The Subject (And Subjectivity) Of Sex: A Recap

WARNING:  This post is link-heavy.  The author of each quote is attributed with a link to his/her own blog; otherwise, each link leads to posts/pages that will likely require brain power, and will possibly include additional links.  Please take that into consideration if you are the ADD-type.  (There are boobs in that one.  Heh.  😉 )

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A while back, I started a conversation on this blog, in collaboration with another blogger, that eventually branched out into several directions.  The original question that got my train of thought on this conversational track was, What is sex to you?, as asked by my friend Nate, who is currently in the process of revitalizing the conversation.  But before we continue talking (or typing), he thought we should take a moment to listen to (or read) what has already been shared.  I quite agree.

So without further ado…


It is a complicated question.  And explaining our viewpoints can be a difficult task.  It’s all a matter of perspective and personal interpretation.  As one blogger stated so succinctly:

If I ask “think of the color blue” you might think of sky blue while I think of royal blue. They’re both accurate, in the sense that they’re both commonly understood to be a shade of blue (rather than, say, red) yet we’ve both thought of very different things. Thus, our subjective interpretation is correct, but it’s not the same thing the other subjectively thought of… until it was explained in more depth.

Applicable to describing sex. I think.

So the goal becomes, not necessarily to define, but to describe.  And to understand.  To be precise in our endeavors to understand ourselves, and to understand others.  Because the subject of sex…  It is subjective.

These were the original questions, and various participants’ thoughts on them:

  • What is sex to you?

I think I define sex as “the act of engaging another person in a session of physically manifested pleasure for the purpose of feeling intimate connection or building a sense of attachment or fondness for the person.”   ~ Kanienke

Sex to me is anything done by one person, two people, or more that involves any sexual act that is consensual between all parties involved.  Masturbation is a form of sex.  You are having sex with yourself.  Oral sex, male or female, is a form of sex.  You are using your mouth for sex.  Fingering is a form of sex.  You are using your fingers to give sexual pleasure to another person.   Sex toys regardless of shape is a form of sex.  You are using a device to give yourself or someone else sexual pleasure.  Thus continues on into the different types of sex, such as bondage, dominance-submission, pony play, and so on.  The way I look at the word sex and what sex is has been useful to me for decades.   When I hear of something sexual that I have not heard of before I don’t have to figure out how or what that term means.  I only have to know what is being done and then that act or lifestyle fits into my definition with a minimum of muss and fuss.  ~ Nate

Perspectives change when the situation changes…..{a friend and I} were talking… time and at that time he defined it by penetration in whatever way. I was able to rattle off a considerable list of sex practices that do not involve penetration, and some that require no contact at all.  ~ Wild

  • What, according to your own personal philosophical construct, constitutes a sexual act?

Anything understood by self or partner(s) to create, enhance or arousal, sexual excitement, orgasm, sexual stimulation, or sexual pleasure for one or more of those participating or experiencing (watchers, etc.) That feels like a weaselly answer but it’s the best I can come up with right now.  ~ Dave

Any action of a sexual nature which yes is a huge range of actions because so many things can be done in a sexual way.  ~ Nate

  • Is a ‘sexual act’ automatically ‘sex’?  Or do you define it differently?

I think I define the two differently. Sex itself having the intention of orgasm (whether it happens or not) while sexual act may just be part of the whole.  ~ Dave

{Defined as} Brain and body thinking erotically, in synch.  ~ John

To me a sexual act is sex.  ~ Nate

  • What about masturbation?

Ah, well yes that is sex. It is at best self-love.  ~ John

  • What do you have to have done to/for/with another person to consider them a sexual partner?  Examples of to/for/with include, but are not limited to:  oral sex, anal sex, bondage play, non-penetrative D/s play, frottage, penetration with toys, penetration with fingers, water sports, wet dreams, and coffee dates.

