttsex – well, you get it. Again, manual stimulation doesn’t qualify. A little bit of fluid on your hand doesn’t count. Phone “sex” is a misnomer – that’s immaculate dirty talk.

Some people count almost anything potentially arousing as sex, including kissing. Really? In that case I lost my virginity in 7th grade during the three minutes between social studies and math. That would also mean I’ve had sex in front of many of my friends and family. It would mean the bride and groom screw right in front of everyone after saying “I do.”  Remember that creepy Al and Tipper Gore kiss? So much worse now that you know that was sex! If I merely kissed a date good-night, but claimed to have gotten laid, wouldn’t that be a lie?

See what I mean? Not everything is sex. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

[Em & Lo Note: We use the term “manual sex” all the time! And we think it counts.]

Our “wise guys” are a rotating group of contributors, some of whom wish to remain anonymous and some of whom like the attention. This week’s Gay Guy is Angelo Nikolopoulos, host of an NYC queer reading series The White Swallow; Straight Single Guy is blogger Chris DiClerico; and our Straight Committed Guy is regular EMandLO.com commenter, Johnny. To ask the guys your own question, click here.


  1. I don’t know a single person who would give a bj or hj and then say “we had sex.”

    It would depend. If we’re talking a handjob in the back of a car when you’re sixteen, maybe not. But for people whose default when they’re tired and harried is last-minute PIV before conking out at night, having the time and energy to do anything else can signify way more serious sex. It may be old-fashioned of me, but I tend to think of oral as more inherently intimate anyway.

  2. I’m with Chris and I really don’t think that we are in the minority. If I say “we had sex”, I mean that he put his penis into my vagina. Period. End of story. I think that most people I know feel the same way. I don’t know a single person who would give a bj or hj and then say “we had sex.” They would say “I gave him a bj or hj.”

    I get that in grade school health classes we should probably teach young people to consider oral, anal, vaginal, or whatever else, to be “sex” so that they take all of these things seriously. But, I don’t think that most people categorize their real life, physical relationships this way.

  3. There are so many “I did not have sex with…” qualifications out there. As I recall an academic survey in the last decade turned up more than one respondent who somehow didn’t believe that PIV intercourse to ejaculation didn’t even count as sex! In other words there are a million many ways to weasel out of just admitting that you’ve had, you know, sex!

    Rather than listen to folks argue edge cases, a few years back I decided to go the other way and say if it involves even slightly sexual feelings between consenting parties then it’s still sex.

    So! PIV intercourse to ejaculation? Sorry survey participants, it’s sex. Oral sex? Yep. Phone sex? Yes. Steamy kisses on the couch? That too. Fully clothed grinding on the dance floor? Of course. Fully clothed ballroom dancing cheek to cheek? Well, if it gets you both horny then yes, even if all you do afterwards is shake hands.

    I mean, yeah, with my definition there can be edge cases too. The benefit is that if you’re wrong the stakes are a lot lower.

    Which leads to another definitions I think is a pretty good cross check: Would what you’re doing make a reasonable long-term partner feel jealous if they saw you doing it with someone else? If yes they’d be jealous if they found out then yes it’s sex.


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