We get asked what sex is here at Scarleteen a lot, but we also ask our users what it is a lot, because (possibly just like you) we don’t always know what someone means when they talk about sex or having sex. People tend to use the word sex very differently or arbitrarily: what sex is or means for one person can be radically different than what it is or means to someone else.
It’s obviously important if you’re here for information about sex that you know what we mean when we say (and hear or read) “sex,” so we thought we’d make it crystal clear.
What do we mean when we say “sex?”
If we say sexuality, we mean the physical, chemical, emotional and intellectual properties and processes and the cultural and social influences and experiences that are how people experience and express themselves as sexual beings. Some aspects of all those things are very diverse and unique, others are very common or collective. [Note: we define sexuality in-depth here.]
If we say someone is having sex, or doing something sexual, we mean they are acting from their own sexuality, looking to express it in action and/or to try and actively experience or explore a feeling of general or specific sexual desire, curiosity and/or satisfaction.
When we say “sex,” what we mean is any number of different things people freely choose to do to tangibly and actively express or enact their sexuality; what they identify or know to be their sexual feelings and selves.
If “sex” was the answer, the questions would be things like “What am I doing to try and feel good sexually or to express feeling good sexually? What am I doing that feels sexual to me (or to me and a partner)? What am I doing that feels like a way to express my sexuality, or my sexual desires and/or feelings about myself or others?”
When some people say “sex” they only mean penis-in-vagina genital intercourse. The trouble is, there are a good many people who don’t or can’t have that kind of sex, aren’t interested in it, or don’t have that kind of sex every time, but who still have active, fulfilling sex lives. Some other people use it to mean any kind of genital sex with someone else. That definition can have its flaws, though, too. When we mean those specific things, we’ll say that we’re talking about those specific things. When some people say “having sex” they mean something that can only happen in some specific kinds of partnership, but when we mean specific partnerships or relationships, we’ll be specific.
When we say “sex” we’re talking about a very big picture. That’s because what sex is or isn’t for any given person or partnership not only differs a whole lot from person-to-person, it also can differ a whole lot from day-to-day for any one person: the way they had sex, or did sex, yesterday may not be the way they do next week. One person might consider that only intercourse or oral sex is sex, but someone else may both define sex differently and have what’s sex for them without doing either of those things. And defining what sex is just by a given activity or action, without talking about people’s motivations and desires really doesn’t work…
Read the rest at Scarleteen here.