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Did Bill Clinton have anything to do with our definition of sex?
June 27, 2010 3:23 PM   Subscribe

What counts as sex? A group of researchers at the University of Kentucky-Lexington, thinks that Bill Clinton’s famous assertion that he “did not have sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky may be the reason so many young people today don’t consider oral sex to count as doing the deed. The study "Sex Redefined: The Reclassification Of Oral-Genital Contact"PDF which was conducted in 2007 and published this month in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, surveyed 477 students enrolled in a human sexuality course at a large state university about their views on sex. What they found was that only 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex, compared with nearly 40 percent of a similar group of students surveyed in 1991.
posted by Fizz (96 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I find this conclusion hard to swallow.
posted by chavenet at 3:25 PM on June 27, 2010 [13 favorites]


Did Clinton also say, "Correlation is causation."?
posted by PMdixon at 3:28 PM on June 27, 2010 [18 favorites]


University of Kentucky should make sure they include these statistics in their enrollment promotional material.
posted by Hammond Rye at 3:28 PM on June 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd say this has more to do with the rise of "promise rings" and "purity balls" than a grown person getting a blowjob.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:29 PM on June 27, 2010 [42 favorites]


I always thought sex held the potential to procreate. With or without contraceptives.

Oral -genital contact was always my third base, not the home run of actual penetration.
posted by Max Power at 3:29 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Waits for first cigar pun to be made.
posted by Fizz at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also how do they account for (I'm assuming, the same) people not counting anal sex as "sex?"
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:34 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Clinton? Weren't these students like 10-12 years old during that scandal?
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:41 PM on June 27, 2010


A group of researchers at the University of Kentucky-Lexington, thinks that Bill Clinton’s famous assertion that he “did not have sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky may be the reason so many young people today don’t consider oral sex to count as doing the deed.

Ok...lets see the data for that.

What they found was that only 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex, compared with nearly 40 percent of a similar group of students surveyed in 1991.

Sounds to me that most young people didn't consider oral-genital contact to be considered as "sex" even before Clinton took office in 1992. So why is this group of researchers even using this cultural reference to explain something that was considered the norm before the cultural reference even came to be.

I remember in my first psych class in college, it was drilled that "correlation does not equal causation". I thought it was simple enough...but every so often I see some researchers that need to sit in my P101 class to learn this.

Dummies...or politically motivated to get interviewed on FoxNews.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:43 PM on June 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's only one campus of The University of Kentucky. No need for the "-Lexington."

Carry on.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:48 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


What they found was that only 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex, compared with nearly 40 percent of a similar group of students surveyed in 1991.

I love how they say "almost 40%" to hedge 35% and make it sound like a large percentage. In 20 years it went from one in three considers it sex to one in five. Fewer people consider it sex now but very few people considered it sex then.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:50 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I always thought sex held the potential to procreate. With or without contraceptives.

Court dismisses man's theft claim against lover who kept semen.

posted by BrotherCaine at 3:53 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are there really people who believe in this technical virginity stuff? As in, Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians who believe that God is okay with any premarital straight sex act, so long as it's not penetrative vaginal intercourse? The fundamentalist Christian I dated a while back was not like that at all, but people joke about it a lot. Or is that more a phenomenon of secular pupils going through Abstinence Only sex ed?
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:53 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clearly, by observing attitudes in 1991 and 2007, we can confidently infer that they must have switched in 1998. We wouldn't want data from 1997 and 1998 and 1999 before making a claim like that. That would be stupid.

It makes especially good sense to make flamebait claims that are easy to describe on Fox News when your 2007 data are a convenience sample drawn from a single section of a single human sexuality class at a single public university. Because you just don't get better external validity than you get from a nonrandom sample drawn from another nonrandom sample of college students.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:54 PM on June 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I always thought sex held the potential to procreate. With or without contraceptives.

All gay people are virgins?
posted by monkeymadness at 3:58 PM on June 27, 2010 [20 favorites]


Sex involves gonads, specialized nerve bundles, and orgasms. Don't complicate the issue any further than that.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


(fluids are usually a given as well)
posted by Burhanistan at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2010


If you can get a Sexually Transmitted Disease from doing it, it must be sex.
posted by ambulocetus at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: Clearly, by observing attitudes in 1991 and 2007, we can confidently infer that they must have switched in 1998. We wouldn't want data from 1997 and 1998 and 1999 before making a claim like that. That would be stupid.

