When “Having Sex” is a Euphemism

(Cross-posted here.)

Language can be a fantastic mess. Euphemisms need not apply. Best be simple, straightforward. As Betty Dodson repeatedly reminds us, don’t say “down there.” Be specific. Gather language to describe what you are talking about. The lesson doesn’t end by describing genitals with precision; it applies when talking about activity, too.

That’s the conclusion that comes out of this study from The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Doctors, health care workers, researchers, educators “need to use behaviour-specific terminology in sexual history taking, sex research, sexual health promotion and sex education.”

What does “having sex” mean, anyway? Unsurprisingly, the answer depends on who’s asked. There was little difference in answers from men and women, and the respondents were mostly straight. In the media coverage of the study I saw, there was no mention of self-identified transgendered respondents. Very young and very old men excluded the most activities as “not sex.” Oral, anal, manual, just the tip, no orgasm = not sex to many of those guys.

This smart-assed breakdown of the findings is worth a read, and as Joe points out, much of what queer people do isn’t considered  “having sex.”

There are a lot of angles from which to describe the findings.

There’s the procreative-bias angle. Over 11% say penile/vaginal isn’t sex if the man doesn’t ejaculate; 6.7% say it’s not sex if the penis is wearing a condom.

There’s the public health angle. The Kinsey Institute conducted the study in conjunction with UI’s Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention. One in five respondents say that penile/anal isn’t sex. Nearly 30% say oral/genital isn’t sex.

There are many queer angles and pretense-of-keeping-virginity angles. Over half said that manual stimulation isn’t sex. And 7.3% say penile/vaginal isn’t sex if the female doesn’t orgasm.

“Having sex” is apparently a euphemism. After Bill Clinton’s noisy denials, I’m hardly surprised. More than a few teenage girls in my conservative, rural hometown were game for plenty of sexual behavior, but fervently believed themselves still virgins because a penis had not penetrated their vagina. Whatever helps you sleep at night, girls, but seriously. come on.

And perhaps all this discussion about what “having sex” is or isn’t sheds further light on some folks’ curiosity as they ponder what we lesbians do – exactly – to have sex. I’ve found it’s a source of sincere bewilderment.

When asked by a bunch of her musician guy friends if she’d be showing up for a particular gig, my lover Taryn said, “I won’t be around. I’ll be f*cking my girlfriend’s brains out that weekend.”

“Wha – wha?” they sputtered, falling all over themselves, gathering close to hear more.

Because obviously, obviously, a chick can’t f*ck another chick . . . can she? And no, we don’t just mean, or even need, strap-ons. Sure, we have our toys. One in particular, a knobby piece, we affectionately call our purple boyfriend. Or there’s the nice thick doubledong that doesn’t require a harness. Or vibrating dildos. But more often than not those toys are neglected because hands and tongues and pressure and maybe the use of a vibrating bullet are perfectly, blissfully sufficient. And sometimes masturbating together is the most intimate, satisfying sex I could imagine. With the scent and taste of each other smeared across on our faces, our hands slippery from our combined juice, we bring ourselves to orgasm, staring into each others’ eyes.

But apparently, to some people, we aren’t having sex. It’s just as well. If they had any idea how good it could be, not having sex, they’d never leave the house.

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