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We get asked what sex is 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.
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.
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, 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 yesterday may not be the way they’ll have sex 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: after all, rape isn’t sex, even though things like intercourse or oral sex are forced in rapes.
What can “sex” be?
Read the rest here at Scarleteen!
The truth is that there are far more ways to have sexual pleasure without an erection than there are with an erection. And maintaining hot sex and intimacy over a lifetime requires more creativity and imagination than believing that one body part is required for either.
If you can’t imagine living with someone who can’t get an erection on demand (or however often you believe they should) then you’re not a very good match for someone who lives with ED. I need to point out that your dating pool is going to get narrower and narrower, if you aren’t able to expand your understanding of sexuality (and possibly gender), but that’s your cross to bear. For now, even though it will likely cause him a lot of pain in the moment, I think he’ll be better off finding someone who is open to participating in the search for hot sex and long lasting intimacy, and not just expecting it to happen.
If this sounds harsh it’s only because I am challenging some of the assumptions that underlie decisions like the one you’re making.
I’ve been thinking of a way to explain to straight white men how life works for them, without invoking the dreaded word “privilege,” to which they react like vampires being fed a garlic tart at high noon. It’s not that the word “privilege” is incorrect, it’s that it’s not their word. When confronted with “privilege,” they fiddle with the word itself, and haul out the dictionaries and find every possible way to talk about the word but not any of the things the word signifies.
So, the challenge: how to get across the ideas bound up in the word “privilege,” in a way that your average straight white man will get, without freaking out about it?
Being a white guy who likes women, here’s how I would do it:
Dudes. Imagine life here in the US — or indeed, pretty much anywhere in the Western world — is a massive role playing game, like World of Warcraft except appallingly mundane, where most quests involve the acquisition of money, cell phones and donuts, although not always at the same time. Let’s call it The Real World. You have installed The Real World on your computer and are about to start playing, but first you go to the settings tab to bind your keys, fiddle with your defaults, and choose the difficulty setting for the game. Got it?
Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.
This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.
Read the rest from John Scalzi here.
What some people see as a cop-out for bad decision-making, others see as a legitimate disorder worthy of official classification
People cheat. They juggle multiple lovers. They have serial relationships. They watch porn.
You could chalk it up to the spectrum of sexual appetites, destructive as some may be. Or you could check yourself into rehab for sexual addiction.
…As the American Psychiatric Association prepares to publish the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, its standard for classifying mental illnesses, debate flares anew about whether compulsive sexual behavior is a disorder in itself, a symptom of other psychological problems or merely the fruit of poor decision-making.
A proposed mental condition termed “hypersexual disorder” is being considered for inclusion in the appendix of the DSM-V, due for publication in May 2013. Its placement in the appendix would indicate hypersexual disorder is a phenomenon worthy of scientific interest but in need of more research before being considered an official diagnosis.
“I think (in the appendix) is where it belongs because we do need more study,” said clinical psychologist Rory Reid, the independent principle investigator of the field trial to test the proposed diagnostic criteria. Reid opposes the term “addiction,” which he says is overused for anything pleasurable, and believes the label lacks empirical evidence from neuroimaging, genetics, or studies assessing patterns of tolerance or withdrawal.
There are, of course, more than two pat “sides” to this issue and debate, and the article has more nuance than the subtitle. You can read the rest here.
Telling someone they are normal may provide momentary relief. But once they get back out into the world they’ll be reminded almost immediately that not everything is treated as normal. Sexual normality and sexual normativity, are complicated and slippery concepts, but they also carry tremendous power and heft. Whether or not we agree that a certain act should be considered normal, we all know that the label of normalcy has palpable effects in the world. To say everything is normal denies the power of normal to affect people for better and for worse and in the end that doesn’t help anyone.
…Using normality to alleviate sexual shame is like using capitalism to alleviate poverty. Capitalism creates, distributes, and requires poverty. Sexual normalcy creates, distributes, and requires sexual shame. There is no capitalism without poverty. And there is no sexual normalcy without sexual shame.
This and more excellent thoughts on sexuality and “normal” from Cory Silverberg here: http://sexuality.about.com/b/2012/03/19/the-trouble-with-normal.htm
And on that note, we’ve wondered before what’s so great about normalcy, anyway, here: http://www.scarleteen.com/article/body/am_i_normal_who_cares
We think this question is very, very tricky and that the answers aren’t at all obvious or easy: sexuality is incredibly complex, especially given its incredible diversity, not just among a global population, but even within any one person’s lifetime. Our cultures also are often sexually unhealthy in many ways, and so ideas about healthy sexual development, deeply influenced by culture, are often flawed, incomplete or limited, and can sometimes present things as healthy which truly are not, but are so pervasive or so much a part of cultural frameworks that people assume they are or must be. So, what healthy sexual development is is hardly a simple question, nor a question we can answer casually or without a whole lot of deep thought and consideration, both ideally coming from multiple perspectives and kinds of expertise.
At a recent conference I was part of in London, Alan McKee presented a talk which included a piece published in the International Journal of Sexual Health (2010, 22(1), Healthy sexual development: a multidisciplinary framework for research, Alan McKee, Kath Albury, Michael Dunne, Sue Grieshaber, John Hartley, Catharine Lumby and Ben Mathews). As someone who’s worked for many years in sexuality and sex education, and who worked in early child development for several years before that, I’ve heard “healthy sexual development” tossed around a lot, but have often felt dissatisfied with the way it was undefined or some of the things it has implied when people have used it. Often, critical pieces seem to be missing, personal agendas seem to be central and unrecognized, or the way it’s defined hasn’t been broadly inclusive, holistic or thoughtful.
What McKee and his colleagues determined to be the core parts of healthy sexual development had me jumping up and down in my seat with joy (literally: I may have disturbed my fellow attendees with my bouncing).