What does “have sex” mean? That’s what researchers wanted to know. Does having sex mean oral sex? Does it mean heavy petting? Or does it mean only acts where there is penetration? While it may not seem to be terribly important to understand what the term means among different groups of people, it actually is. When discussing topics that involve sexual health or abuse, everyone who is participating in the conversation and/or treatment/management, must be on the same page as to what “having sex” is.
To clarify this, or in the hopes of clarifying this, researchers from the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University wanted to see what the definition of “having sex” was to most people. This question had originally been asked in 1999, sparked by the then- U.S. president’s comment that he had not had sex with a female intern, he had merely been the recipient of oral sex.
What the researchers discovered this time, after surveying 486 people (204 men) who ranged in age from 18 to 96 years, was that there was no agreement or consensus as to what the term really means. Surprisingly, there was even a group of men who didn’t believe that penile penetration of the vagina meant “having sex.”
In this survey, the researchers were more specific, asking the respondents about specific sexual behaviors and if orgasm was essential in defining “having sex.” The telephone survey began with the question “Would you say you ‘had sex’ with someone if the most intimate behavior you engaged in was …,” and this was followed by 14 examples.
The results, which were published in the February issue of the journal Sexual Health, showed the lack of agreement although men and women responses were not significantly different. “Having sex” came in different definitions:
- 95% considered penile-vaginal intercourse as “having sex” but only 77% of older men agreed with this definition
- 89% considered penile-vaginal intercourse with no ejaculation as “having sex”
- 81% considered penile-anal intercourse as “having sex” but:
- 77% of men between 18 to 29 years agreed with this
- 50% of men over the age of 65 years agreed with this
- 67% of older women agreed with this
- 71% considered performing oral sex as “having sex”
- 73% considered receiving oral sex as “having sex”
So, the results are all over the board in terms of what a patient may to healthcare workers if the need arises, so medical professionals need to be aware of this when taking a medical and social history.