No, it was 1997, when Kevin Smith explained that a woman who had never had a male lover was, infact, still a virgin.
posted by paisley henosis at 4:00 PM on June 27, 2010


Are there really people who believe in this technical virginity stuff? As in, Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christians who believe that God is okay with any premarital straight sex act, so long as it's not penetrative vaginal intercourse?

Thoughtful ones? No. But there's plenty of thoughtless ones out there--most of them, to be honest--so this is more common than you might think. We're not talking some kind of rigorous ethical definition, we're talking about people who basically just do what they do but have some vague sense that extra-/pre-marital sex is wrong. Combine that with people whose practice isn't as good as they'd like it to be and... yeah, this happens.

The more rigorous Christian concept of human sexuality, like any halfway-decent non-Christian concept, views sex as way more complicated and subtle than any of this bright line silliness. But if even a plurality American Christians tended towards the more rigorous version of their religion, we'd be living in a very different age.
posted by valkyryn at 4:02 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The fundamentalist Christian I dated a while back was not like that at all, but people joke about it a lot.

As a former fundamentalist Christian, (and I can only speak for myself, of course) I found that a lot of us started out with stringent views of virginity (no touching, hand-holding, kissing, etc.) but gradually we got more open about the whole thing as we got older and noticed our secular acquaintances (Not friends. Acquaintances.) having more physical relationships and apparently not being too worse for the ware, or at least not any worse than our devout Christian parents.

The fact that you "dated" a fundamentalist Christian speaks volumes at how far along she was on this path, since "dating" is widely frowned upon in Evangelical circles: the correct method is for the boy to present himself to the girl's father, announce his intention to be married to the girl, and then the girl's father will discuss the arrangement with the boy's father in the spirit of prayerful discernment.
posted by Avenger at 4:05 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another thing that Bill Clinton did was sign abstinence only sex education into law. Since then, abstinence only sex ed is the only way that schools can get federal funding for their sex ed programs. Most of these cirricula only teach abstinence and they do not teach strategies to reduce risk of STDs or pregnancy. Many of these cirricula also teach a deep distrust of contraceptives, including condoms. Many sex educators seem to think that this abstinence only sex education that we teach in public schools is to blame for the rising incidence of oral STDs among youth in the U.S. these days.
posted by kalessin at 4:07 PM on June 27, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm curious what the % of the population could correctly define the terms oral, genital, and properly describe the acts defined. Also the binary definition of sex or not in no way confers a sense of virginty or virtue in the act.
posted by humanfont at 4:08 PM on June 27, 2010


I always kind of liked how it was defined on a Seinfeld show once -- if the female nipple makes an appearance, you can definitely call it sex.

Personally, I'd say that if you have more than one person in a room participating in trying to bring about an orgasm in at least one of them -- either by causing it directly, or by just observing -- I'd call that sex. The rest is just variations on the theme.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:16 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


if the female nipple makes an appearance, you can definitely call it sex.

Fuck, in that case I haven't had sex in twelve years.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:23 PM on June 27, 2010 [18 favorites]


If you can get a Sexually Transmitted Disease from doing it, it must be sex.

Well, the heroin habit ruined my life but hey, at got me laid!
posted by Throw away your common sense and get an afro! at 4:26 PM on June 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


As a former fundie I can tell you with some authority that we (mid-late 80s) we did not consider anything short of full hot pork injection to be sex. Mostly because that gave us a lot of leeway. It wasn't even controversial. Masturbation, however, was another story. I knew one (male) kid who abstained for six months, then finally succumbed. We all gathered round at school the next day to hear the story.

"I did it", he said, "until I BLED".

Tne straightedge kids took a way harder line than we did.
posted by unSane at 4:34 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sexual intercourse is the process by which zords gametes are introduced to successfully form a megazord zygote.

Everything short of that is just a fun way to pass the time.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:48 PM on June 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


if the female nipple makes an appearance, you can definitely call it sex.

Wow, I see my old lady's nipples all the time with zero physical contact whatsoever, maybe I'm doing it wrong.
posted by Max Power at 4:48 PM on June 27, 2010


IAAL.

In New York, at least, the criminal law code defines "sexual intercourse" to include "mouth to penis" and "mouth to vulva" and "occurs upon penetration, however slight."

Therefore, rape (and statutory rape, where one of the parties is below the age of consent) occurs with oral sex.
posted by KRS at 4:54 PM on June 27, 2010


This reminds me of my mom, in 2003, trying to explain how Enron and other companies who spent the 90's and early aughts engaging in massive fraud only to collapse, were Bill Clinton's fault, because his sexual immorality had "sent the signal" that immorality was okay.

