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What Is The Definition Of Sex?

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fatdogs12
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Today in the live chat room I had a 45 minute argument which I said that people could have sex without it being a celebration of values and the other person said it was impossible.

By "sex" I meant any type of act which uses the sexual organs of human beings.

But we argued for that entire time because he said sex stood for:

"the mutual celebration of values between two or more human animals".

So basically we disagreed because we used different meanings for our concepts. However if his definition is correct what would we use to mean sex by my definition above. I think most certainly most people use sex by the first definition rather than the second. I mean if a doctor or a new girlfriend asked when was the first time you had sex I can't imagine them meaning the second definition.

It seems to me that the second definition would create conceptual chaos because now instead of saying "I had sex with Jane last night" I would have to say "I had intercourse with jane and we also did this act and this other act".

After checking the dictionary the first definition seems closer and the second doesn't seem right. Also if the 1st is right then was would be the word for the second definition? "Make love" is what occured to me but I was told that is was different (though I don't see the distinction) from sex (his version of sex that is).

So what do you think is the proper definition and why?

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"the mutual celebration of values between two or more human animals".

This seems very false to me. Would a party to celebrate the launch of a new product in a company then be an orgy by definition? I agree with your definition regarding the sexual organs.

However, I agree that if sex is "mutual celebration of values", it is better. But then, if you have something to celebrate, your food tastes better too and the world looks brighter in general.

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I don't have a formal definition to offer. However, if I were thinking more about this, I would remind myself of at least these points:

1. A word (such as "sex") is a symbol naming an idea (or, in the case of proper nouns, directly naming a thing). Sometimes one symbol ("sex") can name two or more ideas.

2. The word "sex" can name an idea referring to a certain kind of activity. (It can also name an idea for a certain kind of state of an organism: "What is the sex of that cat?")

3. The meaning of an idea depends, in part, on the context. Purpose, among other factors, sets context. The meaning of "sex" as an activity might be different for a biologist than it would be for a philosopher.

4. A definition is not the same as an idea. A definition (formal or informal) is merely a way for the mind to grasp an idea in its essentials in a certain context. No mind can think in terms of exhaustive catalogues of detail descriptions. We need "handles" on our ideas. That is what a defintion provides.

5. A definition usually should be expressed in terms of essential distinguishing characteristics. That is, characteristics which are both essential (causal, explanatory of most other characteristics) and distinguishing (in relation to other entities in the same group). I doubt that "mutual celebration of values" is both an essential and a distinguishing characteristic of sex. If someone thinks it is, the onus of proof is on him.

6. If someone is defining sex in the broadest context, why would he limit it to "human animals"? If the broadest context is not being examined, then the one proposing a definition should specify his context.

Edited by BurgessLau
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It seems to me that the second definition would create conceptual chaos [...]

Yes, mainly because it is a definition by non-essentials. As far as I can tell, it is a description of what a certain activity should mean, evaluatively, to the individuals involved. It is not, by itself, a description of what the individuals are actually doing.

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By "sex" I meant any type of act which uses the sexual organs of human beings.
That's the closer of the two, but still not close enough. First, animals have sex as well. Second, taking a pee isn't having sex. Third, certain medical exams aren't having sex. Fourth, masturbation isn't having sex. I'll leave the fifth and sixth points to your imagination. The point is that you need to sort out the acts that you want to include, for some purpose, and the ones you want to exclude. According to some definitions (like, that of Mr. Bill, one widely accepted by many young people according to surveys), our previous president didn't have sex with an intern in the White House.
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Only on an Objectivism forum could this question be asked and answered without a hint of irony :)

But seriously, from a purely biological perspective, I'd say that the reproductive aspect is the most fundamental. There are 'derivative' types of sex such as homosexual intercourse and 'sex for pleasure', but if you want a scientific, species-neutral definition then something like "a capacity for reproduction involving 2 members of the species" would probably be best (unless asexual reproduction (worms?) is classed as sex?). If you want something along the genus-differentia lines, then 'reproductive act' would probably be the genus, and you'd have to ask a biologist for the best way of formulating the differentia.

Of course this is only one context in which the term can be defined, and something less 'dehumanising' might be required for other purposes, which is where things like shared values and the like come in. Human sexuality is obviously far more complex than that of other animals, so a 'species-neutral' description barely scratches the surface. From the point of view of a particular human, the reproductive aspects of sex might be irrelevant, or even a serious drawback (I doubt that I'll ever want to have kids, yet I still enjoy sex).

