Genital Intercourse


Genital intercourse is here defined as involving sexual contact between the sex organs of two persons.

The sex organs are the most sensitive erogenous zones of the human body, and for the great majority of men and women genital contact is therefore the favorite form of sexual intercourse. Furthermore, anatomically penis and vagina are easily joined together. Indeed, throughout most of human history it was only this joining (Latin: coputatio) of the male and female bodies that made the conception of new human life possible. (Today, a woman may also conceive by means of artificial insemination.)

In our Judeo-Christian culture, sex has traditionally been tied to the purpose of procreation. Thus, for a very long time the union of penis and vagina was declared to be the only natural form of sexual intercourse. Manual and oral stimulation was sometimes permitted, as long as the partners intended it to lead up to coitus. Without this intention, however, such sexual contact was always considered sinful. Moreover, in most Western countries the sin was also punished as a crime.

When, during the 19th century, psychiatrists started to focus their attention on human sexual behavior, they first did not dare to question the conventional sexual morality. While their vocabulary was new and different, the message was still the same: All noncoital sex was wrong. However, instead of damnation after death they now threatened immediate suffering in life. Masturbation, "oralism", and "analism" turned from religious offenses into psychiatric disorders, and thus the sinners found themselves suddenly transformed into the mentally ill.

Still, in the course of time, a growing number of psychiatrists began to examine the unquestioned general assumptions about the purpose of sexual behavior, and, as a result, they became much more cautious in their pronouncements. Much of what at first had been labeled as "perverse" and "aberrant" was now simply called "immature", and it was no longer always seen as a symptom of illness. As a matter of fact, masturbation and oral intercourse began to be widely accepted as healthy and therapeutic. It is true that even today some traditional psychiatric texts still define the regular preference for noncoital sex as a "perversion" which must be corrected, but the majority of modern psychiatrists no longer share this formalistic approach. Instead, they are more interested in the subjective and objective effects of sexual activity. There is now a consensus among most professionals that labels like illness, perversion, disorder, and abnormality should be strictly reserved for those cases where sexual acts cause distress in the person who performs them, or where they are clearly harmful to others. According to this view of human sexuality, noncoital sex as such need never cause anybody's concern. On the other hand, in certain cases such as rape, coitus itself may very well become a psychiatric problem. (For details, see "Problematic Sexual Behavior.")

There is., of course, every reason to believe that genital intercourse wil! never become unpopular. In the past, it has always been the preferred form of lovemaking for most people, and it will certainly remain so in the future. However, in our own society, which is only now emerging from a long period of sexual repression, many couples may still have to learn how to make the most of it. (See also "Sexual Dysfunction.")

Apposition of Sex Organs

When unmarried teenagers first begin to experiment with sexual intercourse, they often avoid the insertion of the penis into the vagina because they fear an unwanted pregnancy, or because the girl wants to preserve her "virginity" (see "Adolescence"). However, since at least the boys usually become highly aroused during their loveplay, girls sometimes allow them to reach orgasm by "heavy petting". For example, a girl who does not feel very excited herself may encourage her boyfriend to go through the motions of coitus while lying fully clothed on top of her. Most boys easily reach orgasm this way, and, among themselves, they refer to the experience as "dry humping". As their girl friends gradually allow them more liberties, they may remove some or most of their clothing, and eventually the couple may even decide to continue their experiments in complete nudity. Nevertheless, the girl may, for a while, still fear a conception or want to keep an unbroken hymen (the thin membrane that stretches across the vaginal opening). She may also worry about bleeding and pain, or an infection with a venereal disease. Still, she may gladly permit her boyfriend to rub his penis against her vulva, as long as he does not try to insert it. Indeed, such an apposition of the male and female sex organs can be quite pleasant for both partners, and, with some practice, both of them may very well become able to reach orgasm through this technique. (After all, the penis is stimulated directly, and, as it pushes against certain areas of the vulva, it can indirectly stimulate the sensitive clitoris and the minor lips.) Even couples who normally engage in coitus may sometimes enjoy this simple form of sexual intercourse, if the woman's internal sex organs become too sensitive because of some injury or disease. (See "Pain During Sexual Intercourse.")

