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This Is How Most People Define Sex, According To Their Sexuality

A new study asked gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to define the act.

Like “hookup,” the word “sex” can mean different things to different people. For some, it only counts if it involves a penetrative action, while others include oral and other foreplay in their definition. And while in the past, researchers have looked into how people define sex, those findings have been pretty limited to heterosexual men and women.

For the first study, they asked lesbian, gay, and bisexual participants what they include in their definitions of sex. Men were asked for their opinion on whether any of the following behaviours qualified as sex: insertive anal intercourse, receptive anal intercourse, “69” (mutual oral stimulation), oral-genital stimulation, “rimming” (mouth to anus stimulation), manual-genital stimulation, manual stimulation of anus, mutual manual-genital stimulation, frottage (rubbing penises), dildo in anus, and self-stimulation on the phone or computer.

Among men, a clear “gold standard” definition of sex became clear: 90 percent said that penile-anal intercourse was definitely considered sex. (Previous research has shown this to be the gold-standard definition of heterosexual sex as well.) More than 50 percent of participants also considered “69”, oral-genital stimulation, and “rimming” to be sex. Only about 40 percent of participants considered the rest of the activities to be sex—and a paltry 23 percent of people said self-stimulation on the phone or computer was sex.

For the women with same-sex partners in this study, the consensus on what defines sex wasn’t so clear. More than 70 percent of participants said that “69”, oral-genital stimulation, dildo in vagina, and using a double-ended dildo all counted as sex. More than 50 percent of people agreed that manual-genital stimulation (69.5 percent), scissoring (rubbing genitals) (69.5 percent), dildo in anus (64 percent), mutual manual-genital stimulation (62.8 percent), and rimming (52.4 percent) were also considered sex. Manual stimulation of the anus (48.2 percent) and self-stimulation on the phone or computer (23 percent) were the only behaviours that the majority of participants defined as “not sex.”

In total, for nine of the 11 sexual behaviours asked about, at least 50 percent of women said they counted it as “having sex.”

In the second part of the study, the researchers analysed the differences in people’s definitions of sex when they judged their own behaviour, compared to what actions they’d consider sex if their partner did it with someone outside of their relationship. They found that lesbian, gay, and bi-sexual participants ALL had stricter guidelines for their partners. This isn’t exactly shocking, since it totally lines up with past research with heterosexual people. No matter what sexual orientation, apparently we define sex much more strictly when it comes to cheating than we do when ranking our own past hookups.

At the end of the day, why does the definition of sex even matter? Well, from a health stance, it’s important for doctors and patients to have an open understanding of what “sexually active” really means, the study authors say. And when it comes to relationships, having a consensus about what sex is can help partners effectively communicate about their sexual agreements and expectations.

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