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So What Exactly Is Sex? In fiction and in real life - Mo's Journal
January 12th, 2008
02:43 pm

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So What Exactly Is Sex? In fiction and in real life
This was kestrelsparhawk's idea. I hope she doesn't mind that I ran with it. It's another terminology post. I'm looking to see what people's views are of what "counts" as having sex. In all cases, assume that the behavior is occurring within a sexual context. So, the kissing should be assumed to be of a sexual nature (whether or not you consider it "having sex") and not just friendly/platonic. Similarly, penetration with fingers or objects in the course of a medical examination would not be what we're talking about with those scenarios.

It's check boxes, not radio buttons, so check off as many as you think count, as long as each one would be sufficient for you to label the activity as "having sex."

I'd like to get as many respondents as I can, so please send people here. The icon is a virtual truffle to thank you for participating.


Poll #1120155 What is Sex?

A and B are men in a m/m slash fanfic. For which of the following activities described in the story would you say that A and B are having sex?

A kisses B on the mouth.
0(0.0%)
A kisses B on other parts of his body, but not genitals.
0(0.0%)
A kisses, sucks on or otherwise has contact between his mouth and B's penis.
1(0.3%)
A and B masturbate together, but don't touch each other's genitals.
0(0.0%)
A and B masturbate each other - i.e. hand of one man on penis of other.
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B anally with his finger.
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B anally with his penis.
6(1.7%)
A penetrates B anally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A and B have phone sex: they masturbate while speaking on the phone and pretending that they are engaging in sex acts together.
0(0.0%)

A and B are women in a f/f slash fanfic. For which of the following activities described in the story would you say that A and B are having sex?

A kisses B on the mouth.
0(0.0%)
A kisses B on other parts of her body, but not genitals.
0(0.0%)
A kisses, licks, or otherwise has contact between her mouth and B's vulva.
1(0.3%)
A and B masturbate together, but don't touch each other's genitals.
0(0.0%)
A and B masturbate each other - i.e. hand of one woman on vulva of other.
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B vaginally with her finger(s)
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B vaginally with an object.
1(0.3%)
.A penetrates B anally with her finger.
1(0.3%)
A penetrates B anally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A and B have phone sex: they masturbate while speaking on the phone and pretending that they are engaging in sex acts together.
1(0.3%)

A and B are a heterosexual fictional couple. For which of the following activities described in the story would you say that A and B are having sex?

A kisses B on the mouth.
0(0.0%)
A kisses B on other parts of her body, but not genitals.
0(0.0%)
A kisses, licks, or otherwise has contact between his mouth and B's vulva.
0(0.0%)
B kisses, sucks on or otherwise has contact between her mouth and B's penis.
0(0.0%)
A and B masturbate together, but don't touch each other's genitals.
0(0.0%)
A and B masturbate each other - i.e. hand of man on woman's vulva and/or hand of woman on man's penis
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B vaginally with his finger(s)
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B vaginally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B vaginally with his penis
3(0.9%)
A penetrates B anally with his finger.
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B anally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A penetrates B anally with his penis.
0(0.0%)
B penetrates A anally with her finger.
0(0.0%)
B penetrates A anally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A and B have phone sex: they masturbate while speaking on the phone and pretending that they are engaging in sex acts together.
0(0.0%)

A is a real person, a putatively heterosexual married politician. It is reported that he has done some of the following with a man named B. Assuming it's true, in which cases would you say he had sex with B.

A kissed B on the mouth.
0(0.0%)
A kissed B on other parts of his body, but not genitals.
0(0.0%)
A kissed, sucked on or otherwise had contact between his mouth and B's penis.
1(0.3%)
A and B masturbated together, but didn't touch each other's genitals.
0(0.0%)
A and B masturbated each other - i.e. hand of one man on penis of other.
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B anally with his finger.
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B anally with his penis
8(2.3%)
A penetrated B anally with an object
0(0.0%)
A and B had phone sex: they masturbated while speaking on the phone and pretending that they are engaging in sex acts together.
0(0.0%)

Would your answers have been different in the question above if A were not married?

Yes
22(6.4%)
No
322(93.1%)
It depends - I'll explain in comments
2(0.6%)

A is a real person, a putatively heterosexual married politician. It is reported that he has done some of the following with a woman named B. Assuming it's true, in which cases would you say he had sex with B?

