Updated 28 November 2016

But is it sex?

One person's sex is another's foreplay. That's perhaps one of the more bemusing results of Health24's Great South African Sex Survey of 2010


One person’s sex is another's foreplay. That's perhaps one of the more bemusing results of Health24’s Great South African Sex Survey of 2010. All of us - well, 99% of us - can agree that a penis penetrating a vagina undeniably constitutes sex. Beyond that, however, definitions of what actually qualifies as sex become rather fuzzy.

You may be excused for thinking that pretty much anything involving naked people in substantial, intentional and mutual skin-to-skin contact in settings ranging from bedrooms, boardrooms, kitchen counters and hay barns deserves to be called "sex". But no, most of us don’t think it’s quite so straight forward a matter.

Arbitrary as distinctions over what is and what isn’t sex may appear at first, they actually become rather important in some situations. Just think about it: if you, as a fifteen year-old hormonally-charged teenager are taught to believe in the strict penis-in-vagina definition, you can cover a whole array of rather advanced sexual activities before you trespass the dreaded underage sex boundary.

The survey results make for some interesting reading:

  • Only 59% of the people participating in the survey consider mutual masturbation to be sex;
  • Only 56% think that vaginal penetration with anything other than the penis - think fingers, dildos, vibrators, etc. - qualifies as sex;
  • Some 70% count oral sex as proper sex.

What's particularly striking is that in all three of these cases, the tendency to describe them as sex tends to steadily increase with age. So while only 56% of 20 to 24 year olds reckon that oral sex is actually sex, that figures rises to 78% for folks older than 50. Similarly, only 38% of 20 to 24 year olds think of mutual masturbation as sex, while 73% of 45 to 49 year olds do. Perhaps it's an indication that younger people are hoping to get away with some pretty sexy actions without having to chalk them down as actual, bona fide sex.

Somewhat surprisingly, this trend is reversed when it comes to anal sex: while 71% of all respondents think of anal sex as sex, younger people are more inclined to do so than older people.

For most of us this whole debate boils down to semantics. You say "potayto", I say "potado". As long as everyone involved is happy and no laws are broken, who cares what you choose to call it? As long as we all get to share some of the fun!

(Andrew Luyt, Health24, February 2010)

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