Right-wingers stretch to any length to blame things they don't like on Bill Clinton, video at eleven.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:59 PM on June 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


If there are orgasms, it's sex.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:00 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


if the female nipple makes an appearance, you can definitely call it sex.

Wait... what? Does that mean those sub-Saharan cultures are having sex 24 hours a day?
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 5:04 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait... what? Does that mean those sub-Saharan cultures are having sex 24 hours a day?

So that explains why the primmies are always talking up hunter-gatherer cultures!
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:16 PM on June 27, 2010


...only 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex...

That sucks.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:23 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another way of viewing these things: penetration is sex...just about everything else is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy
the problem is that what was unnatural is now very natural. As Lenny Bruce observed, oral sex used to be kinky but now every body is fressing (yiddish for kissing, sucking, licking)
posted by Postroad at 5:24 PM on June 27, 2010


Texas GOP Platform: No Blow Jobs, Strip Clubs or Porn
posted by homunculus at 5:27 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


So when did the University of Kentucky become a fully-owned subsidiary of Liberty University?

80% may tell a formal survey it's not sex, but with their peers, 80% (including 95% of males) will say, "yeah, we totally had sex".

If you include every registered Republican, at least half of Hillary Clinton supporters and the real liberals who believed he didn't do diddly to save America from the ravages of Reaganomics, 50%+ believe Bill Clinton is a douchebag. So why do 30% of people believe Bubba's a douchbag also believe oral sex is not sex?

And "if the female nipple makes an appearance, you can definitely call it sex" sounds like something an Islamic cleric defending the burka would say. Strange bedfellows indeed.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2010


I really have to blams religion for anything involving sex and hangups. Fuck those guys, and I can't decide whether to say "no" or "all" puns intended.
posted by nevercalm at 5:39 PM on June 27, 2010


Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

And sometimes a cigar is just up your ass.

does this count fizz because it was totally on my mind
posted by Askiba at 5:51 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sex involves gonads, specialized nerve bundles, and orgasms. Don't complicate the issue any further than that.

So that includes masturbation? Cool.. All this time I thought I was just horny...
posted by jgaiser at 5:53 PM on June 27, 2010


Masturbation is solitary sex. I say it's sex, you just aren't getting laid. Kind of like how you can play Smash Brothers as a single player game, but it's not really what most people are talking about.

Anyway, I don't really care whether it's foreplay, fooling around, or "really" sex, so long as it's safe and consenting between any number of adults. It's only really important to define it if you want to ban sex, regulate it, or study it.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:00 PM on June 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


It's only really important to define it if you want to ban sex, regulate it, or study it.

This.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:10 PM on June 27, 2010


So when did the University of Kentucky become a fully-owned subsidiary of Liberty University?

They're not. Apparently they are a farm team for the NBA.
posted by Mcable at 6:14 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


which was conducted in 2007 and published this month in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, surveyed 477 students enrolled in a human sexuality course at a large state university about their views on sex. What they found was that only 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex, compared with nearly 40 percent of a similar group of students surveyed in 1991.

I was in college in 1991. The urgency of matter-of-face sex education had finally gone mainstream, thanks to years of the AIDS epidemic putting "safe sex" in the news, to the chagrin of small-town news anchors. Secondary schools still couldn't teach safe sex in a lot of places, but even my quite conservative little southern liberal arts college did the rubber-on-a-banana demo.

We all dutifully affirmed that oral sex is sex. But I don't think anyone meant this to mean that heterosexual penetrative sex isn't a whole different category of "having sex."

I can't help but think that this study just reveals a shift in semantics.
posted by desuetude at 6:16 PM on June 27, 2010


So college students now consider oral sex not to be sex because of Clinton's statement? His statement isn't some sort of hint that the semantics of the word sex is changing overall, it's the actual cause of the change? That's quite the conclusion.
posted by jeather at 6:24 PM on June 27, 2010


80% may tell a formal survey it's not sex, but with their peers, 80% (including 95% of males) will say, "yeah, we totally had sex".

I actually think that's not the case. In any real-life conversation I've had, "sex" has always meant vaginal intercourse. (As for gays, they're free to have their own definitions that make more sense as applied to gay sex -- language is malleable -- but most of my conversations haven't involved that since I'm not gay.) Even in the bragging context you're referring to, I actually don't think "95% of males" or even the majority of young males defines oral sex vaguely as "anything that leads to orgasm" or Seinfeld's "when the nipple makes its first appearance" (which is the correct quote). If "sex" has some vague, all-encompassing meaning, it's not much to brag about to your friends. In the more serious context of relationship discussions about "Should we have sex?," in my experience, that question has always been a clear reference to penis-in-vagina sex. To answer with, "Sure -- oral sex!" would lead to an eye-rolling "You know what I mean." So I find the 20% figure plausible.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:33 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've always liked the definition: Two or more people, one or more orgasms.

