Let’s Talk About Terminology: Sex, “Sex,” and Sex

If I said to you, “I had sex last night,” what would you think I meant?

Intercourse? Oral? Fingering and handjobs? All of the above?

As I am a woman partnered with a man, I think most people would assume I meant intercourse. They might suppose other sex acts were involved, but “intercourse” and “sex” are pretty well equated in the heteronormative world.

It’s frustrating, though, because not only does it shut out queer folks for whom penetrative sex might not be a part of their sexual repertoire, but it also verbally limits those of us who have opposite-sex partners. Are we supposed to believe that the centre and end-goal of sexytimes is always penetration? Because let’s face it: it isn’t!

Like Dan Savage says: “sex” is oral sex’s last name. Same deal with other kinds of sex, like manual sex (fingering and handjobs), anal sex, even intercrural sex. These are all sexual acts and can be just as intimate and fulfilling as penetrative sex – so why separate them out?

In reading my blog, you might have noticed that I do my best to always say “intercourse,” “PIV sex”† or “penetrative sex” when that’s what I mean, rather than using the word “sex” to refer to that particular act. I think it’s more precise and also helps abolish the gross heteronormativity that pops up in so much of our sexual language.

Some people think it’s awkward to use terms like that. If you decide to take up the mission of using specific words for different acts instead of just “sex,” be prepared for people to think you’re weird. There will always be pushback when you challenge established limitations, but be brave and persistent and maybe one day we’ll live in a world where our sexual language is wonderfully inclusive and deliciously accurate!

† “PIV” = “penis-in-vagina.”