Why, you might ask, do I need to spend time defining sex?
Everyone knows what sex is, right?
It has been almost 20 years since then President Bill Clinton announced that he did not have sex with Monica Lewinski. It was later uncovered that Ms. Lewinski had performed oral sex on President Clinton but he steadfastly denied having “sex” with her.
As a professor of Human Sexuality at the time I was curious about whether President Clinton actually did not view fellatio as “sex.” Surely, the President must view sex the way I did at the time and consider any form of oral sex to be sex.
I decided to test this out with my students and sex coaching clients. Over the past 20 years I have asked all of my students and clients the following 3 questions:
- Is oral sex, SEX?
- Is masturbation, SEX?
- Is anal intercourse, SEX?
The results of my informal (and admittedly non-scientific) inquiry might surprise you.
Over the past 20 years:
- 80% of my students and clients do not think oral sex is SEX.
- 90% of my students and clients do not think masturbation is SEX.
- 50% of my female students and clients would still consider themselves virgins after having anal intercourse.
- 90% of incarcerated men who has anal and oral sex with other men considered themselves “straight” as long as they were not the receptive partner.
The point isn’t whether these beliefs are right or wrong.
The point is that you can never assume that your view of sex is shared by your clients, students, friends, peers, and even your spouse or partner.
The only way to know for sure is to ask.
In my Great Sex From the Inside Out Course I explore these questions and many more that pertain to sexual identity.
One’s sexual identity includes more than just sexual behavior. There are five dimensions of sexual identity:
1. biological sex.
2. gender identity.
3. gender role.
4. sexual orientation.
5. sexual behavior.
Other than Biological Sex, each exists along a continuum that can shift naturally over the course of a person’s lifetime. Since biological sex is determined by genetic inheritance and chromosomal pairing it can only be changed through medical and surgical intervention.
Male Intersex Female
Masculine Transgender Feminine
Sexual Orientation Continuum
Heterosexual Bisexual Homosexual
Sexual Behavior Continuum
Not Interested Average Interest Very Interested
I will give a brief, objective overview of each of the components. I will try to use language that is neutral and does not promote any political agenda.
1. Biological Sex
Biological Sex is determined by chromosome pairings: XX female, XY male. Human have 23 pairs of chromosomes.
One pair contains the sex chromosomes XX or XY. These create male and female anatomical and physiological differences that influence your sexual identity throughout your life. In my course I discuss how influence is very different from determine.
For example, as a biological male I could never experience being pregnant, giving birth, and breast feeding my two sons. The fact that my biology prevented me from experiencing these things influenced me as a person. However, it did not determine how I responded as a man and a father. I was surprised how nurturing and loving I felt as a father and how being a dad shaped the rest of my personal and professional life.
A small percentage of people (<10%) have genetic anomalies that result in a condition called Intersex. According to the Intersex Society of North America, “Intersex is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.
For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or a person may be born with genitals that seem to be in-between the usual male and female types—for example, a girl may be born with a noticeably large clitoris, or lacking a vaginal opening, or a boy may be born with a notably small penis, or with a scrotum that is divided so that it has formed more like labia. Or a person may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of her cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY.”
Males and females have many similarities and differences that are strictly biological in nature and are worth discussing. I go over these in detail in my courses.
Genetic Male XY/Female XX Similarities:
• other than the sex chromosomes both start with same genetic material.
• both start with the same internal structures.
• both are similar size and strength until Puberty.
• both change at puberty and in older adulthood.
• both produce testosterone (women in ovaries and adrenal glands, men in testes and adrenal glands).
Genetic Male XY/Female XX Differences:
• women have a cyclic hormone release pattern.
• men have a constant hormone release pattern.
• women menstruate, men do not.
• women can get pregnant , men cannot.
• women go through menopause and lose their fertility completely, men do not.
While these are the “facts”, they can be interpreted very differently and are often misconstrued for political and other reasons. I discuss these implications in detail in my courses. Here is a brief overview:
Implications of Genetic Male XY/Female XX Similarities and Differences:
• women and men are more similar than different.
• your perception of similarities and differences can be a factor in getting stuck in a sexual rut.
• biological sex influences, but does not determine sexual identity or human potential.
2. Gender Identity
Gender Identity is the internal picture of what it means to be a man or woman (or both/neither).The LGBTQ movement has shown that there is tremendous variation in how biological men, women, and intersex folks perceive themselves.
Gender identity exists along a continuum of masculinity and femininity that is influenced by a host of factors that include but are not limited to: genetic inheritance, parenting, experience and learning, mainstream culture and subcultures, societal institutions, and media. While gender Identity is fluid and can change over the course of your lifetime, it is formed by age 3.
3. Gender Role
Gender Role is the outward portrayal (your behavior) of gender identity. It includes everything from clothing and personal adornment (jewelry , tattoos, make-up etc.) to career choice and place of residence.
Gender role is usually consistent with gender identity. People usually act, dress, and behave in ways that are consistent with how they view themselves as men, women, both, or neither. People suffer from emotional distress when they are compelled to adopt gender roles that do not mesh with their gender identities.
In my course I discuss how there is no correct or preferred gender identity or gender role. My only concern is helping people be true to themselves and live lives that are consistent with their sexual values.
4. Sexual Orientation/Preference
I define sexual orientation, also referred to as sexual preference as the adult, free choice of sexual partners (who you desire and who you have sex with). I use the two qualifiers “adult” and “free choice” intentionally. The three most common sexual orientations are heterosexual (opposite sex partners), homosexual (same sex partners), and bi-sexual (both sex partners).
I use the word “adult” because adolescents and young adults often experiment with same and opposite sex partners before their adult sexual orientation is formed. In addition, it is becoming more common for adults to change their sexual orientation after years of behaving in a particular way.
I use the qualifier “free choice” because people who are incarcerated, are victims of rape, incest, or other forms of sexual abuse are not exerting their free will. Free choice implies behaving intentionally without coercion.
5. Sexual Behavior
I like to expand the notion of sexual behavior to go beyond merely the specific sexual acts people engage in and include the number and types of partners and relationships, and the level of sexual activity.
Expanding the concept of sexual behavior this way gives a much broader of view of a person’s sexuality.
There is a wide range of sexual behavior that includes.
• Kissing/making out.
• Masturbation/fantasy (with or without sex toys).
• Cunnilingus (mouth-vulva).
• Fellatio (mouth-penis).
• Analingus (mouth-anus).
• Vaginal intercourse.
• Anal intercourse.
All of these behaviors can be practiced safely and are valid sources of sexual expression.
My courses take a values-neutral stand on sexual orientation and sexual behavior. They are based on the position that there is no inherently right or wrong, or good or bad sexual orientation or behavior pattern with legal, moral, and ethical exceptions. For example, my courses do not support any illegal sexual behavior or coercive sex. They also do not support sexual behavior that goes against one’s sexual values, morals, and ethics.
The underlying goal of my Great Sex From the Inside Out Course is to help people behave sexually in ways that are consistent with their personal and relationship sexual values.