Which may let you claim and deny several experiences, as convenient.
posted by threeturtles at 6:35 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I really have to blams religion

this made me LOL.

i imagined nevercalm in a superhero suit going BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM on an evil villain named "Religion".

btw: nevercalm would be an awesome superhero name. just sayin'
posted by liza at 6:35 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, in ways I really like the Dan Savage view of what sex is (which has even included a fully clothed woman relenting to clap for a fully clothed and desperate man in a parking lot, because it would presumably get him off later) for broadening the concept and helping to hopefully rid the world of the "technical virginity" crap, but I also don't think that's really what we're talking about here.

Put me in the 80%, I guess. When I think "sex," at least in straight terms, I think penetration. Everything else is sexual activity, for sure, but if I've given/received oral sex, I don't think that I've had sex. I think that it was something else. Perhaps it's just a problem with terms.

Of course, then, we straights loosen the terms up for gay and lesbian sex, but as for me I can tell you that on those rare occasions when I'm getting into that graphic a conversation with a gay or lesbian friend, I just sort of trust that they're going with their own definition and respect that.

To put it another way, and to respond to mccarty.tim's first comment, going to high school in Oklahoma in the late nineties, I can tell you that this was the prevalent doctrine. Some of us were fucking and some not, but generally everybody held to the same definition of what "sex" was. There was even one wonderful and outrageous girl (largely considered to be the foremost slut in the school, but her first name was a stripper name and her last name was Phile, so what sort of options did she really have) who maintained that for all of her rampant activity that she was a virgin, because she only buttfucked.

I think the idea is that teens are in a position of hormonally running towards sexual activity and yet still frightened by it, and trying to set their own boundaries, and that for the straight teens, setting the "line" at vaginal intercourse is somewhat helpful to them. Doubly so if they're in a religious environment.

And as for the Kevin Smith thing: Chasing Amy is my least favorite of his movies, but come on. The entire point of it is that Ben Affleck's attempts to categorize and own her sexual experiences are wrongheaded and damaging.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:41 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The paper doesn't claim that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal had any impact on perceptions of the term. It just uses Clinton's odd phrasing in the introduction to frame the question of whether views have changed. Only Slate and this MeFi post attempt to turn correlation into causation.

I would have thought that this would be research done by a psychology or medical researcher, but the author's PhD is in "Family Science," and he is a tenured professor in "Family Studies." I didn't know this field exists, but it looks like it is more or less synonymous with social work.
posted by miyabo at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2010


if the female nipple makes an appearance, you can definitely call it sex.

That line of dialogue always stuck with me, because it seemed so bizarrely prudish for a grown man, especially Jerry who was always portrayed as fairly liberal sexually, or at least sleeping with a lot of women.

At any rate, it should be obvious to even the most dimwitted that Bill Clinton had dick* to do with this. If anything, it's sex ed finally teaching more kids what sex acts actually consist of.

*see what I did there?

posted by drjimmy11 at 6:53 PM on June 27, 2010


Right-wingers stretch to any length to blame things they don't like on Bill Clinton, video at eleven.

I remember in German class in high school (mid 90s) when we were doing a lesson about health related vocab. The "troublemaker" in the class was asked to make a sentence with one of the words and so he said "Ich mache Spass [with smoking]". (You can tell the German lessons really sunk in.) "I smoke to have fun."

This set the teacher off on a 5 minute rant in full German that nobody in our low level German class understood. The only words I picked up were "White House" and "Bill Clinton". Clearly, Bill was responsible for all corruption of the nation's youth.
posted by kmz at 6:54 PM on June 27, 2010


Of course, then, we straights loosen the terms up for gay and lesbian sex, but as for me I can tell you that on those rare occasions when I'm getting into that graphic a conversation with a gay or lesbian friend, I just sort of trust that they're going with their own definition and respect that.

