Are We Having Sex Now or What?

My apologies to my RSS people who get this twice. Something screwed up with my FeedBlitz feed, so I’m posting it a second time. Enjoy!

When I first started having sex with other people, I used to like to count them. I wanted to keep track of how many there had been. It was a source of some kind of pride, or identity anyway, to know how many people I’d had sex with in my lifetime. So, in my mind, Len was number one, Chris was number two, that slimy awful little heavy metal barbiturate addict whose name I can’t remember was number three, Alan was number four, and so on. It got to the point where, when I’d start having sex with a new person for the first time, when his cock first entered my cunt (I was only having sex with men at the time), what would flash through my head wouldn’t be “Oh baby baby your cock feels so good inside me,” or “What the hell am I doing with this creep,” or “This is boring I wonder what’s on TV.” What flashed through my head was: “Seven!”

Doing this had some interesting results. I’d look for patterns in the numbers. I had a theory for a while that every fourth lover turned out to be really great in bed, and would ponder what the cosmic significance of this phenomenon might be. Sometimes I’d try to determine what kind of person I was by how many people I’d had sex with. At 18, I’d had sex with ten different people; did that make me normal, repressed, a total slut, a free-spirited bohemian, or what? Not that I compared my numbers with anyone else’s — I didn’t. It was my own exclusive structure, a game I played in the privacy of my own head.

Then the numbers started getting a little larger, as numbers tend to do, and keeping track became more difficult. I’d remember that the last one was Seventeen and so this one must be Eighteen, but then I’d start having doubts about whether I’d been keeping score accurately or not. I’d lie awake at night thinking to myself, well, there was Brad, and there was that guy on my birthday, and there was David, and…no, wait, I forgot that guy I got drunk with at the social my first week at college…so that’s seven, eight, nine…and by two in the morning I’d finally have it figured out. But there was always a nagging suspicion that maybe I’d missed someone, some dreadful tacky little scumball that I was trying to forget about having invited inside my body. And, as much as I maybe wanted to forget about the sleazy little scumball, I wanted more to get that number right.

It kept getting harder, though. I began to question what counted as sex and what didn’t. There was that time with Gene, for instance. I was pissed off at my boyfriend David for cheating on me. It was a major crisis, and Gene and I were friends and he’d been trying to get at me for weeks and I hadn’t exactly been discouraging him. So I went to see him that night to gripe about David. He was very sympathetic of course, and he gave me a backrub, and we talked and touched and confided and hugged, and then we started kissing, and then we snuggled up a little closer, and then we started fondling each other, you know, and then all heck broke loose, and we rolled around on the bed groping and rubbing and grabbing and smooching and pushing and pressing and squeezing. He never did actually get it in. He wanted to, and I wanted to too, but I had this thing about being faithful to my boyfriend, so I kept saying No you can’t do that, Yes that feels so good, No wait that’s too much, Yes yes don’t stop, No stop that’s enough. We never even got our clothes off. Jesus Christ, though, it was some night. One of the best, really. But for a long time I didn’t count it as one of the times I’d had sex. He never got inside, so it didn’t count.

Later, months and years later, when I lay awake at night putting my list together, I’d start to wonder: Why doesn’t Gene count? Does he not count because he never got inside? Or does he not count because I had to preserve my moral edge over David, my status as the patient, ever-faithful, cheated-on, martyred girlfriend, and if what I did with Gene counts, then I don’t get to feel wounded and superior?

Years later, I did end up fucking Gene and I felt a profound relief because, at last, he definitely had a number, and I knew for sure that he did in fact count.

Then I started having sex with women, and boy howdy, did that ever shoot holes in the system. I’d always made my list of sex partners by defining sex as penile-vaginal intercourse. You know, fucking. It’s a pretty simple distinction, a straightforward binary system. Did it go in or didn’t it? Yes or no? One or zero? On or off? Granted, it’s a pretty arbitrary definition; but it’s the customary one, with an ancient and respected tradition behind it, and when I was just screwing men, there was no really compelling reason to question it.

