An important aspect of philosophical thinking is the ability to do conceptual analysis. Greta Christina’s paper is a great example of this. Throughout her paper, she proposes a definition of sex, discusses how that definition captures several cases that intuitively count as sex, but then discusses some more complicated cases that either show that the definition is too broad (i.e., it includes or counts some case as an instance of sex when intuitively it should not) or too narrow (i.e., it excludes some case from counting as an instance of sex when we intuitively think it should count).
This paper assignment is divided into two parts.
Part one:

Expand on one of Greta Christina’s several different definitions of sex and explain how that definition is problematic. For example, Christina says, “Perhaps having sex with someone is the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of shared sexual pleasure.” You might explain this definition (or one of the other ones that she considers) by giving a (fictional) example and showing how it exemplifies each of the features listed in the definition. Then, you should explain why that definition is problematic. For example, you could explain how there are cases that we intuitively count (or don’t count) as sex but aren’t (or are) counted as sex according to the definition (i.e., state whether the definition is too broad or too narrow, or both, and show how).
Part two:

This part has two options. The first is less challenging than the second, but the second, if done well, can score higher points than the first.
Option 1 : Clearly articulate a second definition from Christina that attempts to address some of the problematic aspects of the definition you discussed in part one. Then, as you did in part one, explain how even this second definition could be problematic (Is it too broad? too narrow? both? Show how).
Option 2 : Propose your own definition — a definition of sex that Christina does not consider. Show how that definition might handle some of the complicated cases that she discusses. Then, clearly state what the shortcomings of your proposed definition might be. For example, you should clearly state how the definition could be too broad or too narrow (or both) by presenting relevant counterexamples.
You should take as a clear example of good writing the last two pages of Christina’s essay. Notice how she structures the discussion. She considers a definition. Then she discusses how some cases clearly fit that definition, then some cases that don’t (AGAIN either because the definition is too broad, i.e. it includes cases that do not count as sex, or because the definition is too narrow, i.e. the definition excludes cases that do count as sex).Chapter 1
Greta Christina
hen I first started having sex with other people, I used to like to
count them. I wanted to keep track of how many there had been.
It was a source of some kind of pride, or identity anyway, to know how
many people I’d had sex with in my lifetime. So, in my mind, Len was
number one, Chris was number two, that slimy awful little heavy metal
barbiturate addict whose name I can’t remember was number three, Alan
was number four, and so on. It got to the point where, when I’d start having sex with a new person for the first time, when he first entered my body
(I was only having sex with men at the time), what would flash through
my head wouldn’t be “Oh, baby, baby you feel so good inside me,” or
“What the hell am I doing with this creep,” or “This is boring, I wonder
what’s on TV.” What flashed through my head was “Seven!”
Doing this had some interesting results. I’d look for patterns in the
numbers. I had a theory for a while that every fourth lover turned out to
be really great in bed, and would ponder what the cosmic significance of
the phenomenon might be. Sometimes I’d try to determine what kind of
person I was by how many people I’d had sex with. At eighteen, I’d had
sex with ten different people. Did that make me normal, repressed, a total slut, a free-spirited bohemian, or what? Not that I compared my numbers with anyone else’s—I didn’t. It was my own exclusive structure, a
game I played in the privacy of my own head.
Reprinted by permission of Jeremy P. Tarcher, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., from
“Are We Having Sex Now or What?” by Greta Christina, from The Erotic Impulse: Honoring the
Sensual Self, pp. 24–29, edited by David Steinberg. Copyright © 1992, David Steinberg.
Greta Christina
Then the numbers started getting a little larger, as numbers tend to do,
and keeping track became more difficult. I’d remember that the last one
was seventeen and so this one must be eighteen, and then I’d start having
doubts about whether I’d been keeping score accurately or not. I’d lie
awake at night thinking to myself, well, there was Brad, and there was that
guy on my birthday, and there was David and . . . no, wait, I forgot that
guy I got drunk with at the social my first week at college . . . so that’s
seven, eight, nine . . . and by two in the morning I’d finally have it figured
out. But there was always a nagging suspicion that maybe I’d missed someone, some dreadful tacky little scumball that I was trying to forget about
having invited inside my body. And as much as I maybe wanted to forget
about the sleazy little scumball, I wanted more to get that number right.
It kept getting harder, though. I began to question what counted as
sex and what didn’t. There was that time with Gene, for instance. I was
pissed off at my boyfriend, David, for cheating on me. It was a major crisis, and Gene and I were friends and he’d been trying to get at me for
weeks and I hadn’t exactly been discouraging him. I went to see him that
night to gripe about David. He was very sympathetic of course, and he
gave me a backrub, and we talked and touched and confided and
hugged, and then we started kissing, and then we snuggled up a little
closer, and then we started fondling each other, you know, and then all
heck broke loose, and we rolled around on the bed groping and rubbing
and grabbing and smooching and pushing and pressing and squeezing.
He never did actually get it in. He wanted to, and I wanted to too, but I
had this thing about being faithful to my boyfriend, so I kept saying, “No,
you can’t do that, Yes, that feels so good, No, wait that’s too much, Yes,
yes, don’t stop, No, stop that’s enough.” We never even got our clothes
off. Jesus Christ, though, it was some night. One of the best, really. But
for a long time I didn’t count it as one of the times I’d had sex. He never
got inside, so it didn’t count.
