Beyond the Bases: Pleasure Heteronormativity & the "Real Sex"

By Sophia Rosenthal '17
Sex Columnist

One of the best sex questions out there is the wonderfully complex, “How do lesbians have sex?” It’s a great question, because it provides a glorious opportunity to unpack and debunk a lot of the crap that’s been cemented into the sexual foundations of this society (you didn’t know about the sexual foundations? They hold up everything. It’s pretty cool and kind of scary). While the correct answer to this question is “However the hell they want it’s none of your business bye,” it seems necessary to go a bit further, if only in the interest of promoting meaningful discussion. 

When this question is posed (I almost exclusively picture it coming from a dumbfounded middle school boy, but that’s just me), the question that is really being asked is “How can sex possibly occur without the presence of a penis?” 

This question is tangled up in many ideas and assumptions involving anatomy, virginity, sexual orientation, orgasm, phallocentrism...the list goes on. In general, we (humans, western society, receivers of horrendously insufficient sex ed, etc.) are taught to reaffirm a very specific definition of sex. Said definition includes cisgender, heterosexual intercourse...and probably vaginal orgasms. Spoiler alert: none of the above is the only option.

This definition obviously isn’t going to work for everyone, since plenty of people have fulfilling sex lives that don’t involve penises, or phallic objects, or other people at all. 

Thus, it isn’t so much a matter of answering the question as it is a matter of asking a different question: “Why are sex acts arranged in this weird hierarchy?” You know, the classic baseball metaphor in which getting to third base is a greater achievement than getting to second base but not quite as great as having “actual sex.” Even though the metaphor seems a bit retro, the basic concept still holds true that certain expressions of sexuality are considered more legitimate than others. And that’s a problem. 

So, what’s the alternative?

Recently, some sex-positive writers and teachers have offered a new definition of “sex” as “anything that increases the potential for orgasm and/or sexual pleasure.” That sounds very vague and open to interpretation...and that’s exactly the point. (Wait, does this mean that eating a fresh Malott cookie counts as sex? Hey, I can think of weaker comparisons). Because if it’s consensual and enjoyable, then why doesn’t it “count” as “real” sex? The point is, it should and it does count.