Episode 263 – How Do You Define Sex?

What is sex?

Our definition of sex can really affect how much sex we’re getting. So, how do you define sex? Is sex just penetration and orgasm? Or are there other activities that you define as sex? This isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer but it’s important to ask yourself how you define it and why. Listen as we discuss what a broad definition of sex can do for your sex life.

Show Notes:

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Show Summary:

What is sex? How do you define it?  This is a question that I often ask my clients because how they answer will many times determine their experience. 


Is sex penetration? Is sex an orgasm? 


The definition can vary among individuals and couples, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  But it’s important to ask yourself how you define it and why. 


A very narrow definition of sex usually refers to sexual activity that involves penetration, and specifically penile-vaginal intercourse.  I have a lot of women clients who tell me that this is their husband’s definition of sex.  That it’s not sex unless it includes penetration.  This very narrow definition makes me laugh because if this is your definition then you are basically saying that lesbians don’t have sex.  But it also makes me sad because many couples are missing out on so many of the joys of sex with such a narrow definition. 


Included in this narrow definition, often sex is defined as an orgasm.  And that orgasm can come in a variety of ways.  But what happens when there isn’t an orgasm?  If he is unable to orgasm for some reason or she hasn’t figured it out yet, can’t, or maybe even does want an orgasm.  Is it then not sex?  


I think it is much healthier to have a very broad definition of sex.  When we have a broad definition with a wide range of behaviors and expressions beyond penetration and orgasm, we acknowledge that sex can involve multiple forms of physical intimacy, pleasure, and connection between partners.  This can include:

  1. Oral sex 
  2. Anal sex
  3. Manual stimulation
  4. Mutual masturbation
  5. Kissing and other forms of non-genital touching
  6. Erotic role-playing and fantasy exploration
  7. Bondage, dominance, submission, and other forms of BDSM play
  8. Sexting and other forms of virtual sexual expression

A broad definition also acknowledges that sexuality is diverse and allows individuals to have different preferences and desires.  A broad definition prioritizes consent, communication, and mutual pleasure and recognizes that sexual expression can be an important aspect of connection and well-being.  Overall, a broad definition of sex helps to promote a more inclusive and respectful understanding of sexuality, reducing stigma and promoting greater sexual health and fulfillment.


As a coach, I have had clients from their 20s to their 70s and I’ve witnessed how sex changes over time.  As we age, our bodies, relationships, and priorities shift.  And these changes can often affect our sexual experiences and desires.  With the changes that happen with age, pregnancy, illness, and injuries, when we have a narrow definition of sex, it limits our ability to connect with each other intimately.  But if we open up our definition, then couples are much more likely to be able to adapt to these changes.


I’ve had several clients who were pregnant and some that have experienced complications in their pregnancy that forced them as a couple to make changes to their sex life.  Whether that is extreme morning sickness that lasts the whole nine months or pre-term labor and they are put on pelvic rest.  These couples have had to adapt and change things in their sexual relationship.


I personally have pretty severe back pain.  I’m in pain almost daily and some days are much worse than others.  My husband and I have had to learn how to adapt so that sex doesn’t create more pain, if possible.  I recently had a procedure (that I will tell you about on a future podcast) where I wasn’t supposed to have penetration for 10-14 days.  We had to adapt.


A previous client’s husband had prostate cancer.  The surgery was going to make erections impossible for at least a few months and maybe permanently.  She came to me scared about the future because intercourse has been a really good part of their marriage.  But they had to adapt.


Many men lose the ability to have or maintain an erection, without help, as they age.  Couples have to learn to adapt. 

And if you have a very narrow definition of sex, then adapting and changing as things change in your relationship or as individuals becomes much more difficult.


I’ve also found that when couples have tension over the frequency of sex and desire discrepancies, when you can open up the definition of sex to non-intercourse activities, it can help bridge that gap between no sex and sex.  She may not feel like penetration but is open to a massage, making out, cuddling naked, or giving a hand job.


While having a clear understanding of what sex means to you can be helpful, rigidly adhering to a narrow definition can create problems in sexual relationships. For example, if one partner defines sex exclusively as penile-vaginal intercourse and the other partner prefers other forms of sexual activity, this mismatch can lead to frustration, disappointment, and even resentment. Alternatively, if one partner has a broad definition of sex and the other partner prefers more traditional forms of sexual activity, they may feel uncomfortable or pressured to engage in activities that they are not comfortable with.


On the other hand, having a flexible and open-minded approach to sex can be beneficial for sexual relationships. By acknowledging that sex can take many forms and that individuals have unique preferences and desires, partners can have more open and honest conversations about what they want and need sexually. This can lead to greater understanding and respect between partners, as well as a greater sense of intimacy and connection.


Ultimately, the key to a healthy and fulfilling sexual relationship is communication and mutual respect. Rather than rigidly defining what sex means, partners should prioritize open and honest dialogue about their needs and desires, and work together to find common ground and explore new sexual experiences. By taking a flexible and open-minded approach to sex, couples can build stronger, more fulfilling relationships that prioritize mutual pleasure, communication, and respect.

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