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Q&A: Is Sex Compulsory?

May 19, 2013
G. Starr Vidal, Contributor for The CSPH

robot sexEach week, The CSPH answers questions asked on our site and through social media outlets like TwitterTumblr, and Facebook.  This week’s question is:

Is sex compulsory*?

The quick and dirty answer to this question is, very simply, “no.”  No one is required to have sex for any reason.

Of course, it’s frankly no surprise that people may find themselves wondering this exact thing. If there’s one thing abstinence-only education and sex-positive advocates seem to agree on, it’s the idea that everyone has sex eventually. Abstinence-only education assumes sex naturally happens after marriage, while the enthusiasm of the sex positive movement (although something we believe in!) can sometimes fail to address the fact that not everyone wants or needs to have sex – ever. The assumption that sex is inevitable is deeply ingrained in society, and the alternative—that not all healthy people have, want, or like sex—challenges many people’s preconceived and culturally-informed notions as to who has sex, why they have sex, and if they have sex at all.

For this reason, many people have difficulty understanding asexuality, which is defined as a lack of sexual attraction towards other people.  You can learn more about asexuality in my Q&A: Asexuality. Not all asexuals choose to abstain from all sexual activities, but some do, and life without sex is a perfectly acceptable life/identity model which should not be seen as ‘unnatural’ or something that needs ‘fixing’.

However, like I initially stated, no one is obligated to have sex for any reason.  This is true for everyone, regardless of gender, relationship and marital status, sexual orientation, prior sexual history, and current sexual behaviors.  Even if someone wants sex, it doesn’t mean they must act on that desire;  if a penis-owner has an erection and a vagina-owner is wet, it doesn’t mean they necessarily want sex or that it is mandatory to act upon their body’s functions.  If someone agrees to sex once, or agrees to a certain type of sex, it doesn’t mean they must have sex again or that they consented to all sexual activity.

Even if someone wants to impregnate or be impregnated, it doesn’t mean they are required have sex; there are other ways for sperm and egg to meet, either at the doctor’s office or in the comfort of one’s own home (turkey baster, anyone)?

The takeaway message here is that while sex can be and is enjoyable for many people, it’s not necessary in an absolute sense. While most people will engage in sex at some point in their lives, the fact that sexual experiences are common practice does not – and will never – mean that sex is ever required, or that any person should feel ashamed for making the choice not to engage in it.

* Note: Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Online defines “compulsory” as “mandatory, enforced” and “coercive, compelling.”  Therefore, I have interpreted this question under this definition rather than that of “sexual compulsion”, which is a specific (and much-debated) term used in medical and mental health communities to describe something akin to sex addiction.

[Photo of “Sex Life of Robots,” by Michael Sullivan – Picture taken by Cristian Esleva]

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