What Is Sex?

When people talk about sex, they usually mean sexual intercourse (or penetrative sex). But sex can be a lot more than that. It can also be foreplay, cuddling sessions, kissing or licking. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your partner to decide what counts as sex. It might take some time to understand your body and feelings and how they relate to sex, so don’t be afraid to try different things until you find what feels right.

Sex is a hugely important part of many relationships. It can bring physical closeness and emotional intimacy, and it has lots of health benefits, including the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. It’s also a great way to create a connection and build trust. But there are a lot of myths around sexuality and sex, and it can be difficult to have open conversations about them.

People engage in sex for a variety of reasons: To satisfy their own needs and desires, to express love and commitment, or to maintain a vital aspect of their well-being. It can be difficult to discuss these issues with your partner, so it’s important to set ground rules and have clear communication from the start.

Your body’s response to sex is natural and normal, and it will vary from person to person. When you’re in the mood for sex, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, your limbs get heavier, and your clitoris or penis may enlarge. You might even have an orgasm, which is a feel-good sensation caused by the release of chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin.

Sexual arousal can lead to arousal from other activities such as talking, massage or kissing. The type of sex you have will depend on your personal preferences, which might change over time and are partly determined by genetics and your culture. For example, some people have more of a preference for one or the other sex, while others have mixed feelings and may experience sexual attraction to both men and women. Some people might have a condition such as Klinefelter’s syndrome or Turner’s syndrome that affects their sexual orientation.

Genotypic sex is determined by the genetics of your body and is largely immutable, while phenotypic sex is more flexible and can be influenced by things like hormone treatment and surgery. Gender identity, on the other hand, is more complex and based on self-appraisal in relation to gender stereotypes, which can be modified by your experiences, attitudes and beliefs.

You have the right to say no to sex whenever you want. If you are uncomfortable or worried, it’s fine to ask for help or to change your mind. But if you have a sexual partner, it’s up to them to respect your boundaries. It’s also important to practise safe sex, which includes using condoms and putting on gloves or dental dams when necessary. This will reduce your risk of infection and unplanned pregnancy. For more information on this, see our Sexual Health section.