Edited by Hal
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but if you want a scientific, species-neutral definition then something like "a capacity for reproduction involving 2 members of the species" would probably be best (unless asexual reproduction (worms?) is classed as sex?).
Wait, I'm confused. If having the capacity for reproduction is "sex", then does that mean that most adults are having sex 24/7. And then if you're had a vasectomy, even if you're doing it you aren't having sex? Maybe what you mean is that "sex" describes the actions required to reproduce, in which case Clinton told the truth.
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Shouldn't a contextual distinction be made first?

1. Sex (biology) = procreation involving two genders (sex meaning gender is a wee bit misleading, but an appropriate susbstitute etymologically)

2. Sex (ethics) = a mutually physical act of affection between people, usually involving (but not limited to) intercourse, based on mutual values (even if it's just a one-night stand)

3. Sex (legal) = consult a legal dictionary, I dunno, but I'm sure the legal definition(s) omit a lot of what can be ethically defined as "sex"

In my assessment, I exclude forms of abuse, rape, and bestiality; those are acts of coercion that are sexual in nature. I'm sure my definitions above could use lots of tweaking, but there are clearly a few ways to look at sex, all objectively, all within different contexts. So, answering the President Clinton question - "is it sex?" - no on two counts and yes on one. (It's no surprise that the Republican's witch-hunt ignored the legal and ethical disctinction, and the President exploited it in his defense.)

Fatdogs12's chat discussion was probably more focused on the ethical definition, not the biological one. The field is wide open for what constitutes a sexual act, as each person has their own lines to draw.

How one decides to express that capacity - be it for a different partner each night, or a committed monogamous relationship, or anywhere in between - is another issue entirely, involving a specific kind of morality, be it an alley cat's, a monk's, or Dagny Taggart's.

Edited by synthlord
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Shouldn't a contextual distinction be made first?

Fatdogs12's chat discussion was probably more focused on the ethical definition, not the biological one. The field is wide open for what constitutes a sexual act, as each person has their own lines to draw.

How one decides to express that capacity - be it for a different partner each night, or a committed monogamous relationship, or anywhere in between - is another issue entirely, involving a specific kind of morality, be it an alley cat's, a monk's, or Dagny Taggart's.

I think that this person was thinking in the context of a proper sexual relationship. Meaning that is what a proper sexual relationship should be. While I agree, it seems to me that proper or "Rational" sex as he put it would be a more abstract subcategory of sex.

As David pointed out my definition was not exact either because it would include a few things that were not sexual activities.

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Yeah, I'd consider anal sex, sex. Also, I would consider a blow-job sex.

The thing is, I find it almost impossible to imagine any rational context where questions like "does a blowjob/anal count as sex?" would arise and be valid things to ask. The only situation in which I can imagine someone raising this issue seriously would be where he's trying to get out of things on a technicality (eg Bill Clinton, or someone telling his girlfriend that he didnt 'really' cheat on her since it wasnt full sex, or a religious person telling themselves that they are still technically a virgin). Its just not the sort of thing which is ever going to come up in a reasonable conversation.

Edited by Hal
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Its just not the sort of thing which is ever going to come up in a reasonable conversation.

The only context in which your statement would be true is one in which no one talks about sex or anything remotely related to it (and all the issues that have been identified as potentially related) in a reasonable conversation. We all know this is not true. "Did you have sex with X" is not something only presidents get asked or talk about.

Your assertion hardly removes the need for a proper definition of the term, in fact its a clear sign that it is needed. What you said seems to indicate that anything like what Mr. Clinton did requires no discussing of the details. That shows an implicit definition on your part.

Roughly I'd define sex as physical stimulation of the genitals by another person. This differentiates from masturbation and is independent from the purpose or means used. Forced sex is rape, sex for pleasure or for reproduction is still sex, all forms of intercourse are sex.

mrocktor

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Roughly I'd define sex as physical stimulation of the genitals by another person.

I like this definition, too. When I think about questions like "is phone-sex sex?" I usually think, "It's sort of sex." If sex is physical stimulation of the genitals by another person, that fits. Because the person on the other line is sort of physically stimulating your genitals. But not directly.

Similar with masturbation. Try masturbating without even thinking of another person. I don't think it's possible. "Another person" and "physical stimulation of the genitals" are definitely crucial elements of sex in its human application. Confining sex to mean only coital copulation seems too specific. There are several terms to describe vaginal intercourse, and there are terms (such as "mess around" or "make out") to describe related activities to the exclusion of coitus, but "sex" is just about the only term I know of that encompasses intercourse as well as closely related activities.

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Sex is the vaginal penetration of the penis.

I'm fully with you here, this isn't a hard question. Next thing you know everyone else here is going to be debating what the definition of is--is.

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EC, that is a poor definition.

Oral sex is called oral sex and not oral "fluffing" or something. We have homosexuals and not homofluffuals (since by your definition homosexuality is impossible).

