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Why isn’t Queer Sex Always Considered ‘Real’ Sex?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Sex is an important aspect of most people’s lives: whether that’s due to it influencing sexual identity, the importance of a sexual relationship a person may have, the societal pressures to have sex, or a myriad of other reasons. And yet, we don’t seem to even know what we mean when we talk about ‘sex’. Sex seems to mean something different to whoever you ask. I asked around some of my friends this week and I got responses ranging from any kind of sexual contact without the barrier of clothing, to mutual orgasm, to penetrative sex.

The issue raised with that is the heteronormative understanding of what sex is, and how frankly misogynistic its roots are.

Some see sex as how you lose your ‘virginity’. A lot of – typically heterosexual – people who have participated in sexual acts but not sexual intercourse still consider themselves ‘virgins’. When they say ‘sex’ they actually mean sexual intercourse. This biblical, archaic version only exists between a male and a female because particular body parts are needed for that particular act (though preferably when married and with the aim of conception -somewhat outdated, in my opinion).

This understanding of sex calls into question how ‘real’ queer sex is. It can diminish the importance of other forms of sex, somehow making them seem less because they aren’t this ancient version of what ‘real’ sex is. If sex was only heterosexual penetrative sex, then queer sex would be invalidated. By this definition, most acts of queer sex would be considered foreplay to ‘real sex’ – sex which isn’t physically possible for most queer couples.

Does this then mean that queer people cannot have sex?

Does it mean that those who have never had penetrative sex are virgins their whole life, despite engaging in meaningful sexual relationships?

This whole heteronormative understanding of what ‘real sex’ is, is insulting.


Another issue with this whole definition comes from the sexist concept of virginity itself. Historically, and technically, only women can be ‘virgins’. Losing your virginity referred to the breaking of the hymen, a vagina being penetrated by a penis for the first time. It was used to prove chastity, consummate marriages, and ensure the paternity of a child within a marriage. By defining ‘real’ sex as sexual intercourse, we still place value on that ideal of virginity and chastity in women, while diminishing the importance of all other forms of sex. Somehow penetrative sex is more serious, but the only difference is the societal understanding and the historical meaning behind heterosexual penetrative sex.

By understanding sex to be heterosexual penetrative sex, the entire concept leaves no room for sexual relationships that are not penetrative. It discounts sex that is about mutual orgasm, or even sex where only one participant wants to be touched sexually and the other is more comfortable doing the touching. Such as some relationships are commonly engaged in by some people on the asexuality spectrum or by some people with body/gender dysmorphia.

These versions of sex, that are far more common in the queer community, are still sex. And yet some people don’t think of them as ‘real’ sex because of the normalised heteronormative understanding of the definition of sex.

This understanding is only encouraged by the systems in place. The law distinguishes between penetrative sex and non-penetrative sex as the line between rape and sexual assault. The national curriculum in the UK only requires that students be educated on heterosexual penetrative sex. Some religions still only consider marriages to be valid after they have been consummated, through the act of sexual intercourse.

These institutions clearly view ‘real’ sex as being heterosexual and penetrative. They have drawn a line in the sand, which created meaningful definitions that affect law and education that don’t include queer sex, or for that matter, queer people, at all.

The normalised understanding of what ‘real sex’ is has become outdated and is clearly absurd in the modern landscape. Queer sex is just as real as heterosexual sex, and to have any definition that says otherwise is wrong.

I am a 2nd Year History Student at the University of Bristol. I have particular interest in politics, popular media, and social commentary.