But with women… well, first of all there’s no penis, so right from the start the tracking system is defective. And then, there are so many ways women can have sex with each other, touching and licking and grinding and fingering and fisting — with dildoes or vibrators or vegetables or whatever happens to be lying around the house, or with nothing at all except human bodies. Of course, that’s true with sex between women and men as well. But between women, no one method has a centuries-old tradition of being the one that counts. Even when we do fuck each other there’s no dick, so you don’t get that feeling of This Is What’s Important We Are Now Having Sex, objectively speaking, and all that other stuff is just foreplay or afterplay. So when I started having sex with women, the binary system had to go, in favor of a more inclusive definition.

Which meant, of course, that my list of how many people I’d had sex with was completely trashed. In order to maintain it I’d have had to go back and reconstruct the whole thing and include all those people I’d necked with and gone down on and dry-humped and played touchy-feely games with. Even the question of who filled the all-important Number One slot, something I’d never had any doubts about before, would have to be re-evaluated. By this time I’d kind of lost interest in the list anyway. Reconstructing it would be more trouble than it was worth. But the crucial question remained: What counts as having sex with someone?

It was important for me to know. I mean, you have to know what qualifies as sex, because when you have sex with someone your relationship changes. Right? Right? It’s not that sex itself has to change things all that much. But knowing you’ve had sex, being conscious of a sexual connection, standing around making polite conversation with someone thinking to yourself, “I’ve had sex with this person,” that’s what always changes things. Or so I believed. And if having sex with a friend can confuse or change the friendship, think of how bizarre things can get when you’re not sure whether you’ve had sex with them or not.

The problem was, as I kept doing more different kinds of sexual things, the line between Sex and Not-sex kept getting more hazy and indistinct. As I brought more into my sexual experience, things were showing up on the dividing line demanding my attention. It wasn’t just that the territory I labeled “sex” was expanding. The line itself had swollen, dilated, been transformed into a vast grey region. It had become less like a border and more like a demilitarized zone.

Which is a strange place to live. Not a bad place, you understand, just strange. It feels like juggling, or watchmaking, or playing the piano — anything that demands complete concentrated awareness and attention. It feels like cognitive dissonance, only pleasant. It feels like waking up from a very compelling and realistic bad dream. It feels the way you feel when you realize that everything you know is wrong, and a bloody good thing too, ‘cuz it was painful and stupid and really fucked you up.

But for me, living in a question naturally leads to searching for an answer. I can’t simply shrug, throw up my hands, and say, “Damned if I know.” I have to explore the unknown frontiers, even if I don’t bring back any secret treasure. So even if it’s incomplete or provisional, I do want to find some sort of definition of what is and isn’t sex.

I know when I’m feeling sexual. I’m feeling sexual if my pussy’s wet, my nipples are hard, my palms are clammy, my brain is fogged, my skin is tingly and super-sensitive, my butt muscles clench, my heartbeat speeds up, I have an orgasm (that’s the real giveaway), and so on. But feeling sexual with someone isn’t the same as having sex with them. Good Lord, if I called it sex every time I was attracted to someone who returned the favor I’d be even more bewildered than I am now. Even being sexual with someone isn’t the same as having sex with them. I’ve danced and flirted with too many people, given and received too many sexy would-be-seductive backrubs, to believe otherwise.

I have friends who say if you thought of it as sex when you were doing it, then it was. That’s an interesting idea. It’s certainly helped me construct a coherent sexual history without being a revisionist swine and redefining my past according to current definitions. But it really just begs the question. It’s fine to say that sex is whatever I think it is; but then what do I think it is? What if, when I was doing it, I was wondering whether it counted?

Perhaps having sex with someone is the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of shared sexual pleasure. Not a bad definition. If you are turning each other on and you say so and you keep doing it, then it’s sex. It’s broad enough to encompass a lot of sexual behavior beyond genital contact/orgasm; it’s distinct enough to not include every instance of sexual awareness or arousal; and it contains the elements I feel are vital — acknowledgement, consent, reciprocity, and the pursuit of pleasure. But what about the situation where one person consents to sex without really enjoying it? Lots of people (myself included) have had sexual interactions that we didn’t find satisfying or didn’t really want, and unless they were actually forced on us against our will, I think most of us would still classify them as sex.