Interesting question that is hard to pin down. Would phone sex or cyber sex fit? I believe it can, even though it doesn’t incorporate the physical aspects between two (or more) people. But, it definitely can meet what I say about {sexual acts, above}. Another fuzzy one is extreme emotional intimacy. I can’t decide about that one – but, I would say I’ve mentally thought of it as sex before.  ~ Dave

Perhaps being a sexual partner is more about intent than contact?  ~ Dane

Interesting question.  This is where I actually do have divisions unlike “What is sex” who I had sex with is one category verse who I fooled around with, etc.  For me to consider someone a sexual partner we had to actually engage in coitus, preferably more than once.  ~ Nate

To me a sexual partner is someone who I have sex with over and over again.  Phone sex, cyber sex, talking dirty, oral, anal, touching each other. Anything and everything that has to do with flesh touching flesh, or the letting down your guard and giving yourself to someone for their pleasure or yours, but hopefully both.  ~ Sarah

To consider a person a sexual partner I have to have had penetrative sex with them if they are a man.  By penetration, I mean PIV or PIA…..I count women if we have had oral sex.  I’ve never had sexual activity with a woman that didn’t involve oral sex yet.  (I think I would count a woman if we used toys or fisted, but not if we just used fingers.  Weird.)  ~ Seattle Poly Chick


Taking into account group sex, a la threesome/foursome/moresome:  “It wouldn’t matter whose body my penis actually entered, we all had sex together.”  ~ Dane

Identifying the culturally accepted definition of sex adds to the complexity and doesn’t really help define it, but it’s gotta be taken into account.  ~ Dave

The biggest factor changing people’s ideas of censorship, and sexuality, is having kids.  ~ Wild

{Summarizing various snippets of conversation} ~ BDSM, and the various practices included under that acronym.  Where does it fit in, where definitions are concerned?

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Additional commentary, and the various post threads that spawned from these initial conversations, can be found here.

Thank you for taking the time to read.  I hope you will join the conversation.  Or ~ better yet ~ start one of your own.  😀

0 thoughts on “The Subject (And Subjectivity) Of Sex: A Recap

  1. G

    I’m not feeling wordy at all, but I’m here. 🙂 Give me a few days and I might think of one or two words to throw in.

  2. ankoku1331

    Awesome recap. Dovetails nicely with what is going on so far. Looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say, especially as this conversation/posts start to unfold. 🙂

    1. Mrs Fever Post author

      I’m curious to see where we’ll go from here. I am hoping there will be crossover conversation(s) between your blog followers and mine. 🙂

  3. NormalDeviations

    Something that’s popped into my head related to this is how (or if) the definition of sex has changed over the generations/decades/centuries. Perhaps not the clear-cut actions that define sex, but the way sex itself has changed as society has changed.

    Fer example, thirty years ago there wouldn’t have been any discussion whether cybersex counted or not. Or, a hundred and fifty years ago if phone sex is sex. (Telegraph sex? Heh.)

    And how is it gonna culturally change within our lives? Google Glass is just one of the first steps towards sex migrating from tangible and present sex, to much more broad definitions. The fabled (to-date) virtual sex being one example, and I’m sure there is plenty that we don’t have a good vision of at this point.

    1. Mrs Fever Post author

      See, now this is damned interesting. Cultural influences are key, not only in the future, but in the past as well; place and time being relevant to norms, etc.

      And your technology-of-sex questions got me thinking about technology of a…different…sort. For example: In Victorian England, women who were “histrionic” (think: the old-fashioned equivalent of Desperate Housewives…why isn’t he paying attention to me?!?) were “treated” with…drum roll please… VIBRATORS. Like, they could make an appointment with their “psychologist” for a “treatment”, which *literally* consisted of said “expert” utilizing a vibrator for the purpose of inducing an orgasm. After which ~ ta da! ~ the female patients were reported to have felt a sort of languid relaxation as they floated out of the office.

      But that wasn’t sex. Or even remotely sexual. No, no. Sex was baaaaad at that time, unless the act was committed strictly for the purpose of reproduction. (Lie back and think of England, eh.)

      The technology of the time, and the interpretations of its use… What was culturally accepted then vs what is culturally accepted now… How technology was (and is) interwoven in throughout the sexual landscape of time… The psychological perspectives on sex… How all of those things converge, influence one another, and change over time…

      So many places to go with this!


      From a historical perspective, the Victorian period was both highly sexually repressed and rampantly sexually deviant. (And I don’t mean ‘deviant’ negatively, necessarily, though there were some appalling practices that took root during that period.) What was sex like then? What was sex then? How was it different than it is now? Is it different than it is now?

