One afternoon in seventh grade, my friends explained the bases to me. There was kissing, then there was feeling-up, then there was manual and oral sex, then there was "sex" — i.e., penis-in-vagina intercourse. The discussion did not include how couples without a penis and a vagina had sex, nor did it include the fact that only a quarter of women reliably orgasm through sex of the "home run" variety. I learned not only that PIV intercourse was more important than any other activity but also that once I had it, I'd be forever changed, because I'd no longer be a "virgin." As it turns out, though, this is only one of many ways to define "sex."
"I think many people equate intimacy with the in-and-out of sex," Amy Levine, sex coach and founder of Ignite Your Pleasure, tells Bustle. "It's often due to lack of relationship role models to teach them about true intimacy and lack of sex ed. Instead, many people learn through trial and error and may not have a better understanding of what it takes to have better sex until the info pops up on the web or social media to educate them."
You can define sex however you want, but to give you an idea of what the possibilities are, here's how some people define sex for themselves.
"The effort to make my partner come."
"Intimate relations between two or more people that provide pleasure or increased intimacy between them."
"I feel like when I have sex with other vulva-owning people, it’s very fluid, like there’s no definition or line. There’s just more ferocity and you know after that it was sex. However, when I’ve been with a trans person sex was when we used a strap — it was more cut and dry. Then, when having sex with penises, it’s any kind of below the waist penetration."
"Any form of consensual arousing/erotic physical contact with another person that can range from penetrative to oral to digital and more."
"Sex is, people coming together and enjoying each other's bodies in whatever way that feels sexually and emotionally fulfilling for all parties involved."
"I used to define sex as: In a heterosexual couple, ‘sex’ is intercourse (penis in vagina); in a male homosexual couple, I define ‘sex’ as penis in anus. But when I started thinking about lesbians, I realized that a penis (or anything) being inserted in somewhere does not classify sex. As society becomes more queer and gender is accepted as on a spectrum, I now define sex as any sexual act."
"Consensual physical relations involving genitals/sex organs."
"As a queer woman, I define 'sex' as any sexual act that pleasure derives from. By sexual act, I mean anything beyond heavy kissing and petting."
"Anything that involves your sexual organs directly or indirectly."
"Consensual meeting of sexual organs, or meeting of sexual organs with hands or mouth."
"Any sexual contact — anything beyond kissing."
"Any pleasurable, intentional, and consensual bodily contact involving parts of the body that are typically clothed, or simulation of same."
"Various intimate physical activities involving genitalia, erogenous zones, orgasms, etc. Penetration of some sort common, but not mandatory."
"I think of sex as consensual genital stimulation between two or more adults. It can be mutual or given or received."
"Activities shared between two or more people for the purpose of their mutual sexual pleasure, usually involving stimulating each other's genitals (but not necessarily, as in the case of mutual masturbation, etc. God, it's hard to come up with a sufficiently inclusive but not overly broad definition here.)
"It's what the individuals involved say it is. It would be completely different depending on the gender identities of the people involved. For me, as a straight cis woman, I think of oral sex, anal sex, or vaginal sex. But that's only as it applies to me — I would never say that's the only kind of sex for someone else."
"Any kind of stimulation done to the sex organs or with the sex organs with at least one other person than yourself."
"I define sex as penetration when it comes to most people, men or women. This is how I definite it for most people. For me, it can include oral sex, just be oral sex by itself, cuddling, or other types of things besides penetration for the act to be considered a complete act of 'sex.'"
"An intimate experience between two (or more) people; not necessarily penetrative, but an experience that involves consent, respect, pleasure, and care."
As you can see, there are infinite ways to define sex. And as long as you're not trying to define it for anyone else, none of them are wrong.