However, it is perhaps unwise to think of the apposition of sex organs only as a substitute for coitus. Some men and women may see it as a valuable experience in its own right, and they may find their own ways of making it especially exciting. Thus, they may regularly engage in it after cunnilingus, when the vulva is well drenched in saliva and vaginal lubrication, or they may use special lubricants which protect their sex organs against irritation and which enhance their mutual sensitivity.


The terms "coitus" and "coition" (from Latin coire: to go together) refer to the insertion of the penis into the vagina—probably the most common form of sexual intercourse. (It is also the only kind of sexual intercourse that can lead to the conception of a child.)

There have been human societies where sexual contact between males and females was restricted to coitus without any preliminaries, variations, or improvisations. Such societies usually put a heavy emphasis on the procreative function of sex and discouraged all sexual pleasure, especially in women. Indeed, there are still some men even in our own culture who are interested only in the union of penis and vagina, and for whom any other loveplay is a ridiculous nuisance. Moreover, their coitus may never last more than a few seconds, and thus, apart from a quick orgasm, these men may find little sexual enjoyment. Their female partners, on the other hand, often remain completely frustrated. However, there are also some couples who turn their sexual intercourse into a slow, elaborate, and highly varied ritual. They may see coitus as only one among many ways of satisfying each other, but when they engage in it, they may do so for several hours at a time.

tn recent decades, the invention of reliable contraceptives has freed many men and women from the fear of an unwanted pregnancy. This, in turn, has increased their enjoyment of coitus. More and more women insist on their right to sexual satisfaction and are no longer content with simply playing the role of a "sex object". They not only like to receive pleasure, but also to give it, and instead of just waiting to be aroused, they become truly equal sexual partners. Many couples now realize that coitus is not something that has to take place between an "active" male and a "passive" female, but that it is most satisfying when they both really "go together" or when they let the initiative shift back and forth between them. Thus, coitus has gained a new importance as a means of human communication.

It is easy enough to start coitus, but, as with all other forms of sexual intercourse, complete mutual satisfaction is almost always the result of practice and experience. Young people especially often tend to expect too much too soon. Most boys and girls think, dream, and even talk about their first coitus long before it actually occurs, and their hopes, fears, and fantasies can turn the eventual real experience into something of an anticlimax. A good example is the great significance that is usually attributed to a girl's "defloration", i.e., the rupturing of her hymen (the thin membrane that stretches across the vaginal opening). The hymen may, of course, be ruptured by the use of tampons, by masturbation, or as a result of certain athletic activities. Still, in most females it remains more or less intact until that moment when a penis is first inserted into the vagina. Many adolescents have exaggerated and unrealistic ideas about this moment and may, in fact, worry about it years in advance. Thus, a boy may wonder if his penis will ever be hard enough to penetrate the hymen, and a girl may anticipate some painful physical injury. However, none of these worries are justified. There is no need for males to be tough and brutal because the hymen normally ruptures very easily. Indeed, a gradual, slow, and gentle approach is best. Females, on the other hand, may experience some discomfort and slight bleeding, but they need not fear any great pain. Only in very rare cases does the hymen prove to be too thick for penetration, but then a physician can easily solve the problem in his office by a simple surgical procedure.

In general, couples are well advised not to begin coitus suddenly and hastily, but to take their time working up to it in a deliberate fashion. For instance, they may greatly heighten their pleasure by first engaging in some kind of manual or oral intercourse. (This way a woman may even enjoy one or several orgasms before coitus.) At any rate, coitus should be attempted only when the vagina has produced enough of its own natural lubrication. As a woman becomes sexually excited during her loveplay, the vaginal walls begin to secrete a clear fluid which protects them against irritation and which makes the smooth insertion of the penis possible. Without such lubrication coitus can be painful for both partners. (It is only with advancing age that the natural vaginal lubrication may become insufficient in some women. The condition can usually be improved by hormone therapy. There are also some prelubricated condoms on the market which may prove helpful in such cases. However, certain artificial household lubricants, such as Vaseline which can be used in manual and anal intercourse, should not be introduced into the vagina.)

