What is sex - really? Here's a hot take on how we go (all the way)
We say humans have been doing it since the dawn of time. But what is it that we do, exactly?
Roughly one hundred million acts of sexual intercourse take place every single day around the world, according to the World Health Organization.
That’s a whole lot of action for all of humankind in such a short amount of time. You might think all these moments spent with lips locked, breaths hitched, and limbs entangled would make our lot intimately familiar with the throes of passion.
Yet you find yourself here, reading this article in vague confusion. Sex has always been quite a mystery to you. Ever so tantalizing but out of reach— a seemingly forbidden pleasure behind closed doors.
They say it’s something that we just know out of our basest instincts. But the uncertainty lingers. Could it be that you’re simply torn between what you think it is and what others say it should be?
The naked truth
Let’s admit it: Sex is hardly anything new. Birds do it. Bees do it. And for all we know, a pair of single-celled blobs in the primordial oceans over half a billion years ago was the first to get it on. So what's the big deal?
Well, it's one thing for sex to be merely a bonding process between two organisms for the sole purpose of passing down their DNA. It’s another thing altogether to consider the blissful release of orgasm, a sensation unique to humans alone.
It’s in this physical and emotional pleasure we find that makes the act less about creating offspring and more about satiating our carnal cravings, regardless of the reproductive consequences. Perhaps this is how sex can be best defined if we consider most people’s perspectives, after all.
Doing the deed is, by evolutionary design, a thrilling experience. Our sexual desire surges beneath every inch of our skin. We’re compelled to act on this desire. If all goes well, it’s punctuated by the much-awaited climax. But is that all there is to it?
Not quite. The truth is, our sexual appetite isn't shaped by our hormones alone. What we find physically appealing can also be determined by our own culture. That's because as intelligent beings, we've learned to place this basic activity within the context of our wider society.
No wonder sex is a much more exciting yet complicated affair among humans than other animals.
We've got history
If we account for how the world’s population has grown since 98,000 BC, human beings have probably had sex for about 1,200 trillion times to date. So it’s worth looking into how it’s been all those years for the ones that came (quite literally) before us.
They might not have been the first, but we might as well thank the Greeks for coining the term orgasmus for that overwhelmingly pleasant feeling you get from the deed.
Greek lesbians were called tribades. It’s also a verb which means “to rub,” as an obvious reference to how they usually got intimate.
Not to mention, their civilization gave rise to the sexual words aphrodisiac, eroticism, and homosexuality, to name a few. They even regarded the latter so positively that they considered it as the highest form of morality.
The Romans had also built a guilt-free culture around sex. For their part, women held celebrations in the name of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and fertility. These were called the Bacchanalian festivals, during which female devotees immersed themselves in nights of ecstasy.
That’s not to say that the Romans did not practice restraint. As early as this period, humans have already started developing contraception, though in the strangest ways. Mouse dung liniment or pigeon droppings in oil, anyone?
Though this occurred centuries later, you could say that the Renaissance is reminiscent of Greece and Rome at their peak. It was a time of liberation, and the dominant culture encouraged people to enjoy their sexuality instead of regarding it as something inherently wrong.
Homosexuality was widespread and even accepted in certain circles— some of the most prominent examples include Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. It also became so much easier to access adult content, thanks to the invention of the printing press.
However, things changed abruptly by the turn of the 19th century, when most people began to view sex as something to be enjoyed only by men. Many women were expected to uphold the notion of purity, and young virgins became a prized commodity more than ever.
The double standard becomes more evident in cities like London, which became home to as many as 80,000 prostitutes during those times.
Fortunately, the latter part of this period started to shift the discourse towards a more positive direction. Sexologists like Richard von Kraft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis emerged to define and recognize the nuances of sexuality. Their works led to what we now know as our sexual orientation.
Today, women like us are confronted with conflicting messages about what sex is supposed to mean for us. On the one hand, we’re restrained by our conservative roots to feel free to explore our own sexuality. On the other hand, we get bombarded by hypersexualized messages that dictate what passionate sex should be, only to make us feel disconnected from our sensual experiences.
Still, we shouldn't let that stop us from learning and understanding more about what is simply our natural need as a human being. And we could go on and on about how other people before us have defined it, but we won’t be able to get close to encapsulating what it truly means.
The best way to know what sex truly is... well, just doing it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is sex?
The scientific definition might point to how it’s a bonding process between two organisms for the sole purpose of passing down their DNA, but that’s not exactly how it works for humans. To us, it’s more like an intimate contact that we seek to give one another physical and emotional pleasure.
Why does sex feel so good?
The bliss that comes with sex is mainly our body’s reaction to stimulation. Whenever we’re touched in a certain way, our nerves send signals to our brain, which in turn creates a rush of hormones like oxytocin, the cuddle hormone. But why this happens to human beings and not any other species is anyone’s guess.
How does our culture affect our sexual experience?
The context in which we are born and raised could have a significant impact on the way we view sex. When we’re in a more conservative culture, we’ll most likely repress our own desires. But if we’re given freedom, we’d be able to develop a more wholesome relationship with that part of us.
Have humans always enjoyed sex the same way?
Of course, sex hasn’t been exactly the same throughout the centuries. We lived in different times and varying norms. For instance, sex between tutor and student was encouraged among the ancient Greeks, yet most of them didn’t think love was a requirement for sex between married couples.
Is having sex ever a bad thing?
No matter what other people say, sex is perfectly natural. It’s alright for you to seek pleasure by being intimate with someone you trust, as long as this decision is made with mutual consent. What is never okay is to force anyone to do it when they’re not 100% comfortable and ready.
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