Yeah... The thing is, language is useful but imperfect. It's useful for referring to things: it's helpful if two people having a conversation about "sex" don't have wildly divergent ideas in their heads about what "sex" means. But one way language is imperfect, in this case, is that it's usually heteronormative. This is no surprise, since language tends to be shaped by the majority (even assuming that everyone involved is totally accepting of homosexuality, which of course has often not been the case). So, you can say that the concept of "virginity" (which is derivative of the concept of sex) can't mean "penis in vagina" because that leaves out lesbians. But the fact is, I'm going to continue using the terms "sex" and "virginity" the way that's useful to me as a straight person, and lesbians can go ahead and use different definitions or not bother to focus on these arbitrary terms at all. Things are more straightforward for gay men, since they can include anal sex as "sex." What about gay men who don't have anal sex but are sexually active? Again, they're free to go ahead and redefine "sex" and "virginity" in whatever ways are useful for them. But I'm still going to use these words how they're useful to me as a straight person. If that's heteronormative, then OK, I'm being heteronormative, but I don't think it's outrageously oppressive for some people to use a word one way and other people to use the same word a different way.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:59 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


That line of dialogue always stuck with me, because it seemed so bizarrely prudish for a grown man, especially Jerry who was always portrayed as fairly liberal sexually, or at least sleeping with a lot of women.

I agree. I think the line was not so much a serious attempt to literally define sex and had more to do with the fact that (1) though they often discussed sex on that show, they always kept it tame and/or implicit, and (2) it was a joke.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:01 PM on June 27, 2010


I've always liked the definition: Two or more people, one or more orgasms.

I admire the optimism in this definition.
posted by rachaelfaith at 7:07 PM on June 27, 2010 [12 favorites]


As an alumnus of the University of Kentucky, mostly I am concerned about the reported 4% of males and 1.8% of females who don't even consider penis-in-vagina to be sex. WTF do these people consider sex?
posted by little e at 7:21 PM on June 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Pffft. Oral sex has been used as an alternative to "real sex" for as long as people have been around. Bill Clinton didn't invent the distinction. Teenagers back in caves somewhere did. French caves.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:24 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a young male in the target demographic who attended a Southern evangelical private school, I'm surprised that the number is as high as 20%. We're diving down the rabbit hole of anecdotalism here, but I have literally never met anyone from my generation that would consider Oral on par with sexual intercourse. To my Millennial cultural norms, that seems laughably ridiculous. To me, that would be like a friend kissing a girl and counting that as getting laid. Apologies for descending into the vernacular, but (generationally speaking) sex is fucking (I'm not well-versed enough on the meaning/applicability of that term in the lesbian community, but it works for most others). I can also say that while Bill Clinton comes up in BJ jokes, neither me nor my friends have ever thought about the former President when discussing or classifying our sexual escapades. *shudders*

Side note on the Anal-Doesn't-Count-Myth: No one thinks Anal doesn't count as sex, but the emphasis in Evangelical/Abstinence only communities isn't don't have sex but rather don't lose your virginity or in more secular settings don't get pregnant. In the more repressed areas I've encountered, anal happens so that the girl can preserve the absurdly all-important hymen, that bloody indicator of purity and virginity. I've encountered many (far too many) girls who think that as long as they bleed on their wedding night, they're pure and don't have to feel guilty about the white wedding dress.
posted by Chipmazing at 7:44 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, I see my old lady's nipples all the time with zero physical contact whatsoever, maybe I'm doing it wrong.

Remember, this is what SEINFELD said about sex. He ain't Dr. Ruth.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 PM on June 27, 2010


Sexual intercourse is the process by which zords gametes are introduced to successfully form a megazord zygote.

Holy shit. Technically, I'm a forty-odd year virgin!

Twenty-five or so years of fucking, but without the possibility of introducing (X|Y) to X; a physical/technical impossibility for a good long time and a statistical improbability before that — but despite having it six ways to sunday, technically a virgin! Morality Win!
posted by five fresh fish at 7:47 PM on June 27, 2010


If it involves coming, it's sex. Oral, anal, coital: whatever. If you come, you've had sex. Heck, if you came just on the edge, it's sex. For fuck's sake, even if you don't quite squirt, if you're doing it because it feels omg-so-fucking-good, like back when I was pre-teen playing "doctor" in the most serious get-me-off manner, it's sex. I don't think I really understood it, but it was with peers and felt really fucking good: close enough to sex to count, regardless.

I mean, c'mon, people. It is what it is.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:52 PM on June 27, 2010


Hell, I've had sex even without anybody having an orgasm. It was a little disappointing, but you drink that much booze something is bound to suffer.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:01 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The full, unabbreviated term is "sexual intercourse." It is a type of intercourse. Other types are social, intellectual, etc.

Intercourse (n): Dealings or communications between persons or groups.

