What is Sex?

Published on February 16, 2014

sex & IntimacyMany people spend little time thinking about the meaning of sex or the purpose of sex. It is not until you cannot get it or it stops working in your relationship that you really examine it. How we define sex or what we consider to be sex can create problems for couples.

Human beings are meaning making machines. We unconsciously and consciously give meaning to everything that we encounter in our life. How we create or give meaning to something may set us up for difficulties. Sex is one of those areas.

Sex has no meaning inherently. People give sex meaning. How a person defines and gives meaning is influenced through the messages they got from their family of origin, religion, culture and social messages.

Given the diversity and variety of all these sources of influence, it is not surprising that people can have widely different meanings of sex. By gender alone, men and women are given different messages about what is sex, what is good sex verses bad sex or socially acceptable sex. So an individual has to integrate all these messages into a personal cohesive message. No two individuals will create the exact same message about sex. Therefore, it is easy to see how everyone can have different meanings of sex.

More importantly, two married people may have different meaning about sex, and this can create conflict if couples cannot come up with a single meaning that works for the two of them. Many people assume that SEX is a pretty straight forward concept and only has one mean (theirs), but it does not. Many couples do not spend enough time effectively exploring what sex means to their partner and how they enjoy it or what things they like or don’t like. Couples spend little time learning about how sex works for their partner.

The purpose of this article is to help people think differently about how they define sex and being open to considering a new way to look at sex. How people define sex or don't define it often contributes to sexual problems they are experiencing.

So when discussing sex, what acts constitute sex? For many people, they narrowly define sex to mean intercourse with a penis and a vagina. Intercourse is the only kind of sex that requires an erect penis. So you can imagine if a couple has defined sex to mean intercourse and the man cannot get an erection. The problem isn't the lack of an erection, it is how the couple are defining sex! Change the definition of sex and now the couple can do other things besides intercourse and the problem is gone.

For many couples they'll be having a wonderful time of hugging and kissing and groping and fondling. They will really be enjoying themselves and then, all of sudden, the man will lose his erection and they STOP DOING EVERYTHING! When I ask couples, why did you stop? They say matter of factly, well, the man lost his erection- like this means they have to stop (because they defined sex to mean erection based sex)!

The couple believes that they have to stop if the erection is gone. This is not a helpful belief.  In fact, it is very limiting to enjoying your partner and expressing yourself sexually. If you limit yourself to defining sex as intercourse, you limit how much fun and enjoyment you can have as a couple. You create problems where none need to exist.

In reality there are many types of sex, there is of course intercourse, there is oral sex, anal sex, digital sex, sex with toys, there is mutual masturbation, masturbation of self, there is phone sex and there is sex-texting, sex over skype. In fact, Dr. Gottman of the Gottman Institutes defines sex as any kind act you do during the day! Now all of sudden with such a broad definition of sex, the fact that someone doesn't have an erection isn't such a big deal anymore and they can go on to do lots of other things equally as fun.

But some people reading may say, well yeah, but all that other stuff is “JUST foreplay.” First of all, there is no JUST anything, it is not JUST oral sex or JUST kissing, or JUST Intercourse. It is oral sex, it is kissing, it is intercourse. Using the word “JUST” implies that there is some hierarchy to a sexual experience and that all that other “stuff” doesn't count unless we do the real stuff i.e. Intercourse.

In discussing sex we do not use the word foreplay. Everything is sex and it is all good. Instead of viewing sex like a pyramid, with intercourse at the top, I get clients to imagine sex like a circle. It is all equal. It is all good and we pick and choose from different stuff depending what we, as a couple, feel like on that particular night.

If couples set intercourse as the goal and everything short of that is a failure, you can start to see how anxiety producing and nerve wracking sex can become. Now people start worrying how their bodies will behave, they worry about their performance, they ARE WORRYING instead of enjoying themselves and that is not what sex is about.

Regardless of how you define sex, what most people want from sex is to feel good and have fun. If our beliefs about sex and how it works are inaccurate, we can set our sex life up to be anxiety producing and anything but enjoyable. Is how you think about sex helping you to get the sex life you want?

A lot of times people don't think about purpose of sex. The purpose of sex varies from person to person and from night to night. There is no standard meaning sex has to have. Couples get to decide for the relationship what sex will mean and its purpose. For some people sex is about intimacy and sharing, for other people it is about releasing tension or baby-making, yet for others, it is a form self-expression or a form of recreation. There are many purposes for sex and the more open you are to expanding its meaning the more fun you and your partner can have.

People run into trouble when they have rigid fixed meanings on sex, especially when these conflict with their partners. The cool thing about sex is that couples don't have to have the same meaning. This sharing of meanings and views can be part of what makes sex more interesting.

There are many beliefs people have about sex that don't contribute to a satisfying sex life. There are also some biological realities of how sex works in men and woman and in an aging body. If you are not having the sex life you want and the things you are trying to do are not working, considering seeking help with a trained professional. Call us at 9030 7239 to get more information or email us at tammy@allinthefamilycounselling.com

Category(s):Couple Counseling, Marital Counseling, Men's Issues, Women's Issues

Written by:

Tammy M. Fontana, MS NCC CTRT Sex Therapist USA

Ms. Fontana is a relationship counsellor specializing in helping people with their relationships whether it is dating, marriage, parenting or with their extended family. Her clients call her approach practical and found solutions to their problems. Ms. Fontana has obtained her Master Degree in Mental Health counselling from the United States and is a USA Nationally Certified Counsellor. She is also a Certified Choice Theory Reality Therapist and is USA trained Sex Therapist.

Tammy M. Fontana, MS NCC CTRT Sex Therapist USA belongs to All in the Family Counselling Centre, PTE LTD in Singapore

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