      And what of the future?

      You mentioned both Google Glass (I know very little about it, only that it has sparked controversy) and virtual sex, the combination of which reminded me of this scene from Demolition Man:

      Complete with The Love Boat music playing in the background. 😉

      You mean… Fluid transfer?!?


      HENJOY! 😀

  4. NormalDeviations

    Sex was baaaaad at that time, unless the act was committed strictly for the purpose of reproduction. (Lie back and think of England, eh.)

    Now that’s an interesting branch to think about. Victorian era prudishness is a bit of revisionist history (to a degree) considering it to be extreme, though it was more progressive than earlier Western history (think: Puritanical). Homosexuality becoming not a capital offense and there was a bunch of publicly *published* erotica. Definitely progressive/accepting compared to the couple of centuries before the 1800s.

    Heh. I was thinking of that *exact* scene from Demolition Man when I was writing that comment. 😉

    1. Mrs Fever Post author

      All history is revisionist to a point, I think. Personal history, especially. It’s a survival instinct; the mind’s eye is shaded with rose-colored lenses and always has 20/20 vision, eh.

      As it is in current times, sexual attitudes and behaviors were largely politicized during the Victorian era, and “morality” was connected with (lack of) bedroom activity. And like I said, there were some appalling practices that took root during that time. It was not only acceptable, but encouraged, to cauterize a female child’s clitoris with a hot iron at the turn of the century. There were mass-print manuals available with instructions for doing so. While at the same time, erotic photography (“French” post cards) was taking off, and pornographic literature was ~ as you said ~ becoming available. So there were extremes, for sure.

      But also, just as is true in modern times, there was a middle ground. And that “gray area” is where most people found their comfort zones, I suspect. Which is really not any different than today. We often focus on extremes when examining history though, and that’s primarily because it’s the extremists who make history.

      And I could talk to you about history for days, my friend. BUT…

      Back to your technological insights: I wonder about how technology will affect the future of sex and sexuality from a pathological perspective. The treatment of STDs, reproductive health breakthroughs, Viagra… Good or bad, right or wrong, medical technological advances abound. Where is the stopping point? Is there one? And how does the concept of medical ethics impact technology in this vein?

      You have my synapses firing, for certain. 😀

  5. Pingback: Intimate Ideations | Temperature's Rising

  6. wildoats1962

    I’m sure whole textbooks could be written on the subject of sexual technology. Perverts can be soo wonderfully inventive. I had heard about vibrators being used to treat “Hysteria”. I didn’t hear about it until just a few years ago though. In the Britcom Red Dwarf Rimmer complains about Lister always using the Virtual Reality simulator for sex. His description is rather amusing. Isaac Asimov in his book The Gods Themselves describes an alien form of masturbation called “Rock-rubbing”. It’s remarkably erotic when you consider that the alien is nothing like any animal on Earth.

    I think it was back in the late 80’s, Columbia University produced a number of telecourses on a variety of topics. One frequent panelist was a psychiatrist named Dr Galen, he made a statement that I love to quote. “There are only so many orifices and protuberances on the body and nothing is as kinky or weird as the practitioners think it is.” Is that a challenge?

    I think the more extreme the repression, the more extreme the release. I remember one friend lamenting the easy availability and accessibility of porn, because in his view it tamed the porn down and led to glam-porn. A similar comparison would be the airbrushed models of Playboy and Penthouse versus the blemished models of the low circulation mags. I haven’t talked to him in years, but I would imagine he’s thrilled by the quantity of homemade porn on the net. A corollary would be that if all porn is illegal, then the availability of the really weird stuff is going to be about the same as the more routine. And to a certain extent porn is going to lead to some experimentation that would not otherwise happen. Porn not being limited to the visual media. Who is going to think of licking eyeballs if they haven’t read/seen stories about it? It’s not something I plan on trying, but I couldn’t resist throwing that in there.

    1. Mrs Fever Post author

      Rock Rubbing = Sex in the Stone Age?

      Not that age has anything to do with it.

      And eyeball licking is *not* a sexy sight.

      Natural bodies can be a sight for sore eyes. Too bad there are so few of them in modern media.