So as long as you deal and communicate with someone in a sexual manner, it could qualify as sex. Hence "phone sex" and "cybersex".

Foreplay and pillow talk might technically qualify, but since they're ancilliary to a larger sexual act, they're usually rolled in with it. Like side dishes. Then again, I'm sure there are mutual masturbation fetishists who do phone sex without the phone.
posted by LogicalDash at 8:20 PM on June 27, 2010


hal_c_on wrote: "Sounds to me that most young people didn't consider oral-genital contact to be considered as "sex" even before Clinton took office in 1992. So why is this group of researchers even using this cultural reference to explain something that was considered the norm before the cultural reference even came to be."

Yes, even prior to Clinton's utterance, the kids I knew considered "sex" to mean "sexual intercourse."
posted by wierdo at 8:25 PM on June 27, 2010


My question to all of the (straight) readers here, and I mean this honestly, if you gave or received fellatio/cunnilingus to/from someone, and some friend asked you, "did y'all have sex?" would you say "yes" without qualifying it?
posted by Navelgazer at 8:40 PM on June 27, 2010


I've always used the word "sex" to mean penis-penetrates-vagina. If your best bud says to you "dude, I had sex last night," do you stop to ask which kind of sex? Or do you just assume penis/vagina? If your gay friends say they had sex, don't you just assume it was anal sex?

then again, who uses terms like "oral sex" anyway? blow job, gave him head, went down on her, licked her....etc. No one has ever said to me "I had oral sex last night."

I think this whole "oral sex is sex" bullshit is just another way to intimidate kids into staying virgins.
posted by Jade5454 at 8:43 PM on June 27, 2010


Clinton? Weren't these students like 10-12 years old during that scandal?

Some who was 18 in 2007 would have been 7 years old in 1996.

Also, I don't think that people's understanding of "sex" changed, but maybe in the past people were just using it to refer to the general concept of "sexual activity"
The full, unabbreviated term is "sexual intercourse." It is a type of intercourse. Other types are social, intellectual, etc.

Intercourse (n): Dealings or communications between persons or groups.
Uh, that's one of the definitions of 'intercourse' The other definition is:
the act of sexual procreation between a man and a woman; the man's penis is inserted into the woman's vagina and excited until orgasm and ejaculation occur
That's obviously what people are talking about when they say "sexual intercourse"
posted by delmoi at 8:44 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have literally never met anyone from my generation that would consider Oral on par with sexual intercourse. To my Millennial cultural norms, that seems laughably ridiculous. To me, that would be like a friend kissing a girl and counting that as getting laid.

Hey, George Constanza said: "Kissing is sex"! (Just kidding -- of course, I agree with you.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 8:48 PM on June 27, 2010


69 comments.

Just sayin'.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:57 PM on June 27, 2010


I always thought sex held the potential to procreate.

Okay, sure, so as a gay man who never had the awkward experiments with females when I was younger, I've never had sex. Thanks for informing me!
posted by spitefulcrow at 9:03 PM on June 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


The paper doesn't claim that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal had any impact on perceptions of the term. It just uses Clinton's odd phrasing in the introduction to frame the question of whether views have changed.

Nope:

Unlike respondents in the previous samples, our
respondents were adolescents after the Clinton-Lewinsky
era, which our comparisons of data over time suggest may
have been a turning point in conceptualizations of oralgenital
contact. The dramatic and sudden shift in attitudes
toward oral-genital contact can therefore be termed the
Clinton-Lewinsky effect.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:05 PM on June 27, 2010


"My question to all of the (straight) readers here, and I mean this honestly, if you gave or received fellatio/cunnilingus to/from someone, and some friend asked you, "did y'all have sex?" would you say "yes" without qualifying it?"

Straight-ish, I would blush and say...yeah, we totally did it. But--and I'm about to get graphic, folks--I use "did it" to range from random finger banging to vaginal intercourse to pegging to handjobs to buttfucking to watching someone rub one out. The only time I clarify is if I top someone for fun in a non-sexualized context--if I tie someone up for practice and we're both watching X-files, it doesn't really count.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:27 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think this whole "oral sex is sex" bullshit is just another way to intimidate kids into staying virgins.

