Language is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans.
Sometimes language can feel limiting, or like it can’t capture how we feel or what we’re experiencing. Luckily, just like humans, language can evolve.
This is especially important when it comes to our sex lives. A fluid approach to language allows us to deconstruct outdated and harmful terms like “losing your virginity”.
Deconstructing language around our sex lives gives us the freedom to define our experiences for ourselves, without the boundaries society has placed on us.
The first thing you may be thinking is “What on Earth do you mean?! There’s only one definition for sex!”. That’s what society would like you to believe, but let’s examine that belief closer.
The world would be pretty boring if we all held the same beliefs for everything. Boring is the last word you want to use when talking about sex.
Being able to create your own definition for sex expands the opportunities you have for connection and intimacy, and helps to destigmatize toxic beliefs around sexuality.
Breaking Down Heteronormativity
You may have heard of the term “heteronormativity”. This is the belief that heterosexuality is the default or most natural form of relationships. Heteronormativity relies on the gender binary, or belief that there are only two genders – biological male and female. It tends to minimize or reject people who are non-binary, trans, or anything outside of the gender they were assigned at birth.
Heteronormativity is also homophobic by default. Thinking that a man and a woman is the most correct or default form of a relationship, is harmful to those who are LGBTQA+.
With heteronormativity comes steadfast beliefs around sex. If someone believes the default form of a relationship is a man and a woman, they most likely also believe that penis in vagina is the only definition of sex. Heteronormativity is rooted in patriarchal structures. Ones that, more often than not, center male pleasure, and disregard or minimize female pleasure.
Why is this harmful? For one, it’s not true. Many people have sex in ways that doesn’t involve a penis and a vagina. This is the norm for many queer people. Oral sex can be sex, using toys is sex, manual stimulation can be considered sex, masturbation is sex, kink can be sex, even intense naked making out can be considered sex if people decide it is.
Now you don’t have to be queer to adopt this view. Straight or straight passing couples can learn from this, and broaden their sex lives.
Redefining Sex and Ableism
Another issue with the penis in vagina definition of sex is that it lacks inclusivity around abilities.
Many people are unable to have this kind of sex comfortably, or at all, for a variety of reasons. This means they are often left in the dust during conversations around sex or carry shame around their sexuality.
People with all sorts of disabilities can relate to this. Just because they may not be able to have sex by the traditional definition, does not mean they can’t have a thriving sex life.
People who have experienced trauma, whether sexual or not, may not feel comfortable with penetrative sex. They may be triggered by it, but still, desire the intimacy of sex.
New parents also come up against this. Sex after birth isn’t always as easy as waiting until your doctor gives you the go-ahead. Many people experience pelvic floor injuries that can last for years after birth, without the proper treatment. This can make penetrative sex difficult, painful, or nearly impossible, yet they still desire intimacy.
Other people who may choose to redefine sex are those who have pain with penetration, which could be a result of disorders like endometriosis or vulvodynia. For people who have a penis, they may experience erectile issues or other things that may limit their ability to have penetrative sex.
These are just a few examples of people who can benefit from being able to redefine sex for themselves.
Even for people who desire penetrative sex, it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like it’s not achievable, for whatever reason. Giving yourself grace by changing the definition of sex, can help take some of the pressure off, and be incredibly healing.
The Bottom Line
Sex is fluid and always changing. Your language around sex can be just as dynamic as you are. Let this be an invitation to get curious, to question previously held beliefs, and to become more accepting and understanding of the different forms sexuality can take.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with defining sex as penis in vagina if that’s what works for you. You can hold one truth for your personal sex life, and accept that others have different beliefs. Variety is the spice of life!
Remember that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. If your definition of sex is different than the general definition, you don’t need to justify that belief to anyone else.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.