For those of you just joining this program already in progress, your humble narrator, while often anti-social, very much enjoys intimacy with those she cares about. She has also enjoyed intimacy with those she didn't know quite so well, by and large without regret. But as a bisexual woman who's also had relationships with men who did not prefer penis in vagina (PIV) sex, I've often been in a situation to ponder what I think is or isn't sex. If it's PIV sex, then lesbian couples, gay male couples, couples who only engage in BDSM or fetish play, and male-female couples who can't or don't have PIV sex, no matter how intimate they are or how long they've been together, have not had sex. If you draw the line at penetration, so we'll say adding anal sex and sex involving dildos or objects, well then you still have some couples of all stripes who decide not to have penetrative sex. Also, there are some hetrosexual people who have anal intercourse, but still consider themselves virgins because they have not had PIV sex, so penetration seems to be a bad place to try to draw any lines. I think that there are many people who would say that things you call sex are sex so oral sex, PIV sex, anal sex are "what counts." But even if you dismiss post-Clinton ideas of oral sex not really being sex, I can't count the number of conversations I've had where I said that I haven't really had sex with a man because we haven't had PIV sex and I'm pretty sure I'm not the only person who has relationships with men who's said the same thing. Back to my first hand though, I know I wouldn't say I've never had sex with a woman, though I've never had pentrative or, obviously, PIV sex with a woman.
So why the hell does it matter anyway? Well, I think it matters because we make it matter. In discussions of fidelity, it's asked if the suspect partner has had sex with another person. So what counts? Just like with sex, people draw the line in different places and even different members of the same couple might not exactly agree on what matters.
I've also found that it matters because it's how many people often judge the pinnacle of their intimacy. Because for a hetro couple, PIV sex is supposed to be the ultimate goal post for how far along your relationship is, since it facilitates your ultimate goal of a couple - procreation. Oh, what? That's not why you're having PIV sex? Heathen! I think all couples have to deal with a certain amount of presumption about what they have or have not deal on that rather simple sexual spectrum, especially if they've been together for any significant period of time, but that spectrum is based on hetronormative, penetration-focused, procreation-directed ideas. But I've realized recently that this puts undue pressure on...well, everyone, to push towards sexual acts they might not be ready for or push partners for the same. And, much to my shame, I've been guilty of this for a very long time. I got away with it because I am a woman and this particular partner is male. If the genders were reversed or if the genders were the same and I heard of one partner pressuring the other to do sexual acts that they had drawn a strict line through, even if I thought the refusing partner's reasons were less than reasonable, I would argue that the pressurer was being an ass.
Thus, while I know I'm probably in the (small) minority, I've decided to work on not putting goalposts or specific definitions of what counts. And if you have to ask if something is cheating, than it probably is. Or, in a openly open relationship, something that needs to be disclosed. More than that, I'm finding myself very happy with the current levels of physical intimacy, whether or not I'm going "all the way."
In a nice bit of coincidence, right after I'd thought out this post, I read this Savage Love Letter of the Day, "I'm putting "sex" in quotes here because your boyfriend defines sex as "vaginal intercourse." I don't. In fact, I think oral, handjobs, and visuals-with-a-partner also count as sex," in his response to a woman who's boyfriend thought four PIV sex encounters a week, plus oral, handjobs, and getting naked so he could get himself off, was deprivation. See, if my ideas mesh with Dan Savages, especially in the area of sex and relationships, I think I'm probably on the right track.
So what counts as sex to you?