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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

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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:kestrelsparhawk
Date:January 12th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC)
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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.


That's perfectly true -- phone sex dialogue can be just as steamy as narrative dialogue, whereas I don't think of phone sex as "sex" per se, anymore than rpg are sex per se. Sex to me by its nature presumes a higher level of intimacy than many other things -- it's a violation of personal distance which only good friends and enemies may enter regularly, for most people.

But then, I don't think of reading or viewing erotica as sex per se, not even if you do it one-handed! Because, again, there's no intimate risk of any sort.
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From:mofic
Date:January 14th, 2008 08:04 pm (UTC)
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That's perfectly true -- phone sex dialogue can be just as steamy as narrative dialogue, whereas I don't think of phone sex as "sex" per se, anymore than rpg are sex per se. Sex to me by its nature presumes a higher level of intimacy than many other things -

That's interesting. I definitely consider phone sex to be real sex, and I wouldn't consider an rpg with a sexual scenario to be sex. But I think phone sex *is* very intimate and is usually engaged in because it's the only kind the couple can have. With an rpg it's someone playing a role. Hmmm, actually thinking about it a little more, I'd definitely say that a couple separated by circumstance (like one of them is off on a mission with his superhero team) who are having phone sex are having sex.

OTOH, I wouldn't necessarily think that someone who calls up a phone sex line is having sex. OT3H (lend me a hand, will you?) as someone said elsewhere in this comment stream, if the person calling up the phone sex line was involved in a mutually monogamous relationship I would think he was *cheating* unless his compact with his partner specifically allowed for commercial phone sex. And watching or reading porn is the opposite for me - I don't think he's cheating unless his compact with his partner specifically prohibits porn. So I think I'm seeing commercial phone sex as somewhat more intimate just because there is a real person interacting with the caller...
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:January 15th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)

One or two?

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You can borrow both my hands for this, Particularly if it's the only kind a couple can have, and they can't be physically together. If they can... no I'm going to borrow my hands back here because OTOH if they choose phone sex over physical sex, well, why privilege other kinks over phone sex?

But that makes me start wondering -- is a guy fucking a woman's shoe having sex? Does it only count if it's two or more people? I'm just very glad that sex is a continuum, and fits into the lovely experiential "I know it when I feel it." I remember a friend of mine going to bed with someone who'd been trying to get into bed with her for years, and when she rejoined us, she shrugged and said, "I could have done better myself." So in that sense, does it matter (as one of your questions puts it) more if there were orgasm or more if there were company?
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From:mofic
Date:January 15th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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That's a good question whether masturbation counts. As I said elsewhere, I didn't include it but I think most would say "no" despite the Woody Allen line ("Don't knock masturbation. It's sex with someone I love.")

In my own definition, I wouldn't count it as "having sex" although it is meeting sexual needs. And I think maybe I wouldn't count calling up the phone sex line, either, although I definitely would count phone sex between a temporarily separated couple as "having sex" and in person physical prostitution as "having sex" and "paying for sex." But I think the phone sex line is something on the fringes of "paying for sex" - maybe paying for a sexually related service.

I realize I'm not being very consistent.
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:January 15th, 2008 02:49 am (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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I realize I'm not being very consistent


I actually appreciate you're not, because I can tell that you, like me, are thinking about this, not just defending a conclusion come to at some previous time. Every time I think of one answer, I can think of a "but."

It may be that sex really is contextual, and only can be defined in context. A definition of "sexually transmitted disease" for example, could presume an overlap, but not a complete overlap, with "adulterous sexuality."

In Gates, I use language to skirt the whole issue: in Elassi, the phrase is "being sexual together." Then it's the physical/emotional reactions which are stirred up, and the intention, which makes it sex. I did like my solution, but only for me -- and since I'm the only one in the universe who actually speaks elassi, it doesn't get us very far. :)
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From:mofic
Date:January 15th, 2008 11:49 am (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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LOL on being the only person who speaks Elassi. But yes, regardless of language, all of these acts are people being sexual together, engaging in an activity that's sexual in nature.

A sort of related question is: why do we care? Why does it matter to label some sexual activities as "having sex" and others as "not quite sex" or "foreplay"?
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:January 15th, 2008 11:21 pm (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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A sort of related question is: why do we care? Why does it matter to label some sexual activities as "having sex" and others as "not quite sex" or "foreplay"?


I have always assumed the answer to that is "because sex is so fraught with cultural meaning, people want to know what they've done."

I never used to feel a need to define sex, until I lived with a teenager and found out that they STILL thought that if you kept your clothes on, anything you did didn't count. I knew someone who got pregnant that way in high school, and more than one who was very, very afraid they'd gotten pregnant, not having known sperm would be involved. (true!)

Talking to M (the teenager) I began to understand that the youth really get the concept of STDs, but often do endruns around their fears by thinking that only happens if you have sex (as does pregnancy.) Ta Da. "Real sex" means acts which can result in pregnancy or stds, which should only be done with people who matter to you, at least as far as girls are concerned.

So I have no urge to define it for myself, but ongoing horror reading a fanfic where, say, they've given mutual hand and blow jobs, frotted naked to climax, rimmed, and THEN (after months of this) have a serious talk about whether they're ready to have sex.

I guess it's the rescuer part of me.
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From:mofic
Date:January 16th, 2008 12:35 am (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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I really don't like the idea of defining sex by pregnancy or by disease or both. I think defining sex as what gets you pregnant is problematic for two reasons. First of all, as I said to you elsewhere, not all of us got pregnant through sex and we're not any less pregnant :-). But more to the point, reproduction is such a small part of sexual experience, even for heterosexuals who regularly practice PVI. Even if someone has lots of kids, even if someone never uses any contraception the vast majority of sex acts a person engages in a lifetime do not result in pregnancy.

And I think that defining sex by *disease* is even worse. Why should what makes it real sex be whether you can get sick from it? Why not think in terms of pleasure? Surely we can teach our children what behaviors - sexual and otherwise - are risks to their health without a taxonomy that says only what potentially transmits disease counts as "real sex." I really don't want my kids thinking that sex=disease and/or sex=pregnancy. I know that's the basis of a lot of what passes for sex education under GOP rule, but I think it's very wrong-headed.
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From:kestrelsparhawk
Date:January 16th, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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I am totally, absolutely agreeing with you! I was not in any way implying that I believed such a thing (or at least I hope not). That was the report I got from M about what got defined as sex, which I think is what led to the really weird definitions of what counts as "real" sex. for them. Not for me. There have been times taking a shower with my partner definitely counted as "real" sex, and neither pregnancy nor an STD in sight.
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From:mofic
Date:January 16th, 2008 02:40 am (UTC)

Re: One or two?

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I'm sorry. It seems I totally misunderstood your intent...
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