Or it's a way of acknowledging that it is silly to hold up penis-in-vagina sex as the height of intimacy and pleasure for everyone, because that makes it sound as though every other type of sex is intrinsically less intimate, less emotionally complex, less pleasurable, and less risky than Real Sex (i.e. PIV). Which isn't true in real life, in my opinion.
posted by colfax at 9:31 PM on June 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


What's all this stuff about penises and anuses and vaginas and mouths and kissing? I thought sex is when someone favorites your comment - clearly I must get out more.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:19 PM on June 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Gosh ... just when I was thinking I had "home run" figured out ... now we're back to "third base" again?
posted by Twang at 10:33 PM on June 27, 2010


I thought sex is when someone favorites your comment

Jeez, you coulda at least bought me a drink first...
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:42 PM on June 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find all this vague-talk rather impenetrable.
posted by Tarn at 4:37 AM on June 28, 2010


I'm baffled by this thread. If my dick is in someone's mouth, I'm having sex. With that person's face. If they're not also having some kind of sex we have a big one-sided sex-having problem.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 4:50 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


For all the folks saying Clinton did not, in fact, have sexual relations with that woman: Suppose your sig-oth comes up to you and says, "So I went down on X, but at least we didn't have sex." Is that really a meaningful mitigation to you?
posted by PMdixon at 4:52 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Suppose your sig-oth comes up to you and says, "So I went down on X, but at least we didn't have sex."

Your Sig-oth knows the gate. Your Sig-oth is the gate. Your Sig-oth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Your Sig-oth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They have trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:44 AM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I've always liked the definition: Two or more people, one or more orgasms.

Which may let you claim and deny several experiences, as convenient.


One or more people, cause sex with yourself is still sex as far as your nerve endings are concerned.

And if there's two or more but only one orgasm? That's just sad.
posted by emjaybee at 6:01 AM on June 28, 2010


To crib Mr. Clinton himself, it depends on how you define sex. Is it strictly peepee + vajayjay = babby? Or is it more broad, like genital intimacy?

Anyway, this whole "Bill Clinton made our kids suck cock" thing is just political gamesmanship. Nobody is going to willingly put their mouths on each others genitals until they are sexually mature enough to conceptualize (or at least be curious) what all the hubbub is about. I mean, really. "Crotches are icky, but some old dude on the news liked it, so I'll dive right in?" Nonsense.

It all comes down to *why* we tell kids not to have sex. Yeah, for many adults, we don't want our kids to be having sex because we think sex is bad and a sin. But go one step beyond that: why did sex ever become bad and a sin? Because having sex too early in one's life can lead to heavy consequences that kids aren't mature enough to understand, much less cope with. Babies and diseases are the big ones. But there is also the general distraction that being all hormone-ed up and having tons of sex can have in someone's life. Growing up is about learning and fun and having new experiences. But it is also about building oneself into a competent adult. If you are our humping in the parking lot, you are missing other experiences that might have been far more useful in the future than learning how to fingerbang a classmate.


If any kid ever *did* say "but the President did it", we can all rest assured that it had nothing to do with the president. That is what kids do- they find ways to derail their parents' anger onto something else.

The urgency of matter-of-face sex education had finally gone mainstream

Matter of face? You are either doing it wrong, or really well.

I remember in German class in high school (mid 90s) when we were doing a lesson about health related vocab. The "troublemaker" in the class was asked to make a sentence with one of the words and so he said "Ich mache Spass [with smoking]". (You can tell the German lessons really sunk in.) "I smoke to have fun."

I think it would have been "ich mache spass rauchen". But I didn't pay much attention either- I remember that sentences needed to be object, verb, modifiers. Or "ich rauche gern" (I smoke happily.)
posted by gjc at 7:13 AM on June 28, 2010


No, it was 1997, when Kevin Smith explained that a woman who had never had a male lover was, infact, still a virgin.


Actually, Smith's commentary on the definition what constitutes what constitutes sex began much earlier.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:41 AM on June 28, 2010


If someone's junk is involved, it's sex. Simple enough.

Unless you have a purity ring or some such, then nothing counts as sex until you're married. Nothing.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:36 AM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I admire the optimism in this definition.

And if there's two or more but only one orgasm? That's just sad.

Well, that's part of the beauty of the definition. That time you got really drunk and ended up humping that sleazy guy in the corner of a party, but no one came? Totally doesn't count.
posted by threeturtles at 8:56 AM on June 28, 2010


Man, I could really use a sloppy BJ right now. I don't know or care whether or not you call it sex, I call it awesome.
posted by snottydick at 9:41 AM on June 28, 2010


eponanistic!
posted by unSane at 9:49 AM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think we should probably just do away with the nebulous concept of 'virginity' altogether, as it tends to encourage binary did-you-or-didn't-you thinking. Whether some activity counts as sex is sort of a non-starter; whether it is sexual in nature is a much more useful question, and a lot more applicable to the actual spectrum of human interaction.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:01 AM on June 28, 2010


Eponi....

