There is no such thing as gay sex.
There is also no such thing as straight sex, any more than there’s such a thing as “nerd sex” (not even if we’re talking about people role-playing Data and Tasha Yar in “The Naked Now”) or “blond-haired sex” or “Asian sex.”
Sex can happen in countless different ways with countless different combinations of participants. Each sexual encounter is unique. There is nothing wrong with having terminology to describe those many permutations, because it’s important that we all be able to discuss sex openly and accurately.
But when we preface the word sex itself with sweeping adjectives, the same pejoration effect occurs that happens when we put disabilities before people. Consider the difference between the phrases “bipolar woman” and “person with bipolar disorder.” One is longer than the other, sure, but it conveys so much more, connotatively. It reminds us that an illness is just one part of a person, and that there is still an individual coexisting with the symptoms. It conveys a complexity that instantly makes the noun in question seem more real and sympathetic.
By the same token, when we use terms like “straight sex” and “gay sex,” we put the assumptions associated with the adjective before nuanced concept of sex. As a result, we are drawn to a homogeneous (mis)conception of a broad category or “type” of sexual encounter. When people hear “gay sex,” they likely imagine anal intercourse. “Lesbian sex,” on the contrary, might bring to mind dildos and toys. (Because how could women fuck without some analog of a penis?) We focus on this category as the defining feature of the encounter, rather than identifying its specific characteristics.
When we, instead, talk about “sex between two women” or “between two nongendered people” or “between three strangers” or “in married couples,” just as a few examples, we first emphasize the commonality of the act; whatever connotations the word sex has for each person, we are prompted by this phrasing to first consider them, and then to move on, mentally, to narrowing down the pertinent characteristics of the encounter.
As much as we can, if we’re to improve our culture’s treatment of sexuality, we need to first treat sex as sex and decide what that means to us, not waste our breath on facile, erroneous “types.” So stop having gay sex and straight sex, and start just having sex. It’s way better that way.
What are your thoughts on the language we use to talk about sex and sexuality? Leave me a comment– I love reading them!