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You'd think with something simple as the word sex, we'd have a universal all-inclusive definition everyone shares. What is it? What does sex entail? How do you know if you have or haven't experienced it?

In this episode I answer the question people really don't have an definitive response for, "what is your definition of sex?"

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My name is Lindsey Doe.

I’m a clinical SEXologist and doctor of human SEXuality. [WHIP CRACKING, COUGH]. Recently my friend and I were talking about something and she said, “wait, what is your definition of sex?” I tried to give her an inclusive answer that wouldn’t leave out anyone’s experiences and validated me as a so-called expert on the topic.

I’ll tell you the definition I gave but first, some background on how I got to it. I grew up in the 80 and 90s and among my peers, sex meant a penis in a vagina. If the penis only touched the vagina, that was “just the tip.” If it was a finger in the vagina instead of a penis, that was fingering.

An anus instead of a vagina was anal sex, not sex sex. And oral went by more specific terms: blowjob, eating out, or tossing the salad. Of course people had broader definitions of sex, my friends and I didn’t determine language, but this is where my journey started.

In 1998 when I was a sophomore in high school, media repeatedly quoted the president, Bill. Clinton, saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” This was a big deal for the definition of sex. The woman, Monica Lewinsky, had recorded nine encounters with Clinton and kept an unwashed dress of hers with Clinton’s semen on it.

He had definitely had sexual relations with her. But as a nation we debated, what constitutes sexual relations? What is sex?

If our president was getting head, people like me who were giving head were being told by their country’s leader that it’s not really sex. No need for protection. Or need for concern about SEXually transmitted infection.

When the court challenged President Clinton, he argued, “I thought the definition included any activity by [me], where [I] was the actor and came in contact with those parts of the bodies" (referring to a list that included: “genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks”) "with an intent to gratify or arouse the sexual desire of any person." As in, “since I didn’t touch her genitalia or intend to gratify or arouse her, since it was my penis and my pleasure, I wasn’t having sex.” Ummm?!?!?!?!? The court disagreed. Giving or receiving a blowjob was now sex.

However when I was in college, if you asked me how many people I’d had sex with, I’d tell you 4. There were the two high school boyfriends and then two guys I had seen from work. I wouldn’t have included the oral hook-up.

I wouldn’t have included mutually masturbating with a friend, and definitely not those I’d kissed. My definition was still pretty specific. After college I was certified to do HIV counseling and testing which meant swabbing people’s gums and assessing their risk.

I learned there were men who identified as heterosexual, had wives or girlfriends, but put their penises in other men’s assholes and or mouths and or received penises in their assholes and or mouths. Often anonymously, without protection or communication to understand risk. Because if you have a strict definition of sex as penis in vagina, or denial about your homosexuality, then you’re less likely to have safer sex, and more likely to pass sexually transmitted infections.

During this time I was also in graduate school working on my thesis. This big ol’ bounded thing. My research question was: what is sexual intercourse, specifically the first time?

How do we determine when we’ve had sex? I found that the phenomenon of sex usually included: negotiation, heightened body temperature, anticipation, genital contact, sensation of an electric charge, performance awareness, and persistent movement. But beyond that the experience was really personal.

One participant asked if I wanted to know about her first sexual intercourse experience ever or just the first time she was with a guy. Another person wasn’t able to really penetrate his partner or ejaculate, they touched naked bodies together and that was sex to him. Someone I named Bella, recounted everything that was said during her first time, where it happened, how she felt, and in doing so realized that what she thought had been sex, was probably rape.

My 200 page thesis has some answers but certainly not everyone’s story or definition of sex. I can tell you my own story didn’t fit in and so I added it to the preface, a full description that reads: “Reflecting on very lucid memories of anal sex is what brought this study to seek what defines a phenomenon. In casual conversation with others, [first sexual intercourse] was repeatedly referred to as vaginal-penile penetration.

When the researcher’s own experience [mine] blurred this definition of first sexual intercourse experiences...” I had to question sexology as a whole. My professor, Dr. Merle Farrier, explained that a definition has a genus and a species.

A general category and then something that makes it specific -- different than everything else in that category. For example the definition of a thesis is a long essay or dissertation (the genus) involving personal research, written by a candidate for a college degree (the species). In that conversation with my friend about my definition of sex I answered to me sex is: a consensual activity designed to arouse a physiological response.

It has a genus and species. It doesn’t use the word sex in the definition. It’s inclusive, but too much so.

A pelvic exam could be sex in this case. So could open heart surgery. Dictionaries aren’t much better, though.

The Merriam-Webster definition says sex is sexually motivated phenomena or behavior. Showering can be a sexually motivated behavior for me. So can trimming pubic hair.

Driving to my partner’s house... do all those constitute sex? Then there’s this definition: “anything connected with sexual gratification or reproduction or the urge for these...” That includes oral and anal and sexting and watching porn and masturbating. It could include all the kinks, fantasizing about someone, and in vitro fertilization.

I don’t think there is one all encompassing definition. I think that words and their meanings are influenced by the people using them and the context. Going back to my friend’s question, “wait, what is your definition of sex?” The answer is the question.

What is my definition in that moment, in that conversation. I don’t have to have a tidy short “this is the meaning of sex.” The gift is the opportunity to talk more about behaviors and experiences rather than coming up with a succinct qualifier for all the sex out there. This is more inclusive.

It includes more bodies, types of desire. It makes it easier for people to express themselves sexually when they aren’t held to a rigid idea that to have sex means you have to get hard or wet and someone’s on top and there’s thrusting. If sex can look the way each of us decides and there’s consent among all parties, that’s sex.

Let your definition of sex be a dialogue about sex and stay curious. [

MAIA:] "Since it was my penis and my pleasure, I wasn’t having sex." [LINDSEY LAUGHS].