I am currently enrolled in an online psychology class about human sexuality.  Since it is an online course there are message board discussions for class participation grades.  The questions given are opinion based and meant to be controversial.  I have been increasingly agitated by the responses by the class to some of these questions.  The most recent question is as follows:

Does oral sex qualify as “sex?” Bill Clinton didn’t seem to think so, and a number of teens today see oral sex as a “loophole” of sorts—a safe alternative to intercourse. What is your opinion? Does the definition of sex differ in different contexts or situations to include or exclude oral sex?

I had to chuckle when I first read the question because, for me, if it has sex as part of it’s name, then yes, oral sex is sex.  It’s like asking “is the hot tea, tea?”

I soon discovered that a majority of board posters personally defined sex as penetrative, favouring penis in vagina penetration with a specific bent on virginity.  I pointed out that such a definition of sex is heterocentric and phallocentric and that it excludes individuals, such as lesbians. I also thought that it was a dangerous definition that in the past has been used to define what actions are and are not rape, therefore disregarding and devaluing experiences of sexual assault.

It turns out the class wasn’t having any of my explanation.  Even when one individual who agreed with me went to Webster’s Dictionary to find an “official” definitions which read as follows:

SEX – 3 a: sexually motivated phenomena or behavior b: sexual intercourse

SEXUAL INTERCOURSE – 1 : heterosexual intercourse involving penetration of the vagina by the penis : coitus
2 : intercourse (as anal or oral intercourse) that does not involve penetration of the vagina by the penis

Individuals still held to claims of sex only meaning that which includes a penis penetrating something.  People have flat out written that they do not think lesbians are having or can have sex.  I am most disturbed with the fact that these individuals do not see what is wrong with their argument.

The bottom line is that it is heterocentric and phallocentric to define sex around the “all mighty” penis.  These arguments logically lead to understandings of sexual behaviour that centre around men and their pleasure.  If the penis is the tool that defines when sex is occuring, that this means that men alone are “having sex” while women “have sex done” to them.   This definition ignores any number of sexual experiences and behaviours that include sexual orientation, preference, and physical ability and it is harmful to devalue these experiences of others.

I don’t know why I am so surprised that a majority of people posting define and want adherence to a definition that is heterosexual and sexist… All I have to do is glance at the front cover of a Cosmo magazine and remember how our society defines sex and who is favoured within that definition.

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