What “Counts” As Sex To Gay, Lesbian, And Bisexual Adults?

July 3, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

Research has found that there’s a lot of variability when it comes to what people define as “sex.” Perhaps not surprisingly, this means there’s a lot of variability when it comes to how they define “abstinence,” too. This only makes sense because, after all, these things go hand in hand: when people don’t think a certain intimate activity “counts” as having sex, they may consider themselves to be abstinent no matter how many times they’ve done it. For example, a lot of people don’t think oral sex counts, so they may say they’re abstinent despite the fact that it’s something they regularly do.

Though several studies have looked at people’s definitions of sex and abstinence, pretty much all of them to date have focused exclusively on heterosexual persons. This begs the question of how gay, lesbian, and bisexual adults define these terms.

Fortunately, a new paper published in the Journal of Sex Research sheds some light on the answer (at least in terms of how sexual minorities define sex), and it’s the subject of my latest column over at TONIC.

In this research, LGB adults were surveyed at Pride festivals about their personal definitions of sex. What the results revealed is that, like heterosexuals, LGB adults also demonstrated a lot of variability in how they defined this. In fact, there wasn’t a single intimate act the researchers asked about that produced 100% agreement that it was “definitely sex.”

However, the most interesting part of this study is that sexual minority men seemed to have a “gold standard” for sex, whereas sexual minority women did not. In other words, gay and bisexual men adopted much narrower views of sex (i.e., they counted fewer activities) compared to lesbian and bisexual women.

Check out the full article for a look at the specific activities that LGB adults define as sex, as well as the broader implications of these varied definitions.

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Image Source: 123RF/Rikke Breiting

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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