What does 'Sex' mean to you?

I went to a workshop this weekend run by Portland Oregon sex educators Stella Harris and Angie Gunn. Our first group question: What does ‘Sex’ mean to you? For many of us we’ve been taught simply: a penis in a vagina. If it was something other than PIV sex, we might put the words ‘oral’ or ‘anal’ in front of ‘sex’. It means penetration of some kind. It’s often charged with feelings or associations: naughty, secretive, boastful, a chore, fun, a duty, proud or ashamed. Then the question was asked, “When does the act of having ‘sex’ end?” The word ‘finish’ is meant to imply when a man ejaculates, but do we consider sex being finished when a woman climaxes?

The idea of someone “finishing” an odd way to explain the end of pleasure. When we eat a a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie, are we being fully present in that moment to the scent, taste and warm texture when we’re eating? Or, are we thinking about when we finish the cookie we can feel satisfied we achieved our goal and that’s what eating is all about?

I attended a sex, love and intimacy workshop several years ago where we did a one-on-one exercise and asked the other person, “May I have sex with you?” The person hearing the request would feel their gut reaction hearing the words and sit with it. Then we followed up the question: “And what I mean by ‘SEX’ is a ‘Sacred Energy eXchange.’ ” The person hearing the request talked about how it felt to hear each statement and what the word ‘sex’ meant to them.

I know this all might sound hippy woo-woo to cynics, but words and context have powerful meanings. There have been studies showing how men and women perceive affairs within a monogamous relationship. Women tend to be more concerned and jealous if her partner shows attention, affection and vulnerability to another woman. Men tend to view their partner cheating on them as purely physical and penetration-focussed. If sex is a “sacred energy exchange”, then calling someone on the phone and confiding deep secrets (emotional vulnerability) would be considered cheating to a woman. For a man, intercourse (or physical penetration) would be cheating but not the emotional aspect. It’s why men tend to overlook their partner sleeping with another woman but not if they slept with a man.

So ‘Sex’ has many meanings and actions. If “having sex” was just about being in the moment and a state of bliss, there wouldn’t be any more “Happy Endings” as sex wouldn’t necessarily end with a man ejaculating because penetration has ended. It could be a happy continuation of kissing, touch, cunnilingus and even pillow talk. We often open up more to our partner emotionally after being physically vulnerable. This is where Sex (‘Sacred Energy eXchange’) and Intimacy (‘In To Me You See’) come together.

This is what Sex means to me.