Maybe if both of you (or all of you) think of it as sex, then it’s sex whether you’re having fun or not. That clears up the problem of sex that’s consented to but not wished for or enjoyed. Unfortunately, it begs the question again, only worse: Now you have to mesh different people’s vague and inarticulate notions of what is and isn’t sex and find the place where they overlap. Too messy.

How about sex as the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of sexual pleasure of at least one of the people involved. That’s better. It has all the key components, and it includes the situation where one of the people involved is doing it for a reason other than sexual pleasure — status, reassurance, money, the satisfaction and pleasure of someone they love, etc. But what if neither of you is enjoying it, if you’re both doing it because you think the other one wants to? Ugh.

I’m having a bit of trouble here. Even the conventional standby — sex equals intercourse — has a serious flaw; it includes rape, which is something I emphatically refuse to accept. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s no consent, it ain’t sex. But I feel that’s about the only place in this whole quagmire where I have a grip. The longer I think about the subject, the more questions I come up with. At what point in an encounter does it become sexual? If an interaction that begins non-sexually turns into sex, was it sex all along? What about sex with someone who’s asleep? Can you have a situation where one person is having sex and the other isn’t? It seems that no matter what definition I come up with, I can think of some real-life experience that calls it into question.

For instance: A couple of years ago, I attended (well, hosted) an all-girl sex party. Out of the twelve other women there, there were only a few with whom I got seriously physically nasty. The rest I kissed or hugged or talked dirty with or just smiled at, or watched while they did seriously physically nasty things with each other. If we’d been alone, I’d probably say that what I’d done with most of the women there didn’t count as having sex. But the experience, which was hot and sweet and silly and very special, had been created by all of us, and although I only really got down with a few, I felt that I’d been sexual with all of the women there. Now, whenever I meet one of the women from that party, I always ask myself: Have we had sex?

For instance: When I was first experimenting with sadomasochism, I got together with a really hot woman. We were negotiating about what we were going to do, what would and wouldn’t be ok, and she said she wasn’t sure she wanted to have sex. Now we’d been explicitly planning all kinds of fun and games — spanking, bondage, obedience — which I strongly identified as sexual activity. In her mind, though, “sex” meant direct genital contact, and she didn’t necessarily want to do that with me. Playing with her turned out to be a tremendously erotic experience, arousing and stimulating and almost unbearably satisfying. But we spent the whole night without even touching each other’s genitals. And the fact that our definitions were so different made me wonder: Was it sex?

For instance: I worked for a few months as a nude dancer at a peep show. In case you’ve never been to a peep show, it works like this: The customer goes into this tiny dingy black box, kind of like a phone booth, and they put in quarters, and a metal plate goes up, and they look through a window at a little room/stage where naked women are dancing. One time, a guy came into one of the booths and started watching me and masturbating. I came over and squatted in front of him and started masturbating as well, and we grinned at each other and watched each other and masturbated, and we both had a fabulous time. (I couldn’t believe I was being paid to masturbate — tough job, but somebody has to do it…) After he left, I thought to myself: Did we just have sex?

I mean, if it had been someone I knew, and if there had been no glass and no quarters, there’d be no question in my mind. Sitting two feet apart from someone, watching each other masturbate? Yup, I’d call that sex all right. But this was different, because it was a stranger, and because of the glass, and because of the quarters. Was it sex?

I still don’t have an answer.

Copyright 1992 Greta Christina. Originally published in The Erotic Impulse, edited by David Steinberg, Tarcher Press.

A lot of you may have read this already. This is probably my best-known, most influential, and most widely-read piece of writing. It’s been reprinted numerous times (including a butchered version that appeared in Ms. Magazine with the references to kinds of sex they don’t approve of taken out), and it gets studied and assigned in several college and university courses. (Google “Greta Christina” + “Are we having sex” if you don’t believe me.) But Susie Bright suggested that I put it on my blog as well as my Website, since this is where a lot of people are finding me these days. And I think she’s right — I always tell people that if you were just going to read one piece of my writing, this is the one to read (this or Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God), and I try to make it as widely available as I can.

Are We Having Sex Now or What?

35 thoughts on “Are We Having Sex Now or What?

