Given our culture’s obsession with sex, it’s amazing to think about all the things we don’t talk about when it comes to sex.
Take for example the term “having sex.” Do you remember learning for the first time what that meant? If you do, it probably had something to do with intercourse. But in practice, as an adult, do you only say you had sex when intercourse was involved? Probably not.
Which brings us to a basic question we rarely talk about: What is included in having sex and what isn’t?
When does a touch become a sexual activity?
Definitions of Sex
One definition of a sexual activity is any behavior that someone engages in alone, or consensually with others, that is considered sexual by the people engaging in it. In other words, if everyone involved wants to do it, and thinks of it as sexual, then it’s reasonable to call it sex (for them).
Two important caveats. First, consent is key here, because of the activity isn’t consensual, then it isn’t sex, it’s sexual assault or rape. Second, just because one person thinks of an activity as sex doesn’t mean everyone will. Some people consider tickling a part of sex. Others would say it’s torture.
Defining certain activities as sex won’t ever work outside of a particular community and time. Sex doesn’t happen in a vacuum and what is sexual changes over time and is influenced by culture, gender, class, ethnicity, and more.
But since so few of us talk about this, and most of us are told that “real sex” equals intercourse a list of some of the many ways people have sex might be useful.
The List (In No Particular Order)
- Kissing: using lips to touch and feel any part of someone else’s body.
- Giving or getting hickeys (using your teeth and mouth to leave temporary marks on a partners body).
- Oral sex: using your mouth to stimulate a partner’s genitals (cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus).
Using another body part (hands, elbows, feet, whatever works) to stimulate a partners genitals (penis and scrotum, vulva, vagina, and clitoris, anus and rectum, inguinal canals/muffing).
Non-genital sexual touch: using another body part (hands, elbows, feet, whatever works) to erotically touch or explore your own or your partner’s whole body.
Edging: bringing your partner (or yourself) to the edge of a sexual climax, then pulling back and playing with the line.
- Massage: using any part of your body to sensually touch and relax any part of your own or a partner’s body.
- Dry humping, fully clothed rubbing of your body with someone else’s body (frottage).
- Naked body rubbing, rubbing genitals together without penetration (tribadism).
- Chest, breast, and/or nipple stimulation.
- Masturbation: stimulating yourself for sexual pleasure.
- Mutual masturbation: stimulating yourself with one or more person present.
- Ejaculating during sex. And having non-ejaculatory orgasms.
- Sex toys: using alone or with a partner.
The “B” in BDSM: Restricting your own or a partner’s movement during sex (tying up, restraining body parts).
Restricting your own or a partner’s senses during sex (wearing headphones, blindfold, covering parts of the body so they can’t be touched).
- Pinching, spanking, or slapping for sexual pleasure.
- Vaginal intercourse: using a penis or strap-on.
- Anal intercourse: (using a penis or strap-on).
- Dressing up during sex.
- Doing a striptease for yourself or a partner.
- Having sex in the water.
- Using food during sex play.
- Talking dirty to each other.
- Taking pictures, audio, or video during sex by yourself or with a partner.
- Having sex in public or in semi-public spaces.
- Doing role play of sexual fantasies.
- Any sexual activity with multiple partners.
- Having sex with a partner or by yourself while other people watch.