According to the dictionary, the word intercourse (from the Latin intercurrere: to run between) can refer to any interchange or communication between persons. Thus, one may speak of social intercourse in general or, more specifically, of visual intercourse between people who wink at each other, of oral intercourse between people who talk to each other, and of manual intercourse between people who shake hands. However, today many doctors, lawyers, and other professionals use the term in a much narrower sense. When they speak of intercourse, they mean only one particular kind of communication: sexual intercourse. Indeed, they often mean only one particular kind of sexual intercourse: coitus.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, this narrow professional usage has also been widely accepted by the general public. For example, popular marriage manuals now often distinguish between "intercourse" (coitus) and "petting" (all other forms of sexual intimacy). They also declare that the dramatic event of "intercourse" itself should be preceded by "foreplay" and followed by "afterplay". In short, they imply by their very language that the only sexual contact that really counts is that between penis and vagina.
This is a very shortsighted view. After all, as we have seen in the first part of this book, the human sexual response involves the whole body, and orgasm can be reached in many different ways. (See "The Male Sexual Response." and "The Female Sexual Response.") Statistically speaking, coitus may very well be the most common form of sexual contact, but it is by no means the only one. Indeed, for many men and women it is not even the one they like best. Furthermore, there are countless individuals who are physically unable to engage in coitus because of certain handicaps, injuries, or diseases. Nevertheless, many of them can and do have satisfying sexual relationships.
Coitus is, of course, the only form of sexual intercourse that can lead to the procreation of children, and in our culture it has therefore long been extolled as superior. According to Jewish and Christian religious traditions, sex and procreation were meant to be inseparable. Any sexual activity that, by its very nature, could not lead to pregnancy was considered sinful and had to be discouraged. As a result, in most Western countries the sin also became a crime. Noncoital intercourse was declared a serious offense, and the punishment could be very severe. Finally, modern psychiatrists turned the crime into a disease by claiming that adults who did not prefer coitus to any other sexual activity were mentally ill, or at least "immature". (For further details, see "Conformity and Deviance.")
Today, we are beginning to realize that these negative attitudes toward all sexual intercourse except coitus have needlessly impoverished many lives. Indeed, there is little doubt that the constant preoccupation with penis and vagina and the neglect of other "erogenous zones" of the body can actually make men and women insensitive and thus prevent their normal sexual functioning. (See "Sexual Inadequacy.") This is exactly why so many modern "sex experts" emphasize the need for "petting" and "foreplay". However, even these well-meaning people still fail to recognize the real issue. As long as coitus is described as the supreme and ultimate form of sexual intercourse, all other forms will obviously have to be considered inferior. At best, they will be treated as "variations" or "substitutions", and their main function will always be to serve as some sort of "prologue" or "epilogue" to the "main event". In other words, couples will still feel obliged to justify their spontaneous sexual experiments by trying to lead up to coitus. They will continue to divide sexual intercourse into acts, chapters, or escalating phases, and they will remain unable to develop their full erotic potential.
It is for this reason that, in this book, we do not follow the standard approach of other sex guides and marriage manuals, but treat the subject in a more general way. Thus, instead of trying to impose a specific sexual preference on the reader, we begin with a very simple definition:
Sexual intercourse is any communication between persons that involves a sexual response.
Such communication can, of course, take many different forms. People may respond sexually to each other when they embrace and kiss, but also when they just look into each other's eyes or talk to each other on the telephone. In other words, they may never touch each other's sex organs and, indeed, may have no direct physical contact at all. Still, as long as there is some interchange and a mutual awareness of sexual feelings, there is sexual intercourse in the true sense of the word.
This is where the entire matter might well rest were it not for the clergymen, lawyers, and doctors who feel that they must somehow specify, classify, and categorize what people do to each other when they make love. Naturally, each professional discipline has its own perceptions and concerns, and anybody who likes professional jargon can easily come up with new special terms of his own. The possibilities are virtually endless. Even sexual intercourse without direct physical contact can be divided into several subcategories. For example, a person who is stimulated by an obscene phone call, and who actually encourages the caller, may be said to engage in "vocal and aural intercourse". In the same vein, the relationship between an exhibitionist and a voyeur may well be called "visual intercourse". Indeed, there is no reason why one should not speak of "postal intercourse" between people who send each other sexually arousing letters or photographs.
However, as the examples illustrate, this kind of terminology can eventually become so specific as to be ludicrous. For practical purposes, some professionals have therefore agreed on just a few basic terms which describe only those forms of sexual intercourse that involve direct physical contact with the sex organs of at least one of the participants. This compromise approach is not perfect, but it simplifies the matter considerably, and, since it has found wide popular acceptance, we might as well use it here to give some shape and structure to our discussion. Thus, following modern general usage, we distinguish between four basic types of sexual intercourse:
• We speak of manual intercourse (from Latin manus: hand) when the sex organs of one partner are in contact with the hand(s) of the other.
