What is (Gay) Sex?

Dur, right? I’m a bit old for the talk about the birds and the bees.

Or am I? As a gold-star dyke, according to some people’s definition of what sex ‘is’ I could well be considered a virgin. But that’s my business, right? What I do and who I do it with is irrelevant to everybody else so they can all keep their beaks out. As long as I’m not breaking the law, it’s all good.

Except when the government gets involved.

The UK government is currently pushing through same-sex marriages (hurrah!), and one of the more amusing elements of this story is the fact that they set up a think-tank to look into what is considered consummation where the gays are concerned. The reason for this is simple: straight marriages can be annulled for non-consummation, and there should be parity in the law between gay and straight marriages if they’re to be considered the same thing.

For straight people, consummation is defined as the insertion of the penis into the vagina. There is no stipulation regarding protection or ejaculation. How, exactly, a court would go about determining if consummation has occurred I do not know. How many people these days get married as virgins – and how many women have hymens that survive all the usual running around rough-and-tumble of adolescence anyway?

So proving or disproving consummation in the normal course of things is bloody difficult. But how, in gay relationships, is consummation even defined? For men, is anal penetration required? And does it matter if one tops or bottoms? And heaven help us when it comes to women, because penetration seems to be the definition of sex according to common consensus. So do we have to break out the strap-ons in order to be legitimately married? But then, as a dildo isn’t a part of one’s anatomy, has only one woman technically consummated the relationship while the other hasn’t?

It’s a bloody minefield.

To backtrack slightly on the whole issue of consummation – it isn’t necessary in order to validate a marriage. Gone are the days when the happy couple is expected to engage in some carnal rite on the altar. Gone are the morning-after displays of bloodied bedsheets. People can marry at any age over their majority – we don’t expect a couple marrying in their 90s to have to consummate their relationship (but if they do, good on them!!). Rather, non-consummation is grounds for annulment (which means that officially the marriage never was; as opposed to divorce, when the marriage is recognised but has been dissolved) if one party so chooses. Plenty of people live in sexless marriages and are perfectly happy.

But back to sex. What, exactly, is it? Well perhaps we can look again to the legal profession for a definition by looking at what constitutes rape. We all know what that word means, right? But specifically what act do you think about when you think ‘rape’? I guarantee you’re thinking PIV penetration. Most people do. In fact, UK law defines rape as the non-consensual penetration of the vagina, anus or mouth by a penis. 

‘Fess up, do you consider a forced blow-job as rape or as sexual assault? Is there a difference? And can women commit rape, or are they defined as always the victim by their very biology?

Under UK law, a woman cannot commit a rape. She can commit assault by penetration (that’s specifically the penetration of vagina or anus with an object without consent — not the penetration of the mouth, note) or sexual assault (which is any kind of unwanted deliberately-sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed, with body or object).

Now I personally think that law needs changing. For a start, since the development of a certain little blue pill that can cause an erection whether a man wants it or not, men have been the victims of forced intercourse where they were the penetrative partner. Believe it or not, the actions of one group of women who dubbed themselves the Viagra Rape Squad was reported in the press with amusement. A recent case where a man broke into a shop, only to be taken captive by the female owner and used as her own personal sex toy for several days before she released him, was found equally entertaining by the masses. Men, it seems, cannot say no.

Such laws about male victims are grounded in two basic assumptions – 1. That men love sex and will never turn down an opportunity to get it (at least as long as they’re the penetrative partner), and 2. An erection equals consent. Never mind that it’s a physiological reaction to certain stimuli that can be induced with a little skilful prompting and prodding in the right areas; if he’s hard he’s – quite literally – up for it.

But that’s a topic for another rant blog post.

The fact is that the definition of rape varies widely from nation to nation, even in cultures that are considered largely similar. In New Jersey rape doesn’t exist as a crime, instead all levels of inappropriate sexual contact are considered equal under law and are penalised as sexual assault. In Pennsylvania rape requires not only penetration, but forceful penetration at that. Unless you’re threatened or beaten your assailant has ‘only’ committed the lesser crime of sexual assault. The maximum sentence for rape is twice that of sexual assault, by the way, so in Pennsylvania it’s in your best interest to fight back, even if you think your assailant is going to kill you if you don’t comply.

So if we struggle to define rape – generally taken by common consensus to be an act of forced sex – then how the hell do we define sex? Is holding hands sex? Is oral? Is penetration? Where is the line? And how the hell do you define whether or not a relationship has been consummated if you can’t define what consummation constitutes?