Defining sex as the physical act as it is performed for reproductive purposes is defining by non-essentials. The essential issues are:

1. sex involves the genitals

2. sex involves more than one person

mrocktor

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And by your definition, phone sex is sex, simply because the phrase contains the word "sex."

Here's how to define sex:

Imagine that someone asks you, "Have you had sex with your girlfriend yet?" If you have had vaginal intercourse, you will say yes. If she only gives you blowjobs, you will say no.

Now imagine that you are gay. If someone asks "Have you had sex with your boyfriend yet?" If you have had anal sex, you will say yes. If you only give handjobs to each other, you will say no.

Wow, I think that's the most graphic post I've ever had on these forums.

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And by your definition, phone sex is sex, simply because the phrase contains the word "sex."

Here's how to define sex:

Imagine that someone asks you, "Have you had sex with your girlfriend yet?" If you have had vaginal intercourse, you will say yes. If she only gives you blowjobs, you will say no.

Now imagine that you are gay. If someone asks "Have you had sex with your boyfriend yet?" If you have had anal sex, you will say yes. If you only give handjobs to each other, you will say no.

Wow, I think that's the most graphic post I've ever had on these forums.

You just contridicted your own definition. Before you sex is vaginal penetration withe the penis. Now it is anal penetration to?

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And by your definition, phone sex is sex, simply because the phrase contains the word "sex."

To whom are you responding?

Here's how to define sex:

Imagine that someone asks you, "Have you had sex with your girlfriend yet?" If you have had vaginal intercourse, you will say yes. If she only gives you blowjobs, you will say no.

Now imagine that you are gay. If someone asks "Have you had sex with your boyfriend yet?" If you have had anal sex, you will say yes. If you only give handjobs to each other, you will say no.

Wow, I think that's the most graphic post I've ever had on these forums.

You can't define sex by how it's used popularly. That is ultimately the subjectivist's response. Likewise, you can't define sex by some arbitrary 'outside' standard, since that is an intrincisist's response. The Objectivist definition of sex is something like Piekoff's answer. I can't seem to find that at the moment, however. Does anyone else know where it is?

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Yeah, I contradicted my definition because I hadn't thought of the homosexual context yet...so I modified it.

I don't like the idea of "Objectivist" definitions, because they tend to be incredibly esoteric. When no one else in the English-speaking world uses the word "selfish" the way we do, I tend to think that we're the ones who should change our vocabulary. The same would go for sex. I don't care what Peikoff's definition is, because I'm of the opinion that the definition of a word is subject to the predominant use.

Perfect example: the word "fuck" used to mean "love." Now it is considered a vulgar slang for sexual intercourse. Felipe even deleted one of my posts that contained it one time. Why did the meaning change? Because that's how people started using it.

Don't go accusing me of arguing against Objectivist principles. Words are just conglomerations of vocal sounds and have no innate meaning. The concepts of Objectivism do not in any way hinge on the words used to describe them. That's why, when I talk to someone not acquainted with Objectivism, I don't use the word "selfish." I use "self-interest." In here, people know what I mean, so I don't bother with the distinction.

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Yeah, I contradicted my definition because I hadn't thought of the homosexual context yet...so I modified it.

I don't like the idea of "Objectivist" definitions, because they tend to be incredibly esoteric. When no one else in the English-speaking world uses the word "selfish" the way we do, I tend to think that we're the ones who should change our vocabulary. The same would go for sex. I don't care what Peikoff's definition is, because I'm of the opinion that the definition of a word is subject to the predominant use.

Perfect example: the word "fuck" used to mean "love." Now it is considered a vulgar slang for sexual intercourse. Felipe even deleted one of my posts that contained it one time. Why did the meaning change? Because that's how people started using it.

Don't go accusing me of arguing against Objectivist principles. Words are just conglomerations of vocal sounds and have no innate meaning. The concepts of Objectivism do not in any way hinge on the words used to describe them. That's why, when I talk to someone not acquainted with Objectivism, I don't use the word "selfish." I use "self-interest." In here, people know what I mean, so I don't bother with the distinction.

When was the word f*** used to mean love? I checked a few dictionaries and I didn't find even an outdated use for that word with that meaning. To my knowledge it was never widely used that way. What are you baseing that on?

Did I accuse you of arguing against Objectivist principles? I don't recall doing it. First of all I agree with your on the last point. If am talking to non-Objectivists then I won't use Objectivist concepts as they aren't likely to be familiar with them.

Most of the concepts people use out there valid ones and I have wondered many times why Ayn Rand choose to create new definitions for words already in use. Selfish is a good example as self-interest is more like what Ayn Rand meant.

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