Why we need to change the definition of sex

Jun 12, 2016

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about sex. And I don’t mean that I’ve been having fantasies that include Louis Theroux and some melted, fairly traded chocolate. Although, I can totally understand why you would think that was the case. What I mean is that I’ve been in a contemplative, borderline revelatory state for the past couple of days that concluded in me shouting “We need to redefine sex!” I watched some videos. I started reading a book called “Vagina”. I thought long and hard (lol) and now I’m ready to share those thoughts. In the wise words of the classical philosophers Salt-N-Pepa, “let’s talk about sex, baby”.

So, “Vagina” by Naomi Wolf. It’s the perfect thing to indulge in whilst on the central line in rush hour, let me tell you. My kindle informs me that I’m only 8% of the way through and I already think it should be compulsory reading for every human on the planet (especially men!). It’s enlightening. Anyway, amongst learning so far about the wonder that is the pelvic nerve and the link between sexuality and creativity, one thing that struck me was Wolf talking about what society places inside of the bracket that is ‘sex’. The answer, when you think about it, is ‘not much’. For the majority of the population sex means ‘Hi vagina, meet this penis’. There’s some penetration and a bit of thrusting. It’s all very goal orientated. And it’s a bloody shame, if you ask me.

The fact that the word “foreplay” even exists is absolutely astounding. I mean, are you telling me that it’s just the unnecessary prequel to penetration? If so, I feel very sorry for your previous, current or future sexual partners. Very sorry, indeed. But putting aside the fact that such a mindset probably leads to an exceedingly boring sexual experience, classifying sex in such a heteronormative way completely disregards the experiences of the LGBT+ community. The word foreplay, and the idea of sex as a purely penetrative act between one penis and one vagina, perpetuates the idea that sex between a man and a man or a woman and a woman cannot be considered ‘sex’. If that ain’t the epitome of ridiculous, then I don’t know what is.

The second issue I have with how we define sex is less about the way that it is viewed societally and more about the actual dictionary definition. For those of you wondering, it is usually defined as some variant of the words ‘sexual activity, including specifically sexual intercourse.’ I mean, I could go on about how this doesn’t in anyway capture the beautiful diversity between every sexual experience, but dictionaries aren’t meant to be poetic. So, I won’t do that.

Dictionaries are, from my biased English Literature undergraduate perspective, insanely important within society, though. Look, I understand that people probably haven’t ever physically searched for the actual definition of sex and so it’s understandable that it might seem superfluous and irrelevant in the modern world. But the fact of the matter is that dictionaries have always (or at least since 1755 – thanks, Sammy) held academic credence. In such a way, everything written about sex for centuries now has been based on this singular definition.

“Okay, but what’s wrong with that definition, Beth? It doesn’t condemn non-penetrative sex so why are you still complaining?” Thanks for asking. The problem I have with this is the fact that it’s utterly blind to the idea of consent. Sex is not sex without consent. It is rape. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as ‘non-consensual sex’ because that is not sex at all. Through defining it in such a way, a culture that dismisses rape and victim blames is perpetrated. Because, oh obviously, if a woman or man enjoys actual sex they must be asking to be raped – since they are definitely the same thing.

We need to redefine the word ‘sex’, both culturally and academically. Sex is such a complex topic, but the heart of it is undeniably simple: it is the consensual seeking of pleasure in a physically intimate way. That’s it. Anything that falls into this wide-reaching bracket should be accepted within society as one of the many wonderful forms that sex takes. Anything that does not fall into this bracket is not sex. It’s just not.

  1. Renee Alexis Taladua

    June 13th, 2016 at 12:59 am

    I am just in awe on how great you are with words, Beth. I love how you voice out your thoughts, I love how you write. It all just makes sense! I am just in awe. *claps*therenalexis.blogspot.com

  2. BethanyAustin

    June 13th, 2016 at 9:04 am

    This was the nicest comment to wake up to. Thank you so much, Rennee! You're an absolute babe xxx

  3. Megan Hunt

    June 14th, 2016 at 7:14 am

    I LOVE this post. I also think the world needs to cull words like 'slut' 'slag' and 'whore' to describe people who apparently have too much sex…. is that even possible? The whole culture of shaming around sex is vulgar

  4. BethanyAustin

    June 15th, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Thank you angel! I couldn't agree more about getting rid of slut shaming language – it's disgusting. Thanks for reading, Megan xx

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