This is a post by one of my Spring 2013 interns, Rebecca. Find more posts from her and other current and former interns under the Intern Corner section. – Shanna
Salt-n-Pepa style. As you take a quick trip back to your jean jacket and spandex wearing days and rock out to this fabulous 90s jam, I must acknowledge that this song (sadly) reinforces some stereotypes around sex and gender that limit both our daily and sex lives (for example, I know many men who enjoy making love). That said, I think Cheryl James and the crew are right about one thing – it is time to truly, and honestly talk about sex.
Americans love sex. We sell cars, laundry detergent, and shampoo with sex. Entire movies are based around sex. Clothing companies write irrelevant words on the butts of women’s sweatpants so we look their behinds. Americans love sex. Or really, American capitalism loves sex. Regardless, every day we are bombarded with images, inferences, advertisements, and conversations about sex, SEX, sex. But what exactly is everyone selling?
We all probably agree that the sex being sold in the advertisement industry is the mainstream definition of sex. Vanilla sex: heterosexual, male on top, female on bottom, penis penetrating a vagina, interaction ceasing when the male ejaculates. Don’t get me wrong: there is nothing wrong with this type of sex. It’s quite lovely. I’ve done it. I can count on one hand how many times my orgasm conveniently, simultaneously, and I might even say magically, paired up with my partner’s, but it has happened and was indeed lovely.
This type of sex is single faceted. I mean, just change one thing about that encounter and you might as well quit. Two men? Whoa! That just messes up the whole line of events. Female on top? Well…maybe when mainstream culture is feeling a little kinky.
Fascinatingly, when thinking about someone else’s sex life, we commonly default to the sexual interaction described above. When asked to define our own, however, we give as many different answers as there are ice cream flavors in the freezer aisle of your locally-named-chain grocery store. Hmm. Curious.
Jessica Valenti points out in her absolutely stellar book, The Purity Myth…I’m sorry, stop reading this blog right now, go to your locally owned bookstore, buy this book, read it, let it change your life, return to this bookstore, buy as many copies as you have relatives, friends, and mere acquaintances, then quit your job and begin passing this book out on the street corner, because yes, it is that good…Ahem. As I was saying, Valenti notes that people struggle when asked to get down and dirty and define sex. Some argue that penetration makes sex. Which is fine and dandy except for the little question of, what is penetrating what? Is a finger penetrating an anus, a tongue penetrating a vagina, or a penis penetrating a hula hoop? Others argued that engaging in oral sex made sex, sex. A friend of Valenti’s suggested that the presence of an orgasm determined whether the interaction was sex (a thought provoking definition indeed).
This disagreement on the definition is consistent with the research I conducted at a local college here in Colorado last year. Definitions of sex were not only incredibly varied but also vague.
Let’s recap. 1) We know that we have this mainstream definition of sex that is quite limited. 2) When people are asked to provide their own personal definition of sex, we get a wide variety of answers many of which fall under the mainstream definition and many of which do not. So, why is the definition of sex so important?
Because your sex life depends on it!
Whew. Let’s unpack this suitcase. If you wear rose colored glasses, the world looks pink, right? If you wear goggles that you made out of your younger sister’s training bra…actually if you succeed at that, let me know, that is just impressive…Point is, if you define sex the way the mainstream world defines sex, you can bet your grandpa’s best chocolate fudge cupcake that you won’t be straying far off that road. And even if we do have our own personal definition, we are all being watered by the same rain. It is hard to completely shed the mainstream perspective.
I know what you’re thinking…but you said yourself, that when individuals are asked to define sex they have a wide variety of definitions, not just the one the mainstream pitches to us daily. Absolutely! Amen. But how many people take the time to actually to define sex for themselves? And out of those, how many individuals first take the time to learn all the things that “sex” could possibility encompass, and then once armed with this universe of possibilities, go forward to then define sex for themselves? And out of those, how many let their partner(s) know their own personal definition of sex?
There are so many possibilities. Thank goodness I found the The Guide to Getting it On, by Paul Joannides to clue me in on the all the options because, holy smokes, they don’t teach you this stuff in sex ed. If you haven’t already heard of this book, it is definitely worth your time, because is a super easy and fun read.
Let’s take the time to explore sex with the hopes of working towards our own definition. This means taking some risks, exploring, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, asserting yourself, and communicating. I mean, let’s be real, isn’t that why we all found our way to this fabulous site?