It’s a question that I’ve heard more than once, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. It’s been asked when I’ve started a new relationship, talked with a doctor, or just had an open conversation with certain friends. The question is, “How many people have you had sex with?”
Before I would answer, I always felt that I had to ask whether oral sex qualifies, or if nothing but intercourse counts. It’s a quibble used by politicians and abstinence-pledging religious high school students alike. I don’t feel guilty about sex, but I am concerned with people getting the facts straight—so whenever the question came up, I would ask what qualified before I answered.
Not very long ago, though, I realized there was no reason to ask. There’s no asterisk tacked on to my answer anymore—physical intimacy is physical intimacy. Some people feel that even kissing counts as sex. I wouldn’t go that far myself, but I do know this: intercourse is not all there is to sex.
I also know this: I wouldn’t want to have sex with anyone who thinks it is.
I don’t like the idea for two reasons. On one hand, yes, it’s miserably penis-centric—after all, it traditionally requires a man. It seems to me that the idea that it’s not sex without penetration was probably—almost certainly—started by the same people who spread the rumor that a woman’s place is in the home.
On the other hand, it’s also limiting as to what men and women are both capable of. To say that we can’t have sex without a penis entering a vagina simply doesn’t give the human species credit for being intelligent, creative and loving. Besides, the genitals only make up one small area of the human body—it’s a shame, and a waste, to say that everything else is irrelevant.
With that in mind, I have to say that the word “foreplay” does not belong in the dictionary. It’s only slightly less obnoxious than the idea that intercourse is the only sex; it implies that intercourse is the only reason to have any other kind of sex—anything else is just leading up to it. The word “foreplay” means “sure, I’m enjoying the kissing and the snuggling and the massage and the cunnilingus and everything, but we both know why we’re really here”—and that everything else is secondary, or even inferior.
Not so. That kissing, that snuggling, that massage, that cunnilingus—that everything—it’s all part of what sex truly is.
Intercourse is one thing among many; it’s not the main event. Here’s a really good reason why not: most women don’t reach orgasm through intercourse. As I understand it—I can’t personally be certain of this, but this is what I’ve been told—women do enjoy intercourse, but most don’t come because of it.
Of course, the temptation, then, is to ask, “Then why even bother? Isn’t female orgasm the entire point?
“If intercourse doesn’t reliably help bring women to climax, should intercourse itself be considered sex?”
Yes. It should. It is.
Because sex is not about orgasm. Without orgasm, male or female, sex can still be fun, it can still be loving, and it can still be meaningful. Orgasm is just a perk; it’s not the goal. Sex is about connecting with someone. It’s about making love.
That’s another reason why intercourse is worthwhile. Fun and pleasure aside—and it is good for those—for people who value intimacy, it’s hard to find a more intimate physical connection with someone. It’s not the only way to do it, but it is a damn good one.
A lot of people talk about what it means to a woman to have intercourse: to actually allow a part of someone else inside your body. There’s no doubting that it’s a meaningful action, for the first time or for the hundredth. But it’s not just that way for women.
Consider intercourse from the man’s perspective, either with a woman or another man—and women have ways of doing it, too. You’re not just entering someone else’s body. You’re being enclosed by it—cradled, enfolded, embraced on every side. To allow someone else to possess a part of you like that is not meaningless. You’re being held closer and more intimately than is possible in any other way. Sex isn’t something you do to someone else; it’s something that people do together. Any guy who takes that for granted doesn’t deserve to be called a man.
You don’t make love with your cock. Sex is not just about the penis, any more than it is just about the vagina. You make love with your whole body, and with her whole body. Really making love, even when it’s just for fun, is in how you touch each other, not where. It’s in the skin, in the breath, the areolas, the side of the neck, the back of the knees. It’s in the curve of his cheekbones, and the freckles on her shoulders. It’s laughing together when her bra clasp won’t unhook, and it’s holding each other close after you’re both exhausted.
It’s about each other. And yes—it’s about love.