I have news for you: no, you totally don't! At least, not if you are an American. There have been studies, and they tell us that none of us actually knows what the word denotes! "Sex," therefore, should be legitimately impossible to use in a conversation, as it refers to no set concept. We will have to make up another word for that thing with the thing and the other thing touching the thing in it. I suggest "crotch fiesta."
Until "crotch fiesta" ("Crotchtoberfest?") catches on, however, we will have to use this "sex" term. Here, Amanda Hess of The Sexist and I try to figure it out: using LITERATURE, CINEMA, and "TRAPPED IN THE CLOSET" as our guides to its infinite complexity!
ILLUSTRATION: When two people and some bunny suits and the stairs leading to the elevated N train love each other very much...
SADY: why hello!
AMANDA: do you want to talk now?
SADY: yes indeed! first off, i think we should acknowledge that approximately 125,000 celebrities will have died by the time we post this.* THE GRIM REAPER HAS COME FOR CELEBRITY
AMANDA: and they never learned the true meaning of sex!
SADY: ah, yes. apparently, americans "can't agree" on it! this is something i could in no way have learned from my own personal life of dating. i define sex as a peanut butter sandwich. is that so wrong?
AMANDA: when involved in a high-profile political scandal, i define sex as "one step past whatever i did with that woman"
SADY: i personally define sex as "anything you can't tell grandma about for fear she might lose her tenuous grip on this mortal coil." but the studies themselves are intriguing!
AMANDA: yeah definitely. i think, though, that they may be lacking in context. like, it's not as important to define what "sex" is as it is to define what we're comfortable with people doing with us or with other people. i feel like defining sex is just inviting loopholes. see: anal sex to keep virginity.
SADY: right, exactly.
AMANDA: and any cheater's excuse about anything
SADY: and many many men's magazine think-pieces about how it's not cheating if it is with a stripper or other sex worker
AMANDA: or in argentina. etc.
SADY: oddly, the men's definitions of sex tend to be more liberal than the ladies', though, as per this particular article! like: forty-four percent of men surveyed said that oral sex was doin' it. only thirty-seven percent of ladies said the same.
AMANDA: yeah, that was a surprise to me. i have a theory on this. it's good.
SADY: i eagerly await it!
AMANDA: ok, so women are socialized to downplay their sexual expertise in order to not appear as--- i believe the scientific word is "slutty". and so may tend for the stricter definition in self-reporting. whereas men may want to fudge it a little bit in order to be able to put another notch in the bedpost
SADY: there is actually a long passage in that keith gessen novel ("All The Sad Young Literary Men") that backs up your theory. observe how i move smoothly from actual science to literature! but: the dude is trying to figure out his Number and his List and whatever and is trying to figure out how liberal his definition needs to be. he concludes, if i remember aright, that blowjobs should indeed count in The Number!
SADY: whereas ladies might indeed self-identify as Virgins, a la Dionne in "Clueless" (CINEMA! INTERDISCIPLINARIAN THOUGHT!) had they only, say, given the BJs, or received the Lady BJs. actually, this study is weirdly non-specific about Giving and Receiving of sexual favors.
AMANDA: yeah, i noticed that also. allow me to extend an example from yet another genre, the Hip Hopera.
SADY: please do!
AMANDA: one thing that i've always found is important in these definitions is who is doing the sexing or non-sexing. so, a man could get Very Very mad at his girlfriend kissing another man, while he's out Real Penis Vagina sexing some other woman. and maybe it's not so much men excusing their own behavior while demonizing women, but that, as an individual, you can excuse your own guilt because you know the emotional context, the strength of the temptation, etc. etc. See: R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet, where everyone is fucking everyone else and they all get PISSED when they find out their significant other has been doing the same thing.
SADY: yes, and yet i feel that (since this article is all about contextualizing "sex" in light of certain political figures putting the Thing in the Places Where You Ought Not To) that there has probably never been a case of someone being cheaterly without KNOWING that they were being a cheaterly cheater. i think you can basically define "cheating" as "that thing you're going to feel really guilty about not telling your wife and/or husband and/or unmarried life partner because you know, for some reason, even if there was no Sexual contact involved by any definition, that you did something they would not like."
AMANDA: totally. i think the rush to define it, in the case of the high-profile cheating, is that the public is just honestly curious about the sexy details. not that we like, want to know what sex is.
SADY: right? especially if they took place in argentina! and involve THE FORBIDDEN PASSIONS that you told everyone you were on the Appalachian Trail to cover up! all of the futzing around, semantically, can be useful only when trying to figure out how the other person involved sees your sexual exchange... but no-one's denying that the exchange was sexual, in that case. the actual interest is kind of in knowing what other people have been up to.
AMANDA: and, in the case of say, gay sex, trying to define them out of the mainstream or out of existence. like, sure, you can put your penis in his butt, but it's not sex, whatever it is you're doing. which i refuse to equate with my penis in vagina business.
SADY: ha, yeah, or sex between women, in which case basically everything outside of a strap-on is relegated to "foreplay." never "duringplay."
AMANDA: UGGGGHHHH i feel myself sliding into the inevitable rant about the supremacy of the male orgasm in the sexual blah de blah and how that's what this is all REALLY about and i can't force myself to do it.
SADY: you sure? i have lots of thoughts about how the penis-in-vagina-as-real-sex thing is totally not good even for couples that have, respectively, penises and vaginas! LOTS OF THOUGHTS I TELL YOU.
AMANDA: save it for another sexist beatdown.
* This is not true. The only thing that has died is Sarah Palin's political career! HEY-OOOOOO.