It’s time to have The Talk. Today I want to talk to you about sex. Because while most of you have gotten some definition of sex when you were kids, the majority of those definitions are wrong. If you were told sex is a cis man vaginally penetrating a cis woman until he ejaculates then you were lied to.
I know, I know, that’s hard to believe. But you were lied to, because what I just described is not always sex, and sex is not always what I just described.
So, then what is sex?
Sex can be defined as two or more people engaging in consensual erotic behavior with the intention of experiencing and causing another to experience sexual pleasure.
Let’s break that down.
Sexual pleasure –
Different from arousal, different from release of arousal, but related to each. Drawing the line where foreplay starts becoming Sex is up to individuals involved.
Consent can be defined as: Affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity.
Let’s break that down.
Affirmative means clear verbal agreement or clear non-verbal agreement.
If you are not 110% positive that they are giving non-verbal consent, you need to ask verbally. Never assume consent is given without checking in. Non-verbal consent does not include how someone is dressed or your relationship to the person or whether you’ve done the act in question before. Affirmative agreement is clear communication agreeing in the moment* to something both/all partners want. Consent can be withdrawn at any point.
*in some cases, there are arrangements for BDSM scenes or ‘sleep sex’ (or other situations where consciousness is impaired) which requires consent to be given significantly before the moment of sexual advance. This necessitates extremely clear, enthusiastic, ongoing, verbal consent (for both the sexual act and the form and degree of consciousness impairment) on the part of both/all involved leading up to the scene. There should be aftercare following. Consent can be withdrawn at any point before or during a scene, and there should be clear, agreed upon methods to withdraw consent and boundaries set in advance.
Conscious means being in a condition where one is cognitively aware of their situation and has regular levels of control over their speech, body, movement, etc.
If they are asleep, very drunk, very high, very ill, not mentally aware enough to understand their situation because of age or severe cognitive disability or injury, they cannot give consent. Even if they give a clear affirmative agreement, that is not consent.
Voluntary means agreement to the specific sexual behavior without a context of coercion, uneven power dynamics, fear, or other situations in which disagreement risks one’s ability to have psychological or physical safety.
If you engage in a different sexual behavior than what your partner agreed to, or neglect to engage in the agreed upon conditions of the behavior (e.g. only if a condom is used) that is not consent. If you pressure someone into sex when they don’t want to, even if they say yes, that is not consent. If you create a relationship of control and abuse so your partner doesn’t feel safe to say no, even if they say yes, that is not consent. If you have created a situation where your partner has no choice, their yes isn’t consent. If you are an adult and they are a teenager or child, even if they say yes, it is not consent. If you threaten someone, that is not consent.
Engaging in sexual behavior without consent.
Sometimes this is divided into sexual assault as an umbrella term which includes all acts of nonconsensual sexual behavior, and rape which specifically includes nonconsensual acts which are penetrative in nature or involve contact with genitals. Often when people talk about ‘attempted rape’ they’re really talking about sexual assault that didn’t become penetrative or didn’t involve manual, oral, anal, or vaginal sexual acts (e.g. groping, humping, holding down and forcing themselves against someone, stripping someone, threatening or coercing someone to strip, forcing someone to engage in non-genital sexual behavior or kink, etc.). The phrase ‘attempted rape’ can be problematic because it implies that nothing really happened when something very much did.
Rape is not Sex. Sexual assault is not Sex.
Sex means two or more people engaging in consensual erotic behavior with the intention of experiencing and causing another to experience sexual pleasure.
Sex is doing things you both/all want to do. Sex includes pretty much any consensual erotic behavior you can think of. Not all penis-in-vagina intercourse is Sex (because some of it is rape) and not all Sex is penis-in-vagina intercourse (because most consensual erotic behavior isn’t that; that sex act is only one of many sexual behaviors).
And that concludes The Talk for today.