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Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

What Is 'Lesbian Sex'?

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How do lesbians determine when they've had "sex" or not?

This is not an uncommon question, and the basis for it lies in the fact that, in U.S. culture, we tend to define “sex” as penile-vaginal penetration, or at least penile penetration of some kind (I don't get the same type of questions about sex between two male partners, because many people view penile-anal penetration as being “close enough” to our heterosexual definition of “sex” that it “counts”—a penis is going into an orifice in the pelvic region, so, therefore, sex is happening).

There's no secret, unwritten lesbian code for when “sex” has happened. That's pretty much left up to individuals to define for themselves. Different people might have different criteria. Was genital contact involved? Did one or both (or more) people have an orgasm? Was there oral sex? For many, one or more of these activities might signal that a line has been crossed from “making out” to “sex.” However, this isn't universally true.

The fact that there is no clear definition of what “sex” is can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, lesbians and other women who have sex with women are not as closely bound by traditional definitions of sex and have more freedom to play, experiment and make things up as they go along. On the other hand, not having that unspoken, mutually agreed-upon definition of sex can cause discord between partners if they don't communicate clearly about when, how and with whom they want to participate in certain types of sexual activities, and what those activities mean to them and their relationships.

This type of confusion can happen between partners of different genders too—some heterosexual people might consider oral sex or anal sex to be “sex,” and some might not. This becomes an issue if “having sex” holds meaning to one partner (such as, “I only have sex with people that I'm in a serious relationship with”) that is not fully communicated to the other partner.

Sex between two female partners can certainly involve vaginal penetration, with fingers, dildos, vibrators or other types of toys. Conversely, vaginal penetration isn't mandatory during sex between partners where at least one of them has a penis. In an ideal world, everyone, regardless of the anatomy of their partners, would view sex as a menu of different pleasurable choices, rather than simply one type of activity, and communication between partners, rather than assumptions, would be standard.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.


Laura Anne Stuart has a master's degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee's East Side.
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