  1. 2

    “One of my vital elements is physical contact with the intent to have an orgasm.”
    Sometimes I intend to have sex without having an orgasm. Maybe I’m just not in the mood for the intensity, the out of control spasms. But I am in the mood to touch and be touched, penetrated even, fucked. I don’t think anyone would say that consensual fucking without intentional coming isn’t sex.

  2. 3

    While I know that there are plenty other definitions, my very favorite definition of sex is: Two or more people, one or more orgasms. (I got that one from a fellow member of my ultra cool co-ed fraternity.)

  3. T

    It’s weird. I was in a consensual sexual situation with a guy but I told him I didn’t want to have piv sex. And after a while he started putting his penis in me! When I realized I pulled away and was really upset. Did we have ‘sex’? I want to say NO. I did not have sex with him. But part of me is worried that we did, or at least that he had sex with me, or something. it makes me so angry!

  4. 5

    Fantastic piece. Note how we have difficulty defining the vast majority of (non-technical) words in precise ways. I am yet, for example, to get a satisfactory definition of “chair”. So I’m not in the least surprised that we can’t really define “sex”.

  5. 6

    I break sex down by STD transmission level = all levels fall under the “sex” category, or “sexual” if one prefers, but whether it “counts” or not depends on “counts for what”. For me, the concern is my risk level to my current and future partners. Activities are broken down into three basic categories depending upon which STDs are transmitted or how easy it is to transmit them.
    This also works for metamours. If I am fluidbonded to my male partner, and he is also fluid-bonded to another female partner, then that female partner (my metamour) receives the same “level” as my male partner even if I have never touched her directly in a sexual manner.
    I numbered my partners because the total number of partners does play a factor in calculating one’s personal risk level (although it’s *not* as important as how many partners you’ve had in the last 2 years). I numbered them by PIV intercourse and the equivelent STD-transmission-risk-level for women because, when I started trying to keep track, I was also very young and thought it was important to know how many, for much of the same reasons you mention in your article here. It was just easier to keep the same numbering system.
    I started writing my partners down (so I wouldn’t forget) back when I thought only PIV counted, and it was only about 5 or so years ago that I started counting others. So I went back and added, to the best of my memory, any partners that were in the second level that didn’t reach PIV sex. They are assigned alphabetical designations, so that the original numbering system is preserved (chronological order) but still “counted” and yet differentiated.
    Then, just to get even more anal-retentive, I drew up a color-coded chart. I posted it on my website (with psuedonyms) at
    As for whether it’s “sex” or not, I tend to use the very broad definition of “if at least one person directly involved thinks it’s sex, then it is”. The reason I use this broad definition can be traced to a story one of my metamours told me.
    She was once social acquaintances with a guy. After a conversation or two, he asked her to throw a pie in his face. She thought that was odd, so she asked him why. After much pressing, she finally discovered that he had a fetish about it and received sexual pleasure from being pied in the face. She refused to throw the pie in his face because *he* would consider it a sexual act and she did not feel as though their relationship was one in which she wanted to be “sexual” with him.
    And I have to agree, if I did not *want* to be sexual with a given person, and I found out that something we did had a sexual meaning to him, I would not be happy. But, for record-keeping purposes, I limit my sexual activity definitions to STD-transmission rates. It’s not an “either/or”, as in, either we did have sex or we didn’t. It’s more of “we had this kind of sex”.
    BDSM activity that doesn’t involve genital stimulation of either partner or orgasm (for those who don’t need genital stimulation) has it’s own category as “sexual” (only because *I* see it as sexual, regardless of whether anyone else does or not) but not necessarily as “sex” when talking about STD risk levels or even sometimes sexual relationship agreements.

  6. 7

    This friend of mine says she thinks her husband is having “internet sex” with someone. I said, “To HAVE SEX WITH someone – don’t you have to be in the same room???”

  7. 12

    “To HAVE SEX WITH someone – don’t you have to be in the same room???”
    I know this comment is kind of old, but I had to reply. And my response is, “Well, that depends, don’t it?”
    After all, cybersex is a shared sexual experience, which I’d call a necessary part of “having sex” – not the only part, but a great big one. If I’m naked and my lover’s naked and I’m saying dirty things to him while he masturbates, that really feels like sex to me. Does it matter if I’m saying it by instant messenger, or over the phone, if the activity is essentially the same?