A kissed B on the mouth.
0(0.0%)
A kissed B on other parts of her body, but not genitals.
0(0.0%)
A kissed, licked or otherwise had contact between his mouth and B's vulva..
0(0.0%)
B kissed, sucked on or otherwise had contact between her mouth and B's penis.
1(0.3%)
A and B masturbated together, but did't touch each other's genitals.
0(0.0%)
A and B masturbated each other - i.e. hand of man on woman's vulva and/or hand of woman on man's penis
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B vaginally with his finger(s)
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B vaginally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B vaginally with his penis.
4(1.2%)
A penetrated B anally with his finger(s)
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B anally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A penetrated B anally with his penis.
1(0.3%)
B penetrated A anally with her fingers.
0(0.0%)
B penetrated A anally with an object.
0(0.0%)
A and B had phone sex: they masturbated while speaking on the phone and pretending that they are engaging in sex acts together.
0(0.0%)

Would your answers have been different in the question above if A were not married?

Yes
22(6.4%)
No
320(92.8%)
It depends - I'll explain in comments
3(0.9%)

In the circumstances you checked as having sex in questions 1,2,3, 4, and 6, does it matter whether either or both of the partners have an orgasm?

Yes, one of them has to come or it isn't sex.
17(4.9%)
Yes, both of them have to come or it isn't sex.
3(0.9%)
It doesn't matter. Well, it probably matters to A and B whether or not they have orgasms, but it doesn't matter to my determination of whether or not they had sex.
326(94.2%)


Comments and discussion welcome, of course. I'll do a What I Learned From the Poll post after I learn something :-).

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Comments
 
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From:inathunderstorm
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
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I answered what *I* would consider having sex to be. If a couple decides, however, that masturbating while on the phone with each other counts as sex, then I am totally cool with that being sex.

I'm pretty much just totally cool with sex being however two consenting adults define it as, really :)
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From:mofic
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting approach. It raises a few questions:
What if they disagree on whether it's sex or not? Whose definition prevails - the more restrictive one, the less restrictive one, or each of them get to decide individually, so A had sex with B but B didn't have sex with A?

What if (in the case of the married politician) he thinks that anything he does with someone other than his wife isn't "real" sex? What if he thinks that sex is only between a man and a woman, that everything else is something other than sex?

What if they define as "not sex" something that would generally be considered sex? So if - just to pull an example out of thin air :-) - the POTUS says "I did not have sex with that woman" and he did engage in a bunch of things mentioned in this poll. Is he telling the truth?
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From:thefourthvine
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:02 pm (UTC)
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I'm still on the fence about the mutual masturbation question, because I think there are instances where it is sex and instances where it isn't. I voted that it was sex because you said to assume a sexual context, which I am taking to mean, in this case, that there is sexual interaction going on between the two.
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From:cathexys
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
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Yes, I had the same question.

Like...is watching porn together and masturbating sex *with* one another?

I ended up reading the question like the phone sex, namely that the masturbation occurs not just to arouse yourself but the other, so ...sex :)
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From:brak666
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:10 pm (UTC)
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I don't know if you'll learn anything, but I know that I learned that for whatever reason, I don't consider two people masturbating in proximity to be sex, but I consider phone sex to be sex. I suppose, I feel that two people having phone sex would actually be having sex if they were in proximity. Whereas with two people: masturbation of oneself in the proximity of another person doesn't neccesarily imply that there's any sort of connection.

Edited at 2008-01-12 08:14 pm (UTC)
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From:mofic
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:21 pm (UTC)
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And that's the counterargument to what I say above. With phone sex, the masturbation is a substitute for physical contact between them. I mean, people don't have phone sex by being in the same room and using cell phones :-). They do it as a substitute for physical interpersonal sex, while separated. But I could see arguing that just because it *is* a substitute it's not real sex - it's what you do when you can't have sex. So I could argue it either way. Still, when you come down to it: it's interpersonal sexual activity. And if someone in a monogamous relationship has phone sex with someone else, I'd call that cheating. So I think it's sex.
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From:blue_braces
Date:January 12th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC)
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Interesting poll! I'm especially interested (but not entirely surprised) that some folks draw the line at phone sex and/or masturbating together. Those are DEFINITELY sex in my book. I do think it could be possible for two people to masturbate in the same room at the same time and it not be sex. On the other hand, even if the two (or more) people didn't consider it sex - for example, if it was a masturbation contest of some sort - I still think the activity would be likely to have some mutually erotic undertones. I.e., Subtext. ;)

