Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

What do you mean, sex?
Trying to define sex may seem simple, but in reality, it is a tricky thing to pin down. We are often quick to leap to equating it with the term “sexual intercourse,” but the terms actually lie on two ends of a spectrum. While “sexual intercourse” is technical and clinical, the term “sex” is immensely personal and emotional. For some, sex can cover all forms of intimate activity, even if it takes place over a distance, facilitated by the phone or internet. And for others, sex has only happened if a penis has penetrated a vagina and the involved parties have been brought to orgasm. How you define it is a personal decision for each of you that we’re not trying to determine for you.

But when we talk about safe sex, as we do in this guide, what we’re talking about is how to make any physically intimate activity safer. So our definition is necessarily broad, to cover any situation in which there is any risk of transmitting an infection or disease. While certainly not an exhaustive list, here are some common activities that would fall under this definition of sex:

Vaginal intercourse: Insertion of penises or other objects, such as sex toys, into vaginas for sexual stimulation or reproduction.
Anal intercourse: Insertion of penises or other objects, such as sex toys, into anuses for sexual stimulation.
Oral sex: Use of mouths, lips or tongues for sexual stimulation—most commonly on the penises, vulvas, or anuses.
Partner/mutual masturbation: Use of hands, other body parts or objects for sexual stimulation of the partner’s or one’s own genitals in the presence of a partner.
Frottage: Non-penetrative rubbing of genitals against bodies of partners. Same-sex frottage amongst males is known as frot, particularly when it involves penis-to-penis contact, and among females, known as tribadism or scissoring, particularly when it involves vulva-to-vulva contact.

What do you mean, safer?
Sex has many emotional and physical benefits, but it also comes with risks. Becoming acquainted with those risks helps us make better, more informed decisions, and learning ways to reduce those risks makes sex safer. This guide not only addresses the physical aspects of reducing risks, but also explains how communicating well with those around you and thinking about your own approach to sex can lead to a healthier sex life. Risks cannot be completely eliminated, however, which is why we prefer the term “safer sex” to “safe sex.”