This Is How Most People Define Sex, According To Their Sexuality
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.
Now, in a new study published in The Journal of Sex Research, a team of scientists is seeking to include gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals in that conversation. Researchers conducted two studies featuring participants they recruited at a Pride Festival over two years. (No matter who you're getting down with, the Nu Sensuelle Pearl Vibrator will spice up your sex life. Get it now from the Women's Health Boutique.)
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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 behaviors 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.
We asked men and women how they really feel about dirty talk. Here's what they had to say:
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 behaviors that the majority of participants defined as "not sex."
In total, for nine of the 11 sexual behaviors asked about, at least 50 percent of women said they counted it as "having sex."
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In the second part of the study, the researchers analyzed the differences in people’s definitions of sex when they judged their own behavior, 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.
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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.