About kissing: Kissing on the mouth or anywhere else on the body that's not the genitals could be sex by itself (when not combined with genital activities), but it's not necessarily sex. I think that if the kissing is intended to result in orgasm (even if it doesn't), it's sex. If it's only intended to arouse and not to result in orgasm, I'm not sure. I'm not sure about how to define if it results in unintended orgasm. Again, there's the eroticism that may not be equivalent to sex. But I don't think sex is defined only by orgasm or genital contact. Sex is in the brain and all that.
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From:jinxgirl71
Date:January 12th, 2008 09:14 pm (UTC)
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On the other hand, a bunch of guys in a circle jerk watching porn, not necessarily. Total sex. I always think that is so funny that guys that say they are completely straight could get off in a room with other men around. Gay sex right there.
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From:jinxgirl71
Date:January 12th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
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A kisses B on other parts of his/her body, but not genitals was difficult to answer. If they just kiss above the nipples, that is not having sex. Nips and below...yes.

I always think it's being in denial when friends would tell me that they were virgins until...such and such age but gave BJs and everything else. That is sex. They are having sex. That is sexual.
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From:kattahj
Date:January 12th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
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My reply was the same for all hypotheticals, though it should be noted re: the politician that even the stuff that isn't sex is still cheating if he's in a supposedly monogamous relationship.
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From:mofic
Date:January 12th, 2008 10:37 pm (UTC)
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Yes, it's still cheating. Or at least assuming that the monogamous compact includes all interaction in a sexual context, it's still cheating. Part of what I want to see is if that contextual difference (cheating or not) leads people to be influenced in whether they think it's sex.
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From:penknife
Date:January 12th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
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I struggled with how to classify mutual masturbation, but since you're specifying that it's in a sexual context, then, yes, I think it's sex, but ... it's right on that line, depending on how much the intention of the people involved is for it to be a mutual sexual activity. I mean, the physically-present equivalent of phone sex, talking dirty to each other while masturbating -- definitely sex to me. Masturbating while in the same room watching porn but not talking to each other or watching each other -- not sex, although there may be an erotic charge involved in having someone else present. In the middle there's a gray area for me.

I'm curious as to what marriage or the fictional/real divide have to do with it, though -- how do you think that might enter into someone's judgment about whether something is sex?
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From:mofic
Date:January 12th, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
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'm curious as to what marriage or the fictional/real divide have to do with it, though -- how do you think that might enter into someone's judgment about whether something is sex?

I think context might matter for some, and those are the contextual issues I decided to try to start. As I said in response to kattahj I wonder if the fact of it being cheating would make it sex, for some, for acts they don't think of as fully "having sex" otherwise.


With the fictional vs. real, I see people sometimes in slash referring to first anal sex as first time having sex. I wondered if this is consistent with their general view or specific to fic. It's a little like the phone sex question - if masturbating on the phone together counts as having sex does masturbating in each other's presence count? Some say yes, some say no. So if fictional people doing X are or are not having sex, would the same apply to real people?

As a writer and reader, I think that phone sex is less distinct from interpersonal physical sex in fiction than it is in real life. After all, if I am writing a phone sex scene it's a bunch of words about people having sex, yk? And the characters' experience of that is different from their experience of physical interpersonal sex and it's my responsibility as a writer to make that clear to the reader. But the *reader's* experience is of reading a sex scene and the effect on the reader - sexual and otherwise - may not be that different from if the couple were together having sex.

OTOH, irl the experiences of phone sex and physical interpersonal sex are pretty different. I could see that possibly leading to judging one as sex and the other as not.

