When Is Sex Not Sex?

When is Sex not Sex? That’s not only a vague way to start an article – it’s also quite a thought provoking question. Let me elaborate. I’ve seen sex on the internet, I’ve heard my house mates have sex through the walls, hell I’ve even had sex myself. Yet still I don’t have a definitive personal answer as to just what constitutes sex. Not what physical acts are specifically needed, but instead what context is required for the resulting act to be termed ‘sex’?

To set some background for this discussion, I enjoyed several years working in a Lingerie Bar. My days were whiled away slinging suds while multiple girls wandered haphazardly around in next to nothing. As Steve Jobs so eloquently put it, “the only way to do great work is to do what you love” and while he probably wasn’t hands on at the factory putting together iPhone cases himself, he did have a point. By his definition, my time spent at the bar was “great work”. While week days were spent herding these girls like you would a bunch of kittens (in that everyone wanted to touch them and they could wander off if you didn’t keep a firm eye on them), the weekends were a whole different story. The patrons went out, the private functions came in and lingerie table service was replaced with live lesbian sex shows. What was always so puzzling however was these performers were not partners in any type of personal or romantic sense. They had boyfriends, husbands and even children. They were not even attracted to the opposite sex in most cases yet here they were, towels laid out on the floor, having “sex” for the benefit of a room full of strangers. This begs the question – when is Sex not Sex?

The commoditisation of sex, turning something natural into a product, started off as good business but has resulted in a blurring of the lines between sex as the ultimate act of intimacy and sex as simply a means to an end. Sex sells, and sells well – this is no doubt a reason that it pervades almost all aspects of our daily lives. However over time it seems to have moved beyond being just a selling point and has been diluted to the point where intimacy is replaced with obscurity – So if Sex as an ideal has evolved to include a massive cross section of society, has Sex as an act lessened in importance?

Sex is used in so many aspects of our lives that it is almost too broad a term to now describe all the ways it can be applied. The idea of sexuality as a measure of femininity where musicians, movie stars and unfortunately even regular women are concerned has become one of the pressing issues of society. No longer, it seems, is sex a private and personal matter for the individual to their own make decisions on. These days if you’re not having it, that’s a problem, but don’t worry – there’s ads and apps and all manner of other ways to fix that. In fact, even if you are having it you should be having it better – why not improve your experience through toys, tips, nasal sprays, pills?

The argument that sex is a central aspect of modern life in the Western World is an easy one to make, and no one can deny that Sex wears many masks in the 21st century. It can be a reputation maker, if you are a man, and breaker, if you are a woman. It can be the reason we watch certain music videos, the reason we watch certain TV shows, hell the reason we watch some sports events. Which means we are more or less in agreement on that; Sex isn’t simply a part of life these days, Sex is life.

This brings me back to the Bar. As two girls make their nightly wage by 69’ing on the floor in the dimly lit back room of the place, can that truly be considered sex? Certainly it’s a ‘sex act’, but when carried out by two professionals, who do so only for monetary gain, take no enjoyment from doing so (according to them) and perform the same routine up to 5 times a night for different functions around the City, is it actually Sex? If a woman is molested by a man, it is an abhorrent crime – the two individuals did not have sex. If a pre-pubescent boy and girl experiment with each other out of curiosity because they don’t understand what future use their genitals have, once again the two individuals did not have sex. So when two heterosexual women, in the interest of their job, deep throat condoms onto a double ended dildo and back up on it making it disappear like the world’s most X-rated magic trick, logic dictates that Sex, once again, is not Sex.

At the end of the day, my musings on the definition of Sex, which appear to be in a state of flux, aren’t going to affect me on a day to day basis. I’ll continue to see it on the internet, hear it through the paper thin walls of my house and continue to have it myself (touch wood…pun intended). But I do feel that the conversations on sex must continue. Spurred on by witnessing these sex shows first hand, I’m intrigued by how important sex is made out to be in social commentary, yet how trivial its meaning can be in certain contexts. It seems to have the potential to be both the most important and least valuable thing. Does that foreshadow the next social evolution of sex? I’m not sure – at the end of the day I can’t answer that question on my own. Only ongoing dialogue as a society can get us closer. Closer to putting Sex in the right place in a busy, technological and commercially oriented 21st century. Or if not the right place, the least damaging place. Then again I’m always happy to throw in my two cents, which means I should probably go and see if they have any spare weekend shifts back at the bar…

Alexander Porter will remain committed to understanding the meaning of sex no matter how long it takes.

Image by Thomas Hawk