It might seem like a pretty simple question with a very simple answer at first glance, but as we’ll explore, defining sex can be a tricky thing. It’s also a topic many young people feel embarrassed to ask about, because even though we often want to ask the same basic questions, no one wants to be the one to admit they don’t know it all. Persevere with me and we’ll see why defining sex is important and how valuable examining this idea can be to you.
Dictionary Definitions of Sex
Psychoanalyst Anna Freud famously wrote that “sex is something you do; sexuality is something you are”. This appreciation of sex highlights the difference between sexual activities and the individual experience of sexual identity or expression that is an intrinsic part of who we are. Dictionary definitions tend to focus on either the biological features of sex, or the act of sexual intercourse.
- Sex refers to the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females (WHO).
- Sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse (Oxford Dictionary)
- Sex refers to the genitals
What do you consider sex to be?
Sexual activity includes:
- vaginal sex
- anal sex
- oral sex
- touching or fondling
- or even exposing your body to another person, taking sexual pictures of another person or showing somebody pornographic images
Sex is a physical act
For many, sex is about the physical behaviours and sensations that make you and your partner feel good. Understanding you and your partner’s body is important and communication is a huge part of that. Saying what you like, what you don’t like and what you want to try is so important for having a healthy, enjoyable sex life.
Sex is a mental act
How we think and feel about ourselves, our bodies, our partner and other people can be the most important part of sex for many people. For some, sex can be a way to express your feelings or the ideal conclusion to a romantic evening. It is also common to get caught up in your own thoughts, especially during your first time with that person. Just know that whatever you’re thinking, the other person is likely thinking the exact same thoughts or has thought them at some point in their lives.
Sex is a spiritual act
Your religious and spiritual beliefs can make up part of your definition of sex. Personal religious beliefs or experiences can guide people’s sexual behaviour. Some feel like sex can bring them closer to a ‘higher power’ or that it is a way of forming a connection to another person beyond the physical. Religious or cultural beliefs can also consciously or subconsciously influence how you feel about sex or specific sexual experiences.
Sex is your health
The WHO definition of sexual health is a really great way of summarising how we should strive to approach sex.
Sexual health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. It requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
Basically, sex should always be consensual, safe, respectful and it should hopefully be fun!
Read more about everything sexual health on the YEP Project!
Before you have sex…
Pleasure, Pleasure, Pleasure!