Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Spark of Wisdom: What Counts as Sex?

image This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.

Apparently, I am a virgin.

Now, this rather surprised me, all things considered. I rather thought all the sex I'd had disqualified me. It most certainly surprised Beloved when I told him (though it did paralyse him with uproarious laughter for some time)

But no, to some people I am a virgin - because I am a man who has never had sex with a woman. Specifically, I have never had penis-penetrating-a-vagina sex. And this is the only sex that counts. Yes, yes it is.  (Amusingly, some of these same people also believe that, as a gay man, I am also a promiscuous. This makes me a promiscuous virgin. It's at this point that logic just said "Seriously?!" and left the room in a huff.)

I was surprised the first time and put it down to, well, extremist foolishness. After all, the homophobes have never been logical have they? And I'm sure that no belief or stance, no matter how silly or hateful, isn't held by someone somewhere (and that he has internet access).

Except it wasn't isolated. Several times I have come across people who decided I had never ever had sex, or never had "real" sex, because no woman was involved in the proceedings. Often they combined it the old foolishnesses of "how do you know you're gay if you've never had sex with a woman?" (I was so tired of saying "and have you had sex with a man?" that I had to mix it up a little "have you ever had sex with a lawn mower? No? Then how do you know you won't like it!") and "you only need to meet the right girl" (which is several kinds of annoying when I've already met the right guy) that I'm sure we've all heard and mocked before. But still, there was a surprising number of these "the only real sex is penis/vagina sex" out there.

And then I read  this little linky from the Kinsey institute, That pointed me to this study.  30% of people who took the study did not consider oral sex to be sex. 20% did not consider anal sex to be sex. That's a pretty limited definition of sex there - and one that leaves me in the category of "not had sex." In short, 20% of people who took this study think I'm a virgin.

And suddenly "quaint, silly, little eccentricity" becomes something rather more. It says rather a lot of our attitudes towards sex. It shows we have a very heteronormative view of sex - and a very restrictive view of sex. By privileging a sex act that is seen as quintessentially heterosexual as the only 'real' sex then we, in turn, lessen homosexual sex. We're not capable of 'real' sex, it's lesser sex, fake sex, not 'proper' sex. I can't see this attitude as anything but harmful, just as any devaluing assumption is.

I don't think considering only acts that try to expressly exclude gay people to count as real sex is motivated by homophobia in most cases (though the motivation doesn't change that it is harmful), let me be clear. I rather think that it's down to obsession with one particular act coupled with a whole lot of desperate self-justification (I'm not having sex, I'm just...) and just the general weirdness that comes with humanity's collective horror and obsession with sex. I'm rather at a loss as to explain the full silliness of it, I confess.

I don't know the motivations, but still, to 20% of these people, I am a virgin. And I'm not sure whether to be amused or insulted.