  8. 13

    Here’s a question: Does it matter? If you’re enjoying yourself and your partner (or, at least, yourself), or if you’re willing to at least please your partner without necessarily being pleased yourself, does it matter if it’s called sex, foreplay, masturbation, or rama-lama-ding-dong?
    My personal opinion is that you’re making too much of this. If you’ve been safe, and you’ve had fun, even if only on a small level, then, what does it matter who was what number or how they were classified?
    Again, personally, if I had been one of your partners, I’d rather you’d think of me as, “Oh, that bald guy who did that really cool thing with his tongue, (or even, “Oh god, that bald guy was awful!)” than, “Oh, that guy who was number 23…or was it 25?”

  9. 14

    If I was being heteronormative, I’d say that sex is when the penis goes in the vagina (so yes, I would count rape) and everything else is foreplay (yes, even if you orgasm). But the experiences of Lesbians obviously throws a monkey wrench in that one, so I don’t know.

  10. 17

    Solomon: Thank you for sharing. But unless you can provide some good, solid evidence for your opinion, I will continue to base my sexual ethics, not on what some Bronze-age goat-herders wrote down thousands of years ago about what they thought God told them about what kind of sex to have and when and with whom, but on basic principles of human ethics: principles of harm, fairness, consent, honesty, and so on.
    What’s more, I consider the doctrine of hell to be one of the most reprehensible, indefensibly vile ideas that human beings have ever come up with. I am proud of myself for having rejected it, and for basing my morals instead on my experience of compassion and justice. Hell is a morally revolting doctrine, an attempt to control other people’s behavior through psychological terrorism, and you should be ashamed of yourself for trying to perpetuate it. And you should know that, in an atheist blog, citing this doctrine will result in nobody taking anything you say seriously.
    And for the record: While I had plenty of sex before marriage, I am, in fact, currently married. My wife and I have been legally married in the state of California since 2008.

  11. 18

    I am bringing the truth. For the love of human.I am trying to save you all from the fires of hell. Hell is true.God is true.You all just did’nt know the reality of things.I can prove to you all just by mere reasoning.

  12. tf

    “Just as bad as trolling is “Feeding the Trolls”. This is when people say stuff that they know will prompt someone to respond with a trolled reply and/or replying to comments that are blatantly from a troll… At that point, the trolling was successful and has been fed. When encouraged by success and feeding, trolls often return.” -from Urban Dictionary entry on Trolling
    Oh look, right on cue, “solomon” returned. In other words, obvious troll is obvious.

  13. 20

    How much do you want to bet that Solomon spent the better part of the past hour before his post, reading, rereading and then baitin’ to the details of Greta’s sexual encounters, before his enormous guilt regarding his own urges was relieved by condemning hers?

  14. 21

    Nah, Solomon is clearly a troll. I doubt he’s even religious. I honestly think he was posting just for kicks, it was so obvious and done so poorly. He is clearly not a polished troll…

  15. 22

    I think it’s sex if you would count it as sex or if the other person would count it as sex, everything in a circle on a Venn diagram. I would count the people who count rather than the number of people I’ve been intimate with. And that’s because I too have a list of people who I haven’t crossed a physical line but honestly, any barriers to being that close have been lost a long time ago. Those are the people with whom I’m at risk for feeling tangled up in or otherwise having to balance my life around. It’s the people who count.

  16. 23

    Very excellent piece! I found this by the interview by FtB from the recent posts section on The Atheist Experience page.

    I have always believed sex should be able to be shared by any two consenting people, married or not, relationship or not. So many people claim that their marriage “isn’t about sex”, but then demand fidelity. Now it is certainly true that at least part of my belief in this is the fact that I was so screwed up by religion for so many years, that I was a 40 year old virgin. The idea of even looking at a girl filled me with fear and dread. I wanted it so much and needed it badly and couldn’t allow myself. When I really got less fearful, I was so inexperienced and awkward as well as being still ashamed of my desire, that I was worse than unattractive. I did finally find a woman willing to look beyond my faults and saw my need. Unfortunately, she is old fashioned and demands fidelity, so while I love her very much, I long to experiment. What am I capable of? How different would it be with someone else? Would I become emotionally attached or can I really just have sex and let go? Do you think my views are still too juvenile? Longing for the path not taken haunts a lot of people, and I am probably still not experienced enough with being sexual to feel comfortable about where I am. I really love to please my partner. Nothing has ever excited or pleased me as the ability to make someone feel that good.

