What Is Sex? The Wrong Question.
Via Jill, Broadsheet has coverage of a survey that shows that the entire endeavor of determining what “counts as sex” is rather a pack of silliness. Or, at least, that’s how I choose to interpret the results because it agrees with my view. I do that frequently.
Check out the silliness:
“two out of ten people did not concur that penile-anal intercourse was sex, and three out of ten said ‘no’ to oral-genital activity, as did half of the respondents about manual-genital contact.” And, while 95 percent classified penile-vaginal penetration as sex (one has to wonder what does count for the remaining 5 percent), that number dropped to 89 percent in cases where the man doesn’t ejaculate.
I can wing a bullshit, arbitrary definitions just fine, and I have before. Hint: mine is not penetrocentric, I don’t think there’s anything about Tab A in Slot B, or any other slot, that I want to put on a pedestal. But really, I think the whole thing is a bit of a fool’s errand. I’ll repeat my older post (I do that frequenly, too):
Unless one is a sex or public health researcher, rules for what counts as sex so that one can count don’t really serve any purpose that I can respect. The reason for this counting is to slut-shame, or to defend against slut-shaming. Those readers who have gotten through the book know my view is that “slut” as a concept is a byproduct of a view of sexuality that I reject, and that has got to go.
This counting thing is not really good for anyone. What “sex” is does not even begin to answer the question “what is cheating,” a separate inquiry in a relationship.* It doesn’t do anyone much good.
But it sure can do some harm. The whole endeavor lends itself to making value judgments about whose lives and bodies matter and whose do not. Just think for a minute about how the possible definitions can (and do!) invalidate the life experiences of gay, lesbian, bi, and pansexual folks; folks who have a trans history and don’t have anatomy that the culture associates with the gender they live; non-binary-identified folks like genderqueer folks; people with disabilities whose bodies operate better for them (or only) by having partnered intimacy in ways that don’t get recognized. Aside from the silliness of the counting game, that playground game leaves out a lot of folks that I don’t want to see kicked off of my playground.
What is “sex”? That’s not an inquiry I want to engage in.
*There are more than a few poly folks in the world and for some people, PIV intercourse with other partners is fine. Some couples play with others only as a pair, some folks have broader poly relationships that do or don’t have different sexual constraints … If a couple’s arrangement is, “PIV with outside partners are okay on odd Thursdays, oral on Tuesdays and BDSM only during the last week of the month and never during Lent”, it’s their relationship to define.