Once the woman's vagina is sufficiently lubricated, the man can gradually insert his penis. There is no need to penetrate very deeply right away, because, in spite of her sexual excitement, the woman may still feel a little tense for a while. In this case, the man can often help her relax by slowly moving just the tip of his penis back and forth in the outer part of the vagina. Then, when she feels like it, she can deepen the penetration by her own pelvic thrusting. Pelvic thrusting during sexual intercourse comes "naturally" to all mammals and can, in fact, already be observed in human infants when they begin to discover and enjoy their sexual responses (see "Infancy and Childhood"). However, instinctual as this behavior may be, it can be greatly improved upon by experienced lovers.

Men with limited sexual experience may believe that unvaried, deep, and quick thrusts are the most effective, but in actual fact this is rarely the case. At least at the beginning of coitus, a man can give and receive much more pleasure by moving slowly and keeping the penetration shallow. Indeed, he may learn a great deal by first leaving the initiative to the woman. In most cases, she will prefer long and deliberate movements in which the tip of the penis is withdrawn toward the vaginal opening before each new deep penetration. The reason for this is simple: With mounting sexual excitement, the inner portion of the vagina widens while the outer third narrows as it becomes congested with blood. In other words, it is the outer third of the vagina (the so-called orgasmic platform) which provides the greatest stimulation for the penis. (For details, see "The Female Sexual Response.")

At this point, it should also be mentioned that many women learn to control the interior muscles surrounding the vaginal entrance. Thus, they keep a firm grip on the penis and increase the mutual stimulation even further. (Women who have a wide and slack vaginal entrance, who are unaware of their vaginal muscles, or who find them underdeveloped, can improve their condition by appropriate exercises. (See "Sexual Dysfunction in Women—Absence of Orgasm.")

As man and woman continue their coitus, they usually accelerate their pelvic thrusting and aim for a deeper penetration of the vagina. Sometimes only one partner executes all these movements, while the other remains relatively passive; at other times, both partners move together. Furthermore, within their general rhythmic pattern, they may greatly vary their thrusts from deep to shallow, and they may also let the penis rotate deep inside the vagina by a circular forward and back motion of their hips.

Only experience can teach a particular couple how to derive the greatest pleasure from coitus, but if they are sensitive to each other's reactions, they will soon learn how to satisfy each other best. After all, coitus is, above everything else, an intimate interaction of two individuals, and no expert technical advice can ever help them as much as direct and open communication. The woman especially should never be afraid to tell the man exactly how she likes to be stimulated, and she should realize that she acts in their mutual interest when she abandons herself to her own sexual feelings. While a man may want to retain some control over the timing of his orgasm, a woman never needs to hold back. She can continue to have orgasms as long as he can keep his erection.

Unfortunately, many men and women diminish their enjoyment of coitus by an overconcern with orgasm. Since men know that they can reach orgasm relatively quickly, they may wonder whether they will last long enough to satisfy their partners. Women, on the other hand, may fear that their orgasm will not come soon enough, or that they will have no orgasm at all. Needless to say, such secret worries can seriously interfere with a couple's communication and even make normal sexual functioning impossible.

It seems that most couples would find greater sexual happiness if they concentrated more on the process of coitus itself and less on its possible outcome. There is no law that says orgasm has to be the goal of every sexual encounter. Indeed, when it comes to making love, people do themselves a disservice if they strive for any specific goal at all. It is the shared experience of physical pleasure, not its "climax" or "successful" finale, that makes coitus worthwhile. Thus, for experienced lovers the artful build-up of tension is more important than its eventual release. Orgasm is simply something that happens involuntarily at the height of sexual stimulation; it is not a prize that has to be fought for and won.

In some older marital guides, couples were urged not only to strive for orgasm, but also to reach their orgasms simultaneously. As a reward, they were promised an experience of total ecstasy. In actual fact, however, this curious advice did more harm than good, and it is easy to understand why. First of all, it put the emphasis not on the sexual act, but on its result. Secondly, it forced both partners to adopt a cold and detached attitude that would allow them to remain in control at all times. Such an attitude then often prevented them from having any orgasm at all. Finally, those men and women who failed to synchronize their responses were made to feel inadequate.

