Opinion Brief

What is 'sex,' exactly?

A new study suggests the answer might not be as simple as you think

What does it mean to "have sex"? A new survey has uncovered a bewildering variety of answers to that question. The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University asked 486 English-speaking, "mostly heterosexual" residents of Indiana between the ages of 18 and 96 what they think "having sex" constitutes. The study has the serious intent of making doctors aware that their definition of sex may differ from their patients'. A summary of the Institute's more intriguing findings:

Elderly men are confused
Almost one in four (23%) male respondents over the age of 65 do not consider "penile-vaginal intercourse" sex.

Men and women are equally confused
More women (282) than men (204) responded to the survey, but researchers found that their answers "did not differ significantly overall." However, while 50% of elderly males thought that anal sex did not constitute sex, 67% of women the same age thought that it did.

The Clinton defense has its supporters
A full 30 percent of survey respondents said that oral sex does not constitute having sex.

It's more sexual to give than to receive
Questions about what the researchers defined as "manual-genital" sex yielded some curious opinions. Roughly half of the respondents said it constituted having sex. However, while 48% said receiving manual stimulation constituted sex, only 45% said performing such an act counted.

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