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A defining moment

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So, the girlfriend and I were sitting around, killing time, and we got to talking about sex, as we are wont to do, and the girlfriend, it turns out, has a completely different definition of sex than I do. She thinks if you so much as touch another person with an intent to arouse them, you're having sex, whereas I subscribe to the Clintonian notion that anything other than penis-vagina intercourse is something other than sex. We were so far apart in our definitions that we finally decided not to talk about it. But I thought I'd check with you to see what you think. When does sex begin? Call me...
Sex Ed

Sex Ed: Sex begins at 40. Actually, life begins at 40, sex begins at...wait a minute, life doesn't begin at 40, life begins at conception. Kidding! So maybe it's sex that begins at conception.

Well, you can see how confusing things get when we try to define sex. And I would gladly ignore the whole issue, blithely having sex when I thought I was doing something else and blithely doing something else when I thought I was having sex, but it keeps rearing its ugly - but strangely attractive! - head.

It most recently reared its head, in a prominent way, during the Clinton impeachment proceedings, of course. Never before had John and Jane Q. Public become so intimately involved with a president's sexual (or not-quite-sexual) proclivities. And when President Clinton launched what I call his Webster's Third Defense - "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" - some of us learned a valuable lesson about how our fellow Americans perceive their sex lives.

What we learned is that they weren't having near as much sex as we thought they were having. Oh, they were still doing all the things they'd always done, but they didn't consider most of it sex. Around the time of Monicagate, if you recall, there were a couple of studies done in which young people were asked which acts they considered sexual acts and which ones they considered blithely doing something else. Why young people? Because they were the most at risk for STDs like AIDS, and the health-care industry needed to know how to speak their language.

The numbers were mildly shocking to an old sex fiend like myself. A full 100% thought penile-vaginal intercourse qualified as sex (duh), but 60% of them thought that oral-genital contact didn't. And 18% thought penile-anal intercourse didn't. I know a lot of gay men who are going to be very disappointed to learn that they still haven't had sex. But I also know a lot of parents who are going to be very delighted to know that their kids haven't had sex either.

Myself, I'm delighted, not because it turns out I've been having a lot less sex than I thought I was having but because my fellow Americans - the younger ones, that is - don't seem to see sex as any big deal. In fact, they see it as such a small deal that they don't see it as sex at all. And if I've stood for anything during my long, lonely watch at the sexual barricades, it's that sex is no big deal.

Except, of course, when it is. When it transmits a disease, it's a big deal. When it results in a child, it's a big deal. When it's perpetrated on a child, it's a big deal. And that's why, despite our new relaxed attitudes, we still need to grope toward a definition of sex. Obviously, everybody has their own definitions, but we need to continually negotiate the differences among those definitions.

Personally, I've adopted and adapted Justice Potter Stewart's famous definition of hard-core pornography from when the Supreme Court tried to wrap its brain around that old bugaboo. It's difficult to define hard-core porn, Stewart admitted, "but I know it when I see it." Likewise, it's hard to define sex, but I love it when I'm having it.

From foreplay to afterglow, share your most intimate moments with: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, and 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR EMAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.

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