• We speak of oral intercourse (from Latin os: mouth) when the sex-organs of one partner are in contact with the mouth of the other.
• We speak of genital intercourse (from Latin genitalia: organs of generation) when the sex organs of one partner are in contact with the sex organs of the other.
• We speak of anal intercourse (from Latin anus: rectal opening) when the sex organs of one partner are in contact with the anus of the other.
These are, of course, purely technical distinctions, and they are not meant to suggest clear-cut alternatives or separate and exclusive approaches. It is true that there are some men and women who restrict themselves to only one type of sexual intercourse, but most couples today prefer to make love by freely switching from one approach to another. Thus, their intercourse may first be manual, then oral, and finally genital. Indeed, if one wanted to be pedantic about it, one could introduce several more distinctions and speak, for example, of "femoral intercourse" (from Latin femora: thighs) and "mammary intercourse" (from Latin mamma: breast) when a man places his penis between the thighs or breasts of his partner. After all, a couple may spend hours in each other's arms trying all possible variations of lovemaking before they reach orgasm. At other times, they may simply relish the process of mutual stimulation itself without reaching any orgasm at all. None of this makes any difference for the purposes of our definition. It is always the whole of a couple's sexual interaction that matters, not just its possible last phase.
On the other hand, we have to remember that it is only the sexual character of this interaction that concerns us here. For example, our definition of manual intercourse does not apply to the manipulation of a patient's sex organs by an examining physician. The mere fact that the sex organs of one person come in contact with the hands, mouth, sex organs, or anus of another is, in itself, no reason to speak of sexual intercourse. The term is justified only if at least one of them shows a sexual response which is noticed and encouraged by the other. (This also means, among other things, that children who touch each other's sex organs out of sheer curiosity are not engaging in sexual intercourse.)
While it is relatively easy to agree on a general definition of sexual intercourse, it would be foolish to attempt a standard description of it. Among human beings, sex is essentially a personal matter. Each individual has different sexual interests, and therefore no two couples ever make love in quite the same way. Some follow a single pattern throughout their lives, some try specific approaches on specific occasions, and some just go on seeking variety for its own sake. There are couples who need only a few minutes or even seconds for their lovemaking, and there are others who prolong it for hours. Some men and women never repeat the experience at all, others repeat it regularly, but at rather long intervals, and still others continue to have sexual intercourse several times a day for many years.
There is nothing wrong with any of these choices as long as they are satisfying to those directly involved, and it is preposterous for any religious, legal, or medical expert to tell them otherwise. Unfortunately, this is exactly what, in the past, many such experts tried to do. Instead of encouraging people to find their own way to happiness and to develop their individual capacities for pleasure, they established a rigid ideal of "natural", "normal", and "healthy" sexual intercourse toward which everyone was supposed to strive. All deviations from this ideal were declared to be "unnatural", abnormal", and "sick".
As already mentioned, in our own particular culture coitus was, for a very long time, the only acceptable sexual activity. In fact, even today many states of the United States still punish noncoital sex as a "crime against nature". Thus, even married couples who engage in oral intercourse are to be regarded as depraved and dangerous criminals, and if their "crime" should come to the attention of a court, they may be sentenced to long prison terms. These laws are not any less absurd because they are rarely enforced. Indeed, their necessarily selective enforcement renders them all the more scandalous. However, at least as objectionable as the laws themselves is the primitive view of human sexuality that inspired them. In this view/ sexual intercourse between human beings is nothing but a means of producing offspring, just like the mating of cattle. There is no room for refinement and cultivation. Indeed, any attempt at such refinement is a perversion of the "natural order." Man may strive to perfect himself in all other spheres of life, but in his sexual activity he must never rise above the level of beasts.
Fortunately, in the meantime, most people in our society have adopted a more civilized attitude. They realize that a sexual relationship involves each partner as a whole person, and that the demand to restrict sexual contact to specific areas of the body is, in itself, perverse. Thus, at least in practice, sexual experimentation has now become widely accepted.
Nevertheless, even today there are many couples who fail to develop their full erotic potential, if for a slightly different reason. They may no longer fear to bring variety to their (ovemaking, but they may continue to see it merely as a means to an end. That is to say, just like their forebears, they are still concerned with the product rather than the process of sexual intercourse. From a means of producing offspring, they have simply turned it into a means of producing orgasm. In short, they still lack the capacity to relish sexual pleasure as an end in itself. However, it is this very capacity that binds men and women together, provides for their deepest satisfaction, and ensures their sexual functioning well into their old age.
The following pages offer a few broad hints at some forms of sexual intercourse without any special emphasis on either reproduction or orgasm. Here, as elsewhere in this book, the main purpose is simply to clarify some terms, to describe certain techniques, and to point out various possibilities. The choice among these possibilities has to be left to each individual. The text makes no attempt to establish any standard, norm, or goal of sexual intercourse except that of mutual pleasure.