What Do Sexual Activities Entail?

First comes love, / Then comes marriage, / And then comes baby in the baby carriage.

The lines above depict the chronology that in today’s conservative societies (especially those fuelled by British propriety from the colonial period) for the longest time, has been seen as the ideal way of life. Historically, sex has been seen from multiple lenses depending on which civilization or era one pays closer attention to.

During many periods in history, sex was embraced as a part of life to be appreciated and enjoyed. In several other periods sex has been viewed purely as a means of procreation.

Today however, there is wider acceptance, more conversation, and deeper understanding of what it means to be human. We are beginning to look at sex as an act of passion, love, pleasure, and intimacy.

At the same time, it is crucial to understand what constitute sexual activities? Is it all about a penis penetrating a vagina? Or is there more to it?

Couple lying in bed under sheets with the focus on feet
Couple lying in bed under sheets with the focus on feet

This article discusses what constitutes sexual activities. It’s important to know what kind of activities are sexual in nature. This can not only help us understand ourselves better, but can also make us aware of predators who may want to take advantage of us in the absence of proper knowledge and understanding.

What may look like a healthy engagement could actually be molestation. This is so that we can act responsibly with others and also safeguard ourselves.

What are sexual activities?

Any action that arouses sexual desire may fall under the category of sexual activity.

The definition of sexual activity above is deliberately open-ended and broad because different people get aroused by different things.

  • This not only includes what arouses us physically, but also our emotions. While lust and passion drive some, others look at sex as a physical expression of love.
  • Penovaginal sex is what most people consider to be sexual activity. However, this understanding is extremely limited and heteronormative (i.e. a worldview that promotes or considers heterosexuality as the normal or preferred sexual orientation).
  • Sexual activities may or may not involve physical touch. And they may or may not involve a partner.

Let us learn more about this.

Sexual activities involving bodies and physical touch

Some activities that are most frequently associated with sex are:

  • vaginal penetration by a penis,
  • anal penetration by a penis,
  • oral sex where mouth comes in contact with a penis or vulva,

However, sexual activities need not necessarily involve the sex organs for them to be sexual. Sexual activities may also include:

  • giving or receiving hugs,
  • giving or receiving hickeys,
  • touching of body parts such as the back, thighs, legs, and even feet,
  • kissing
A homosexual couple enjoying each other's sexual touch.
A homosexual couple enjoying each other's sexual touch.

Other activities include:

  • stimulating the armpits,
  • rubbing against each other’s genitalia (humping),
  • rubbing the penis between the thighs,
  • tickling,
  • massaging,
  • mutual masturbation,
  • using a sex toy on a partner,
  • playfully tying up one of the partners,
  • inflicting pain in pleasurable amounts,
  • pinching,
  • spanking,
  • fingering, and so on

Touching with or without clothing can both be sexual.

Different people like different sexual activities and experiences. Hence, it is important to avoid judging people or making them feel guilty for their desires and choices. Acceptance can lead to open conversations between partners, which in turn may lead to healthier sexual lives.

Sexual activities that don’t involve a partner or physical closeness

Partners engaging in sexual activities need not be in the same place for a sexual event to take place. It is also not necessary to have more than one party to be sexually active.

One of the most common ones is masturbation. Masturbation refers to stimulating one’s sex organs in order to reach a climax or simply to experience pleasure and feel good.

A girl lying on her bed with a book lying next to her. She is pleasuring herself and seems to be enjoying herself.
A girl lying on her bed with a book lying next to her. She is pleasuring herself and seems to be enjoying herself.

Some forms of sexual activity that don’t involve a partner being physically present or touching someone else are:

  • sexting, which means sending or receiving images (nude or nearly nude photos or selfies), text messages (with explicit or suggestive sexual content), or videos (that show nudity, sex acts, or simulated sex) on a smartphone or through the internet.,
  • dressing up,
  • stripping,
  • talking dirty, which refers to using sexually explicit language to excite someone
Image of a woman holding a phone in bed at night to indicate sexting.
Image of a woman holding a phone in bed at night to indicate sexting.

Why do we need to understand sexual activity?

Learning about what constitutes sexual activity is important for a host of reasons.

To expand our horizons

When we have a limited understanding of what can provide sexual pleasure, there is a scope of feeling ashamed and guilty of our natural preferences and inclinations. It is therefore helpful to educate ourselves about the different kinds of sexual activities.

Couple holding hands together in bed close-up touching each other on a white blanket
Couple holding hands together in bed close-up touching each other on a white blanket

Being open to learning about the diverse kinds of activities that people enjoy can encourage individual experimentation which can further enhance the quality of our sexual experiences.

To respect individual choices

It is important to remember that likes and dislikes in the realm of sex are extremely personal. At times they are also related to people’s past experiences which could have been negative or unpleasant.

Some activities that may seem fine to one, can be triggering for another. In such situations it is critical to be respectful and understanding.

The idea of what entails sex is directly related to the concept of virginity. Read more about how one affects the other here.

To understand our rights and boundaries

Knowledge of what entails as sexual activity is also crucial to know what may come under the umbrella of harassment and molestation.

Children are taught about good touch and bad touch in school. However, unfortunately, the focus remains on the sex organs. The touching of armpits or the feet can also be inappropriate in nature. Hence, it is important to explain to children and very often to adults as well, that sexual activity is not limited to just specific sex organs.

Man's hands on the hair of a little girl to indicate child sex abuse. Sexual activities need not always involve the genitals.
Man's hands on the hair of a little girl to indicate child sex abuse. Sexual activities need not always involve the genitals.

For instance, there is a concept called ‘frottage’ in which sexual arousal is achieved by rubbing against another person, particularly by rubbing against a stranger in a public place. Many people experience this while using public transport and crowded places in general. It is important to know that this is a form of sexual harassment.

The gaze of an individual can also be sexual and can make us uncomfortable. During such times, the victim usually stays quiet assuming that complaining about a ‘look’ may not have standing in the eyes of the authority. However, it is important to raise an alarm in all such instances. Arming individuals (young and old) with this knowledge can help them build defensive mechanisms in the event anything untoward happens.

To protect children and younger people

Very often children at the age of 5 or 6 are picked up and placed in the lap of elders without their permission. All the cheek pulling and kissing may look affectionate to an outsider. But that may or may not be the case with the child.

If kids since a young age are asked for their consent before these seemingly harmless instances, they will grow into adults who know that they have complete right over their bodies. And they will expect others to respect those boundaries. (Read more about consent and boundaries here.)

To conclude…

Sex and sexual activities are capable of giving us both extreme pleasure and suffering. It is hence crucial to understand the nature and kinds of sexual activities possible to be able to seek pleasure and avoid abuse.

One of the Lokyatha values that we wish to impart is to ‘Live Better’. Our hope is that this kind of meaningful sex education is used by people for themselves and for those who they care about.

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Lokyatha is an education focused initiative to enable young adults to live better, more fruitful lives by delivering real world life skills.