Lately I’ve noticed an increase in the phrase “have sex” in news reports, as in “A teacher accused of having sex with a sixteen-year-old student was arrested yesterday.” Every report of illegal sexual contact says somebody “had sex” or is accused of “having sex” or denies they “had sex,” and every time I read one of those “have sex” stories I feel vaguely alarmed. Not that somebody did or did not “have sex” with somebody else, but that the term “have sex” has come to mean sexual intercourse. At least I think that’s what it means. At least for today.
There was a time when public definition of the word “sex” was both a synonym for “gender” and a catch-all euphemism for every form of sexual contact. But when Bill Clinton said, “I did not have sex with that woman,” the whole country made a shift in the definition of what it meant to “have sex.” If our President could claim he hadn’t “had sex” with Monica because he’d only had oral sex, that gave a whole new meaning to “sex.” What a guy! He not only balanced the national budget, he gave presidential sanction to BJs.
Now pre-teen girls hook up with boys a la Lewinsky, and young women who choose to be virgins until they marry have plenty of oral sex. I’m not criticizing that — oral sex is a lot smarter than the kind of sex that can give you AIDS or make you pregnant — it’s just that denying that it’s “sex” it’s a new way of defining the word.
I continue to think of “sex” as male or female gametes, a characteristic shared by all plant, animal, and human life. I’m probably the only person in the western hemisphere who does a little mental bobble when I read in the morning paper of somebody “having sex.” When I see it, I think, “Well, don’t we all?”
Yes, I’m between manuscripts. Yes, I have way too much time on my hands. Yes, I’m wasting attention on inane things. Yes, it’s time to get back to work.