Here’s How Australia Defines ‘Sex’

Here’s How Australia Defines ‘Sex’

For all the interest there is out there about our bedroom habits, one thing that’s quite clear is that our understanding of the absolute basics of sex is kind of wobbly. Studies over the years have indicated that sex education in Australia is weak, and our confidence in discussing consent and pleasure is lacking as a result. Most notably, however, education around LGBTQ+ sex is almost non-existent, and, as a recent survey from NORMAL has highlighted, the way we view what ‘counts’ as sex deeply reflects that.

NORMAL, a sex tech and wellness brand, recently ran a survey of 1,000 Aussies (The Big Sex Survey), and in this survey, people were asked to define what sex is.

Any guesses on what the most common answer was?

Let’s take a look.

What is sex?

what is sex

The Big Sex Survey shared that, overwhelmingly, the way Australians define sex is incredibly heteronormative. In fact, 95 per cent of people shared they felt that ‘vaginal intercourse’ is what officially counts as sex.

Moving down the list to second and third place, we find oral and anal. A total of 55 per cent of people viewed these acts as ‘sex’.

In fourth place was fingering or fisting at 40 per cent. Sex toys inside the body were seen as ‘sex’ by 33 per cent of people, and mutual masturbation came in at 25 per cent.

From here, the numbers really start to drop off.

Toys outside the body got 19 per cent, 17 per cent said yes to solo masturbation, kink and BDSM got a thumbs up from 15 per cent, role play got 14 per cent, and sensual massage had 13 per cent of people agreeing it was sex. Consuming porn or erotica, dirty talk and sexting didn’t even crack the teens at 10 per cent, 10 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively.

Here’s a visual guide to the break down from NORMAL, if you’d like to take a look.

Image credit: Normal

When it comes to who is right here, there are some clues in the terms we use to name certain acts. But, I’d say the easiest way to look at this is by turning to the experts.

NORMAL itself has an education platform that is designed to help with pleasure, confidence and communication. Here, you’ll see the segments broken down into the following types of sex: vaginal, anal, oral, v-on-v (vagina on vagina) and p-on-p (penis on penis). But they’re not the only acts you might include in your definition.

Planned Parenthood (yes, it’s American, but it’s a useful education tool still) also shares that hand-to-genital contact, dry humping or genital rubbing and masturbation can all come under the definition of sex, too.

Broadly speaking, acts can be defined as either intercourse (penetrative) or outercourse (non-penetrative), and while different people may see these two as completely separate, that isn’t necessarily true.

If our sexual education is largely framed by heteronormative thinking, not to mention the exclusion of people living with disabilities, you have to question why your definition of sex is what it is and how it might differ for people living with different experiences from your own.

Once you consider how limited these definitions really are, you may find there’s more room for flexibility on your views here. Which makes me wonder: how different could that 95 per cent look if our sex ed in schools was a little more substantial?

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