Consummation as a requirement of marriage is an archaic principle founded on the basis that marriage unites a couple for the purpose of procreation. We know, however, that many, many couples marry without any hope or chance of procreating naturally. Infertility is on the rise; many people are putting of marriage until later in life, and particularly many second and third marriages are conducted after the woman has reached menopause; many people suffer illnesses, disabilities and accidents that prevent them from functioning sexually; and then there are same-sex couples. Try as I might, I’m not going to knock my missus up (but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to try…).

So if marriage and procreation no longer go hand-in-hand (and let’s face it, they never really did: the Biblical story of Rachel and Leah and the handmaid proxies, anyone?) then the consummation clause isn’t really necessary. No partner should be able to demand of their spouse that they perform sexually – that’s simply institutionalised rape. The law in the west has largely changed to reflect that fact (although for centuries it stood that a wife was her husband’s property and if he wanted to have sex with her, he could), and common consensus is slowly – slooooooowly – catching up. (Despite the sickening examples in the courts every single day of people drawing arbitrary lines between rape in a relationship, dating or drunk context; and ‘serious rape’, which usually involves a demure young woman, a violent stranger and a deserted alleyway in the middle of the night.)

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a conjugal right – nothing, but nothing, gives you the ‘right’ to free access to someone else’s body, even if you are married to them. Sex is not the foundation, or even a requirement, of a stable, loving, committed relationship. We do not live in the middle ages and procreation is not a purpose or requirement of marriage. Ergo, consummation – or the lack thereof – is an absolutely redundant concept in the twenty-first century.

As redundant and archaic as it is now, however, I can understand the logic behind its introduction. With the world on a procreation drive, and procreation being limited to within marriages, it stood to reason that each married couple should at least have the ability to perform the act which can lead to reproduction. With seven billion of us teeming the planet and the production of offspring being pretty much accepted whether within marriage or not (at least in the west), I think it’s about time the silly old law was dropped. Rather like the laws that said it was legal to shoot dead an Irishman within the city walls of Chester after the gates were shut,  it’s obsolete in modern society.

It is certainly obsolete when we move into the realm of same-sex sexuality. We’re not going to have children; our sex lives are not, and will never be, procreative. We do what we do because it feels good, because we desire it, because it makes us feel happy and loved and cherished. Y’know, the same reason that most straight people hop into the sack. It’s fun.

That doesn’t mean that we all do the same things in bed. For straight people, PIV sex is undoubtedly the ‘main’ sexual act, predominantly because of the importance placed on it as an act of (potential) procreation. That doesn’t mean that every straight couple has to engage in it; or that their sex life is invalid if they don’t.

Increasingly I am seeing anal penetration presented as the ‘main’ sexual act among gay men, but it is certainly not the case that every gay couple engages in it. Making PIA sex a mandatory requirement of a union between gay men is absurd because the anus is not (whisper it and run for the hills) a dedicated site of sexual activity. Most women who are not down with a bit of back door action would be absolutely horrified if their partners insisted on it. It would probably be a deal-breaker for some. That doesn’t mean to say that anal penetration isn’t a site of extreme sexual pleasure for those who engage in and enjoy it, rather that it shouldn’t be considered mandatory for anyone. It’s a personal choice and should be made on an individual basis. It should not, not ever, be considered the ‘primary’ sexual act of any couple.

Equally, for gay women there should not be an arbitrarily-imposed ‘main’ act. We make life difficult for people who try to proscribe one anyway because of the whole penetration thing. If I had a pound for every time someone has asked me what, *exactly*, women do to each other in bed…well, I’d be a very rich woman. Unfortunately for the curious, that’s a secret you have to take to the grave. Break the Dyke Code and they revoke your licence 😉

The fact remains that while you might not consider what I get up to ‘real’ sex, when I’m seeing stars I really don’t give a damn what you think.

So what did the government decide? Well, after careful consideration they decided that parity in the law was really not that important, that consummation (or lack thereof) is essentially a non-issue for gay marriages and will not be grounds for annulment. Hurrah! It took them a while, but common sense finally prevailed. Had it  not prevailed, the government would have found itself in the interesting position of setting a legal definition of what constituted gay sex. While I’d have been intrigued to see what acts they would eventually have settled on, I’m eternally glad that they didn’t go that far. We don’t need the state to authorise what we get up to (or don’t) in bed; we don’t need a think tank to tell us what makes us feel good. As long as both parties are consenting adults, I think it’s all good.

Life is too short: do what makes you happy and bugger (or not) anyone who thinks differently.

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Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of contemporary and fantasy gay romances.
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2 replies on “What is (Gay) Sex?”

  1. Erica Pike says:

    I’m very happy to hear they’re pushing this through ^.^ I can only imagine the discussions they’ve had over the consummations, hehe.

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