    I know most people would disagree, but I feel like sex should not be considered “dirty” or “nasty” and shouldn’t be feared or not allowed in public. I am not sure if I would like to see it or even do it myself (although I am a nudist), but I think it should be allowed. Our society is way too uptight about sex.

    I would define sex as anything involving willing sexual activity. That would include masturbation, although it is not nearly as satisfying, but would exclude rape or other types of forced sex (date rape drugs, all despicable). Maybe it would even include wet dreams and daydreams, or entertaining fantasies. We are sexual beings, and I feel like I have missed a great portion of my life.

    I envy you. Thanks for sharing.

  17. 24

    “Years later, I did end up fucking Gene and I felt a profound relief because, at last, he definitely had a number,…”

    That was bloody hilarious. At least Gene has a number. Unlike most of the rest of us poor slobs.

  18. 27

    I’m reminded of the hilarious scene in Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle”, where the young Puritan finally has sex with a woman — with the interposition of a very flattering ten inches of sheep-gut with a knot in the end. Said interposition brings up, for him, the question: Are we having sex? He asks her, “Does this mean it is not actually coitus? Since I am not really touching you?”

    They are touching, of course, but not in the crucial area: there, he is “touching nothing but sheepgut.” She explains this to him, but concedes, “I say that we are not touching, and not having sex, if it makes you feel better … Though, when all is finished, you shall have to explain to your Maker why you are at this moment buggering a dead sheep.”

  19. 28

    Jesus Christ, I am either hanging around with prudes or doing something wrong, 10 different people by the time your 18….Im 26 and Im only on 4, I’ll jst make myself feel better by assuming its harder for men to get laid but I am sure glad its not a contest

  20. 29

    What happened inside my head during and after reading this article:

    First, about 2.5 million prejudices welled up in my head.
    I was totally judging your sex life, your language, the fact that you disclose all these stories and that you, on top of all that, feature this article so prominently on your blog.
    It was mostly ageism, I think, because “people your age aren’t supposed to do what you do here”. Or at least, ageism was making it all seem worse to me.
    It was also overshooting emotional reaction, meaning that I not only felt disgusted by the activities you describe in some of your stories, but in additon to that carried that feeling over to the people involved, feeling disgusted by them. This feeling, in turn, caused me to think that these people are somehow morally inferior to me; they simply had to be, because I felt disgust.

    If I had unreflectedly followed this initial cognitive and emotional reaction and allowed it to manifest in behaviour, I’d comment something like: “This is disgusting and you are far too old to talk about things like that using such language”.
    But this comment wouldn’t have accurately reflected my values and who I am as a person – which is evident in the profound cognitive dissonance that I am experiencing right now.

    I don’t have anything against my feelings; they are just what they are, I can’t control them. But I am in no way obliged to follow them – since I am able to think critically about them.
    I can look if they line up with my overt values, I can evaluate where they come from and if they actually have anything to do with what I’ve just read or if they mostly point to an issue that *I* have in *my own* life.

    Which they happen to do. I have a problem with all kinds of physical contact as well as intimacy. It’s kind of weird because I still like my occasional porn and my mind is pretty deep in the gutter most of the time; but some types of sexual content just evoke a feeling of disgust inside me. They touch (see that?) a wounded, confused and ashamed part of myself that then tries to protect itself with disgust, effectively shutting down all thoughts headed in its direction.
    My personal issues don’t don’t make it okay for me to look down on people who’s behaviours aren’t influenced by similar ones. The way I judge *if I want to do something* shouldn’t necessarily be the way I judge *if it’s okay for other people to want to do something*.
    It is alson not okay for me to try and demand restrictions on what’s okay for a person to do, based completely and exclusively on the number of years they have spent outside their amnitotic sac.

