Sex Ed in Bed
Sex is like a pre-paid phone card?
By Jallen Rix, Ed.D. (c).

Have you ever tried to answer this question for yourself: What is sex? I could use Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition for obscenity from the 1964’s Supreme Court, “I’d know it when I see it.” Unfortunately, this kind of political vagueness could apply to just about anything. The best way for me to define sex is to use a metaphoric approach. This gives us tangible examples of what sex is like.

One popular metaphor is that sex is a kind of commodity. To a degree, I believe this to be true. Why else would prostitution be referred to as the oldest profession. For centuries sex workers have offered their sexual skills in exchange for capitol. At the opposite extreme, sexual predators can also view their victim’s sexuality like an object to be consumed. Oddly enough, today the “virgin-till-you’re-married” movement treats sex also like a commodity, as if virginity is to be completely guarded and saved for that special person you will wed for life.

Yes, sex can be a gift you give someone special, but I think this metaphor has significant weaknesses that promote misconceptions about sex. If it is a kind of internal commodity, like a sexual phone card that we receive at puberty, then that means our phone time has a limit! Indeed, plenty of people believe that when they have sex with another, they give a part of themselves away piece-by-piece without the possibility of ever getting it back. However, not everyone believes sexual energy is in limited supply. In the book, The Ethical Slut, authors, Easton and Liszt make this distinction between concepts with tangible limits and those without limitations. “Time, for example, is a real-world limit; even the most dedicated slut has only twenty-four hours every day. Love is not a real-world limit: the mother of nine children can love each of them as much as the mother of an only child.” Maybe all this is to say that sex is more about quality than quantity.

For a long time, I have defined sex as the heart’s deepest longing for authentic connection. Though it lacks a metaphor, what I like is that the meaning allows for the different sexual aspects of every relationship, just as there are mental, emotional and spiritual aspects. I can give a friend a hug and look her in the eye. I take time for myself by relaxing in a steam room. I might take the hand of someone who is in need of consolation. These are all examples of being physical, sensuous, even sexual with people I am connected to. Even though the degree to which I connect varies widely, the commonality is that I want all of them to be authentic.

A definition that seems to have shades of all of the above is that sex is not the phone card, but the conversation. It’s what I am saying and how effective I am at saying it, regardless of the time I’m given. It’s communication that can use words, but speaks deeper than words. Sex definitely seems to have a “give and take” just like verbal communication. It certainly can be shared silently with one special person. And it seems that it can be shouted from the mountaintop and whoever wants to listen can benefit from the message. Further, viewing sex as communication means it’s a skill that over time you can get so good at, you can even speak in different languages. Sexual linguistics 101, anyone? You learn that you’re responsible for what you say, and you learn the skill of choosing words wisely.

Finally, another definition that does not get enough recognition is that sex is adult play. Some may feel it is important to “put away childish ways,” but my maturity has felt like an “adding to” my childhood, rather than a “trading” my childhood in for adulthood. There are very few ways in which our society allows adults to play — maybe through sports or the arts, but these are always justified by the need for physical exercise or a serious need to express one’s self. Yet, sex is a unique activity that adults (when procreation is not the focus) can cut loose, get in there on all fours, and have crazy fun! Hmmm... I wonder which age group actually plays that Twister game the most?

When sex is defined this way, that which we make so complicated seems rather simple and good. Like most pleasures in life, sex can mean a lot of different things to different people. Ultimately, no matter how much you contemplate it, sex is most enjoyed by experiencing it.

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