Wait, I'm not gonna tell you anything useful here. Sorry.

Except, language is great when the speaker and the listener agree on x% of the terms being used. When agreement falls below x%, special steps need to be taken to ensure communication success. Without reading the journal article, I'm hoping that these researchers are trying to sort out how best to address issues of sexuality and safety with young people today.

(my advice - don't try to talk about sex if you're mouth is full of genitals, somebody might get hurt, and probably nobody will understand what you're saying.)
posted by bilabial at 10:26 AM on June 28, 2010


Do condoms, other forms of birth control/STD prevention, and feminism make virginity an obsolete concept? I mean, it's not like anyone in the mainstream western world still cares about how virginity effects the dowery. And since a pregnancy can be prevented and/or delayed nearly completely, it's not like the sexually active are necessarily at a huge risk of becoming parents.

If anything, I think this strengthens marriage and other long term relationships. It's now about wanting to be entangled with somebody for a long time, through good and bad, and not because of entering some sort of contract to be socially acceptable, have socially acceptable sex, and conceive children. These days, you can do all of those things outside of marriage*, and nobody cares so long as nobody outside the relationship is burdened or hurt in the process. Marriage is no longer what's expected of people; it's a gift one trades with someone he/she loves. How is that modern definition not more beautiful than the "traditional" ones?

*Note that I say this as an American Northeasterner. I dunno how bad it is in the bible belt, but didn't Bristol and Levi go unmarried and nobody really cared? Weren't they to be America's Conservative Bible-Believing Teenage Sweethearts?
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:51 AM on June 28, 2010


think we should probably just do away with the nebulous concept of 'virginity' altogether, as it tends to encourage binary did-you-or-didn't-you thinking. Whether some activity counts as sex is sort of a non-starter; whether it is sexual in nature is a much more useful question, and a lot more applicable to the actual spectrum of human interaction.

I'm inclined to agree from a certain perspective. Where an activity really falls on "how sexual is it" spectrum is the sort of thing that I feel is constantly redefined, reshaped, and augmented by experience in weird and interestingly complicated ways. That first french kiss was the most sexual experience I'd ever had, but later I delivered mere pecks that were waaay hotter. It's a big shifting moving target.

But I feel like this is awfully easy to say in hindsight. When I was young and very sexually inexperienced, each of those firsts were pretty unambiguously clear as milestones.

And even setting aside for a moment the cultural meanings of virginity, having PIV sex for the first time was a distinctive thing, as least from my perspective, because of the physical pain. (I realize that this is not universal.)

By the time I was having sex with women, I was more experienced. I don't know in what ways I'd feel differently about "virginity" if I'd been involved with women before men.
posted by desuetude at 12:04 PM on June 28, 2010


My partner (Hanne Blank) wrote a book called "Virgin, the Untouched History" that tries to help answer questions about our cultural (the western world only - including other cultures would have made it unpublishably long) interpretation of virginity in the historical context.

Some of the book talks about Clinton's policy-making (both real and, we presume, unintentional) with respect to sex and sex education, some of it talks about what folks interpret as sex (as this discussion established, lots of folks have lots of different ideas) or what we interpret as virginity (also a very widely varied topic).

There are lots of other fascinating examinations of cultural interpretations of sex and virginity - too numerous to name - but definitely wonderful cocktail party trivia fodder in the book.

I am clearly biased, in that I am in a long term relationship with Hanne, but I do think that the book is a good and interesting read. I know libraries carry it and it is also still in print. If you want to read more about these issues, it'd be a a great resource, among many others.

I know this is a self-link, but I understand that's not entirely unreasonable when one is an "expert" and as a 2nd party expert (living with the person writing the book for 5 years) I think it's appropriate here.
posted by kalessin at 5:46 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Suppose your sig-oth comes up to you and says, "So I went down on X, but at least we didn't have sex."

Ah, but who was eaten first?
posted by stinkycheese at 9:23 PM on June 30, 2010


For all the folks saying Clinton did not, in fact, have sexual relations with that woman: Suppose your sig-oth comes up to you and says, "So I went down on X, but at least we didn't have sex." Is that really a meaningful mitigation to you?

Are you presupposing that only "having sex" is cheating? I don't see why.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:23 AM on July 1, 2010


Who cares if it's called "sex"? The issue should be whether or not kids think it's an okay thing to do.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:33 PM on July 14, 2010


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