It is fortunate that this mechanistic approach to coitus has gone out of fashion. In the meantime, most "sex experts" have become more realistic and therefore see simultaneous orgasms no longer as proof of a perfect relationship. As a matter of fact, there is now a growing realization that it is better to stop worrying about orgasms altogether. Instead, couples learn to savor every moment of intimacy for its own sake without trying to achieve or prove anything in particular. Paradoxically, it has turned out that it is this nondemanding, leisurely loveplay that provides the deepest satisfaction. It often helps to unblock long inhibited sexual responses and thus increases a person's erotic capacities. Naturally, it also leads to more orgasms. {For details, see "Sexual Dysfunction.")

In the past, most Christian Western cultures expected the faithful to have coitus in only one position: face-to-face, with the woman lying on her back and the man on top of her. (The less inhibited "heathens" of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands used to ridicule it as the "missionary position".) However, with the increase of cross-cultural contact in the 19th century, Europeans and Americans realized that their approach to sex was unnecessarily rigid. They began to search ancient Greek vase paintings, Roman murals, Chinese scrolls, Japanese woodcuts, and Indian love manuals for new, exciting coital positions, and their discoveries soon led them to believe that they had found the long lost secrets of true sexual fulfillment.

However, while rigidity and routine in sexual matters are undoubtedly bad, there is no special magic in ever-varying athletic contortions. Nor is there such a thing as the ultimate, superior, or even natural or normal position for coitus. It is for this reason that the most recent Western marital guides no longer devote much space to the description of coital positions. After all, imaginative sexual partners who try to satisfy all of their needs and desires will vary their approaches spontaneously as the circumstances require, and thus they will continue to find new coital positions on their own. Detailed descriptions of such positions are unnecessary and may even be harmful because they tend to encourage a mechanistic view of coitus.
Indeed, it is perhaps unwise to list any distinct and clearly defined coital positions at all. Coitus always involves a series of movements which form a continuous whole, and most partners shift from one position to another without any advance planning or conscious effort. It seems pedantic to single out 10, 12, 20, or more particular postures and to ascribe to each of them some special meaning. One can, of course, differentiate between a few basic approaches to coitus, but their number is really quite limited: the partners may stand, sit, or lie down; they may face each other, or the woman may turn her back to the man; either partner can be on top, or they can both lie on their sides.

It used to be believed that certain coital approaches were especially effective because they made it possible for a man to stimulate a woman's clitoris with his penis. By the same token, certain other approaches were considered inferior because they allowed the penis to leave the clitoris completely unstimulated. Modern sex research has shown that both assumptions are false. As repeatedly mentioned in this book, with mounting sexual excitement the clitoris withdraws under its hood and thus becomes inaccessible to any direct stimulation. However, it is stimulated indirectly by the movements of this hood which are caused by the pushing and pulling of the attached minor lips as the penis moves back and forth inside the vagina. This indirect stimulation is almost always assured. It does not matter all that much from which direction or at what angle the penis is inserted.

However, there is one approach that many women find particularly satisfying, because it gives them almost complete control over the coital movements: straddling the man who lies passively on his back. This approach was also very popular among the ancient Greeks and Romans and was, in fact, considered "normal" by them. Today, it is often recommended by sex therapists because it seems to help both men and women to overcome sexual inadequacies. (For details, see "Sexual Dysfunction.")

There are also women who prefer to remain rather passive themselves, and who enjoy lying on their backs while carrying the weight of a man's body. For them, the "missionary position" (man on top of woman, facing her) may indeed be the most rewarding. Furthermore, if they flex their legs in this position they make it possible for the penis to penetrate very deeply into the vagina, thus increasing the chance of a pregnancy. (The ejaculated semen forms a so-called seminal pool close to the cervix, and a woman can favor a fertilization simply by remaining on her back for a while after coitus.) Furthermore, the deep penetration itself may be sexually rewarding for many women, and thus they may spontaneously shift to coital positions which make this possible.

Finally, it remains to be stated that people who are obese or weak usually find it most comfortable to have coitus while lying on their sides. Indeed, a rear entry approach in this position may be the least stressful of all. It naturally also recommends itself to women in the later stages of pregnancy.


[Title Page] [Contents] [Preface] [Introduction] [The Human Body] [Sexual Behavior] [Development of Behavior] [Types of Activity] [Sexual Maladjustment] [Sex and Society] [Epilogue] [Sexual Slang Glossary] [Sex Education Test] [Picture Credits]