  7. mybodymystory

    Interesting! Thanks for suggesting I come read the conversation. 😀

    My definition of sex is a bit more complicated than what I posted, I think. Or possibly, it’s evolved, and by thinking of something I did in the past but didn’t consider sex, maybe I’m skewing my current definition of sex. Like, with my past boyfriend, before we had “actual sex” we would have make-out sessions that included touching each others genitals and orgasms, but we never completely removed our clothes. I didn’t consider that sex, and I still don’t.

    But I did essentially the same thing with a guy I’m having a fling with right now, except that we removed all our clothes, and I mentally thought of that as sex.

    It’s possible that the difference is level of sexual action I’m willing to go to. Like, I was willing to have coitus with my boyfriend, but not until we got tested for STDs…except that doesn’t work because it’s the same for this other guy. It’s also possible that it’s the level of intimacy that’s different. As in, sex with a near stranger is categorized differently than sex with an intimate partner. I don’t have parallel examples to test that one. But I don’t think so. I really think there’s a level of clothing removal that makes the difference for me. Which is a bit weird, but there you have it. But if I have coitus with someone, even if we keep most of our clothes on, I’ll consider that sex. It’s like, some things supersede my basic definition of sex.

    1. Mrs Fever Post author

      Welcome. 🙂

      And thanks for joining the conversation.

      I suspect the nebulousness of definition where ‘sex’ is concerned is fairly common in the human experience. Pretty much the only thing anyone ever agrees on is that Penis In Vagina = Sex.

      For me, it has become important in my relationships to determine ~ mutually, with my partner(s) ~ what *is* and what *is not* ‘sex’. ‘Cuz when someone says, “We had sex last night” and my gut response is “Dude, I have not had sex with you yet”… Um, AWKWARD.

      And like you said, what *is* sex with one guy, *is not* sex with another guy. I agree that the is/is-not pendulum swings depending upon a variety of factors, including intimacy. (Click there if you’re interested in a recap of previous conversations regarding intimacy. 🙂 )

      1. mybodymystory

        That’s like saying, click here to get free chocolate. 😛

        What’s interesting along with your above comment, is the way that intimacy swings the definition of sex may not be the way that people automatically think. Because according to what I said, more intimacy meant an action was “less than” sex, but less intimacy meant the same action was sex. But for some people, more intimacy might bump an action “up” to sex.

        1. Mrs Fever Post author

          *Exactly* 😀

          The very first post full of questions garnered over 70 responses, if that tells you anything. So many intricacies, and so many different perspectives. LOVE it!

          You know how Winnie-the-Pooh is constantly sticking his paw and his nose and his whole face into a jar of honey, trying to get every last sticky drop, but he *can’t* because it’s HONEY, and he keeps trying and trying to get to every nook and cranny where more honey is hiding? So he keeps going and keeps trying and keeps sticking his face in it?

          This. Is. My. Honey.

          And… I won’t start waxing rhapsodic about my honeypot, just yet. 😛

          Welcome to my world. 😉

  8. mybodymystory

    Also, about phone sex or cyber sex…

    I don’t consider those things to be “actual sex.” If I was to consider it, I’d think of them as “imitation sex.” It’s the physical distance from the other person that makes the difference there. I also don’t consider masturbation to be sex. It’s a sexual activity, sure, but to me sex always includes another person(s). (This possibly stems from the fact that as far as I can remember, I’ve always pictured another person doing things to/with me when I masturbated.)

    1. Mrs Fever Post author

      I hear you.

      It’s…complicated…but basically, this is the reason I maintain different definitions for ‘sex’ than I do for ‘sexual partner’. I don’t have to have had ‘sex’ with someone to consider them a ‘sexual partner’. So having phone sex with someone (or sexting or whatever) might make that person a ‘sexual partner’, but it does not make the activity ‘sex’. If that makes any sense.

      Tangential Aside regarding masturbation: I’m not much of a masturbational fantasizer, which is a fact that has long puzzled my spouse. I wonder how many people picture “another person doing things to/with me” when they masturbate. I’m sure the numbers are high, but I’m curious to know more about that. 🙂

      1. mybodymystory

        I like that idea. I think I already have the distinction in my mind, I just haven’t thought about it yet.

        That would be an interesting poll, I would be curious to see the results as well.


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