As soon as I hit my teens, “losing my virginity” was suddenly top of the to-do list. Followed by “learn how to roll cigarettes” and then maybe “get a tattoo” of a ship or something (thank God I didn’t get a tattoo of a ship?). None of these things were supposed to be enjoyable. That wasn’t the point. They were supposed to be endured so that I could enter adulthood having completed the proper steps. “It only has to be in for a second,” I remember one friend saying, as we sat together in our painfully blue, customised school uniforms, a lumpy roll-up shared between us. “Then it’s done, isn’t it?”
The act itself was distinctly fine and unmemorable. I certainly won’t rehash it here. But I do remember feeling relief that this thing was done and I could move on to the next thing, almost like having a medical procedure. Intimacy or pleasure didn’t even enter the equation back then. Oh that’ll come later, I thought, not even imagining what sex had the potential to look like, what it could be defined as, how I might experience the space between two people in the future.
More than a decade later and my conception of “sex” has thankfully shifted completely. Partly because I’m older and more aware of my own pleasure. But also, having now been with women for most of my adult life, the idea that sex only “counts”, if it involves a specific type of penetration, feels genuinely absurd. To me, and to plenty of other queer people I presume, sex can be lots of things other than that: it can be about intention, intimacy, various sexual acts, whatever you like. Penetration alone needn’t be the baseline defining feature of having sex. If it were, getting a smear test would be “real” sex, whereas my girlfriend going down on me wouldn’t.
That said, huge swathes of the British population appear to disagree. In a poll released by YouGov last week, it was found that 45 per cent of people in the UK don’t consider “oral sex” to be actual sex. 48 per cent don’t consider “fingering” to be actual sex. Weirder still, it’s younger generations who lead the way on discounting sex that doesn’t fit a specific mould, with 58 per cent of 18 to 49-year-olds asserting that fingering doesn’t count as sex, in comparison to 29 per cent of those over 50 (go off grandparents!). Presumably, most people think “real” sex needs to involve a dick or dick-shaped object. Yes, even queers (only 49 per cent of lesbian and bi women think fingering counts as sex, in comparison to 37 per cent of straight women).