    On top of that, it is my *explicit belief* that people own themselves, their language, their sexuality, their behaviour, etc. and that the only time it is appropriate for anyone – or even their civil duty – to criticise other people or to infringe upon their rights is when they are about to abuse their freedom to threaten or actually harm another living creature.

    This blog post neither threatened nor harmed me in any meaningful way. Also I could have stopped reading it at any time, but I chose to continue reading and to expose myself to the stories contained. I therefore cannot blame you, the author, for the discomfort that I experienced. I also cannot judge your and your mates’ behaviours just because I, personally, wouldn’t behave like you did/do and have a strong emotional reaction to the mere thought of it.

    Somehow I feel a need to apologise for the way I felt and thought. Which is okay, since it’s just a feeling, but I think it would be stupid to put it into action. I didn’t do anything wrong.
    I just had a feeling, a thought, an inner conversation, and the result is a mature, self-responsible comment that reflects accurately what my values are and who I am as a person.
    It’s kind of a happy ending (I did it again, see?)

  21. 30

    Oh, also you write:

    “”But with women… well, first of all there’s no penis””

    Trans women would very much disagree with that. Also, there are men who own a complete ‘lady’-set, consisting of a vulva, a vagina and approximately two ovaries.

  22. 31

    Oh, also you write:

    “”But with women… well, first of all there’s no penis””

    Trans women would very much disagree with that. Also, there are men who own a complete ‘lady’-set, consisting of a vulva, a vagina and approximately two ovaries.

    tiny @ #30: You’re absolutely right. I wrote this essay many many years ago, and wasn’t very familiar with trans issues at the time. If I were writing it now, I would write that passage very differently. I’m not going to revise it now, since this piece has been widely reprinted and linked to and I want to keep the historical record accurate. But I would not write that now, and I apologize for having done so.

  23. 32

    Greta Christina @ #31:
    Thanks for your reply. I understand your explanation and your reasons, and now that they are also on the record, my inner social justice warrioress is at peace 🙂

  24. 33

    I’m not sure what the fuss is about… I’d argue that the reason you obsess over this is leftovers from the social concept that we “dirty” ourselves by having sex with someone. This idea is such trash. We can enjoy sex like any other thing we do that is enjoyable with other people, without it changing anything.

    I’m not sure why people treat people differently if you’ve had sex with them. What changed? Nothing, in my mind, but there is some social construct there I can’t quite pin yet that makes people act this way. It should not exist; we should not feel that sex redefines everything, at least in my mind. You had sex, so what? You had lunch, you don’t think this person is any more special (unless some kind of emotional bond happened).

    Anyway, I generally consider it sex if there was any genitals involved with any other body part, but this is essentially for tracking STDs. Anything else is just foreplay or teasing.

  25. 34

    If pressed my working definition has been “physical contact and somebody comes.”

    (Sexual assault is a grey area, with some forms definitely being in the “having sex with” category, others definitely not and others of course being undetermined.)

    I’ve never thought the question was that important so however inadequate this definition is, it has served my limited needs.

  26. 35

    i came to this post as a recent purchaser of Bending, actually looking for answers on why the characters in Dear Marla were long distance from each other 🙂 but i literally created a profile after reading this post so that i could comment: thank you. this reached me at a point when i wanted and needed to hear the musings of someone who has been down a path i am only just now beginning. after 2 decades of only 2 partners (a college one night stand, and an unloving husband of 10+years) i began a midlife “personal discovery phase” after the new year to allow myself the opportunity to experience things i’ve only fantasized about up to now. several weeks ago, i was compelled to make a list of how many people this had meant so far, discussed it briefly with a close friend who knows about this self-discovery adventure, and then realized the next day that—-i had forgotten someone! after more than 20 years of defining my entire sexuality in severely limited terms, i had now added enough to my resume that i had literally forgotten one of the people altogether. it was a pivot point in how i thought of myself, how i had always thought of “other people” who were so open to their sexuality, and why i was doing what i was doing. was this about quantity for me? or quality? or variety? is this a phase or an awakening? so much self-reflective pondering….all at the hands of a simple counting exercise. thank you for your post.

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