Another contextual factor that I purposely did not inquire about is whether the person deciding whether this is sex has ever done the act in question. I think sometimes people deem certain things "not sex" that they've never experienced just because their view of sex is restricted in some ways by what they've done. I wonder if, for example, people who've never had phone sex are less likely to consider it sex. But I didn't want to ask that because once you start asking about people's own sexual experiences it becomes a much more personal quiz and fewer want to answer.
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From:celtic_meg
Date:January 12th, 2008 10:22 pm (UTC)
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Here through Minisinoo!

My answers were the same regardless. :D
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From:bibliofilen
Date:January 12th, 2008 10:42 pm (UTC)
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You seem to have missed my definition of sex. A mutual effort to get off together. If you're only interested in your own plesure or if the intention isn't to get off I wouldn't call it sex. Exactly what means are used isn't that relevant.
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:January 12th, 2008 11:09 pm (UTC)
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This is a good start -- I'll be really interested if/when the younger people pipe in.

I had a hard time answering the questions; but then, I always do. Like I don't think masturbating in the same room is sex UNLESS the fact they're both in the same room is an intentional part of the experience; ie that they get off when someone's with them in a different way than if they're alone. So the circle jerks mentioned above would, yes, probably be sex. (Never having had the opportunity to participate in one, I'm not certain.;)

I decided that for me, sex has to include the awareness of another being involved -- that is, masturbation is probably not sex, although it's certainly sexual. I'd also love to hear from whomever said what counts as sex is different if they're married or not. I think it would count differently as "ethical sex" but not by definition.

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From:arclevel
Date:January 12th, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC)
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As someone who marked yes to the last questions, I'll point out that the ethics were really what altered my answers there. While I consider everything but the kissing to be 'sexual', I didn't count masturbating together (but not each other) or phone sex as actually being 'sex' in general circumstances, but it's a fairly wavy line. With marriage involved, though, I definitely consider those activities *adultery*, thus pushing them into the realm of 'sex' in my opinion (not that it's something I've stopped to define that clearly, but that's kind of how it plays out in my mind).

To some extent the public stance of the people in the original examples also played a role, because the two changed positions both seem like the sort of thing that a person would use to justify that 'we didn't *really* have sex because...' and I'm less inclined to cut them slack for that.
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From:florahart
Date:January 12th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
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I think my answers were the same across the board (and were meant to be; I don't really think there is a difference in what constitutes having sex depending on genders and relationship statuses of the participants), but also, I think in all of these cases, the kissing, the phone sex, and the mutual masturbation are probably sexual activities that I just don't think are having sex. I'm not sure why I think so, but I also think I think people who are in a relationship should talk about where these lines are to them, as far s what they think would constitute a betrayal (or what wouldn't), but I think lacking such an agreement, most of these activities, whether or not they are "having sex" should be off the table for doing with non-partner persons. Or something.
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From:arclevel
Date:January 12th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
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I gathered from glancing at another comment (I haven't read most of them) that some people would mark 'yes' for the "If A weren't married" questions because they think something *wouldn't* count as sex because it wasn't with his wife. I answered yes for the opposite reason. I listed masturbating in front of each other and phone sex as not having sex in general (or in fiction) because I would consider them just shy of that line, due to the lack of actual physical contact. For the married politicians (and people in similar public positions), I do consider those things to count because of the unambiguous sexual nature. To deny that those things are having sex seems less due to the nature of what was done and more as a way to draw a very artificial line to hide both that there was sexual activity involved (especially in the case of politicians with, trying to claim that they're nonetheless straight), and that it is clearly adultery. Kissing may still be adulterous, depending on the circumstances, but I don't consider it clearly sexual enough to count here.

For the final question, I would at least note that while I don't consider it necessary for either person to come to be considered sex, I wouldn't generally consider brief hand-genital contact to be sex, because I wouldn't really consider it to be masturbation. The exact location of that cut-off line varies widely depending on the situation (and requires the *least* contact to count if it isn't consensual).
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From:barenakedrachel
Date:January 13th, 2008 12:25 am (UTC)
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For each scenario, I answered the same. It has to move beyond mouth to mouth or mouth to non-genital body part to equal sex to me, and any type of masturbation is sex. And I checked that an orgasm is not necessary for sex to be called sex. I also said I'd answer the same way whether or not one or more parties were married. And I counted phone sex as sex. I guess you can tell which of us responded in which way so I don't need to tell you!

But in any case, thanks for the fun survey!
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