Back to the basics: Sex
Back to the basics, about the series:
Our newest series is called Back To The Basics, and it’s all about the small words. Before we can talk about the big concepts, we have to build our foundational understandings of all the intricacies that make up the whole picture. There are many complex and interacting parts (this might be a long and interesting-going series).
Back to the Basics: Sex
To begin, this week we’re talking about sex. Well, to be fair at Queer Sex Ed CC, we're usually talking about sex, but this week we're going to break it down to the basic questions: What is sex anyway? How do you define sex? Sex and pleasure have been constricted and defined by heteronormativity for too long. We think defining our own experiences of pleasure how we want to is one way to take our power back and define our own experiences.
Growing up in a heteronormative world, we were taught that sex meant one thing- A penis in a vagina (PIV). That’s it! I remember asking my friend “What is sex” and she simply smashed a barbie and ken doll together aggressively and said, “the boy goes on top like this, and then they make a baby.” In my eight-year-old brain, nothing about that sounded appealing. “Why would anyone do that?” I thought, equally fascinated, disgusted, and curiously confused. Fast forward, I’m 16 and having sex, a lot of it, but never with a penis (yet). I was told by friends at school that despite being sexually active, I was still a “virgin.”
While I now know virginity is a social, heteronormative construct, in my 16-year-old brain I internalized that the sex I was having was “lesser” than my friend’s who had PIV sex. This confused me as it seemed, I was one of the only one of my friends who was enjoying the sex I was having. Somehow I was having “not real sex” while I was the only one in my friend group achieving orgasm and real mutual pleasure with my partner. Something about this situation didn’t sit with me right then, and now I know why: Historically sex has been defined in a narrow lens that is couched in heteronormativity and cisgendered assumptions. In this narrow view, pleasure if discussed at all has been constricted and defined by this same lens to mean one, very narrow specific, and often less pleasurable activity! It’s time we shift this definition to prioritize pleasure over penetration and allow people to define what sex means to them.
What is sex?
An individualized pleasure-based, fluid definition of sex is particularly useful as the main focus is no longer solely fixated on heterosexual sex (PIV). Decentering penetrative sex from the sexual narrative creates space to talk about other kinds of pleasure, sex, and relationships leaving significantly more room for discussions about and validation of queer identity and queer sex. We define sex as: engaging in a consensual activity to feel pleasure.
Centering discussions about sexual behavior around the diversity that exists within pleasure gently disrupts the distinctly gendered, sexist definition of PIV being the reflection of “full'' sexual pleasure, effectively dispelling myths like “virginity” and “real sex”. The prevailing western cultural definitions of sex and pleasure being centered around penetration discounts the infinite possibilities for queer experiences of pleasure.
By discussing pleasure(s) and allowing every person to self-identify what sex means to them, there is more room in the sexual narrative being created for people of queer identities. Redefining “sex” doesn’t only benefit queer folks, in fact, this redefinition may encourage more exploration of pleasurable non-PIV sexual activities among all identities, therein actually breaking down sexist sexual traditions and preset sexual roles in a sex-positive, pleasure-based manner. And if you don’t want to have sex at all? It’s also fine to not want to have sex at all, that’s the power of self-definition, you and only you get to define what’s important to you and your relationships, no one else!
When it comes to queerness, sometimes the basics can be blurry. In academic spaces, knowing specific terminology is often equated to knowing what you’re talking about in general. This can create a harmful narrative about queer identities by creating language and class barriers that restrict people’s access to expressing their perspectives and personal histories.
In other words, queerness is sometimes chalked up to elitism; to knowing the big words and concepts, and being able to access the kinds of institutions and spaces where these can be openly discussed. Whether you want to have it or don’t define sex on the terms and activities that make you feel validated in your identities and pleasure in the ways you define it.
To make a long story short: Sex can be anything you want it to be. We define sex as engaging in a consensual activity to feel pleasure.
We will be continuing this series going forward and can’t wait to hear what you all think. Is there anything you’d like to see us “go back to the basics” about? Reach out! Comment, email, DM, however you reach out we’d love to hear from you!