Later, months and years later, when I lay awake putting my list together, I’d start to wonder: Why doesn’t Gene count? Does he not count
because he never got inside? Or does he not count because I had to preserve my moral edge over David, my status as the patient, ever-faithful,
cheated-on, martyred girlfriend, and if what I did with Gene counts then
I don’t get to feel wounded and superior?
Years later, I did end up fucking Gene and I felt a profound relief because, at last, he definitely had a number, and I knew for sure that he did
in fact count.
Then I started having sex with women, and, boy, howdy, did that ever
shoot holes in the system. I’d always made my list of sex partners by
defining sex as penile-vaginal intercourse—you know, screwing. It’s a
pretty simple distinction, a straightforward binary system. Did it go in or
didn’t it? Yes or no? One or zero? On or off ? Granted, it’s a pretty arbi-
Are We Having Sex Now or What?
trary definition, but it’s the customary one, with an ancient and respected tradition behind it, and when I was just screwing men, there was
no compelling reason to question it.
But with women, well, first of all there’s no penis, so right from the
start the tracking system is defective. And then, there are so many ways
women can have sex with each other, touching and licking and grinding
and fingering and fisting—with dildoes or vibrators or vegetables or
whatever happens to be lying around the house, or with nothing at all
except human bodies. Of course, that’s true for sex between women and
men as well. But between women, no one method has a centuries-old tradition of being the one that counts. Even when we do fuck each other
there’s no dick, so you don’t get that feeling of This Is What’s Important,
We Are Now Having Sex, objectively speaking, and all that other stuff is
just foreplay or afterplay. So when I started having sex with women the
binary system had to go, in favor of a more inclusive definition.
Which meant, of course, that my list of how many people I’d had sex
with was completely trashed. In order to maintain it I would have had to
go back and reconstruct the whole thing and include all those people I’d
necked with and gone down on and dry-humped and played touchyfeely games with. Even the question of who filled the all-important Number One slot, something I’d never had any doubts about before, would
have to be re-evaluated.
By this time I’d kind of lost interest in the list anyway. Reconstructing
it would be more trouble than it was worth. But the crucial question remained: What counts as having sex with someone?
It was important for me to know. You have to know what qualifies as
sex because when you have sex with someone your relationship changes.
Right? Right? It’s not that sex itself has to change things all that much.
But knowing you’ve had sex, being conscious of a sexual connection,
standing around making polite conversation with someone while thinking to yourself, “I’ve had sex with this person,” that’s what changes
things. Or so I believed. And if having sex with a friend can confuse or
change the friendship, think how bizarre things can get when you’re not
sure whether you’ve had sex with them or not.
The problem was, as I kept doing more kinds of sexual things, the line
between sex and not-sex kept getting more hazy and indistinct. As I
brought more into my sexual experience, things were showing up on the
dividing line demanding my attention. It wasn’t just that the territory I
labeled sex was expanding. The line itself had swollen, dilated, been
transformed into a vast gray region. It had become less like a border and
more like a demilitarized zone.
Which is a strange place to live. Not a bad place, just strange. It’s like
juggling, or watchmaking, or playing the piano—anything that demands
complete concentrated awareness and attention. It feels like cognitive
Greta Christina
dissonance, only pleasant. It feels like waking up from a compelling and
realistic bad dream. It feels like the way you feel when you realize that
everything you know is wrong, and a bloody good thing too, because it
was painful and stupid and it really screwed you up.
But, for me, living in a question naturally leads to searching for an answer. I can’t simply shrug, throw up my hands, and say, “Damned if I
know.” I have to explore the unknown frontiers, even if I don’t bring
back any secret treasure. So even if it’s incomplete or provisional, I do
want to find some sort of definition of what is and isn’t sex.
I know when I’m feeling sexual. I’m feeling sexual if my pussy’s wet, my
nipples are hard, my palms are clammy, my brain is fogged, my skin is
tingly and super-sensitive, my butt muscles clench, my heartbeat speeds
up, I have an orgasm (that’s the real giveaway), and so on. But feeling
sexual with someone isn’t the same as having sex with them. Good Lord,
if I called it sex every time I was attracted to someone who returned the
favor I’d be even more bewildered than I am now. Even being sexual with
someone isn’t the same as having sex with them. I’ve danced and flirted
with too many people, given and received too many sexy, would-beseductive backrubs, to believe otherwise.
I have friends who say, if you thought of it as sex when you were doing
it, then it was. That’s an interesting idea. It’s certainly helped me construct a coherent sexual history without being a revisionist swine: redefining my past according to current definitions. But it really just begs
the question. It’s fine to say that sex is whatever I think it is; but then
what do I think it is? What if, when I was doing it, I was wondering whether
it counted?
Perhaps having sex with someone is the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged pursuit of shared sexual pleasure. Not a bad definition. If you are turning each other on and you say so and you keep doing
it, then it’s sex. It’s broad enough to encompass a lot of sexual behavior
beyond genital contact/orgasm; it’s distinct enough not to include every
instance of sexual awareness or arousal; and it contains the elements I
feel are vital—acknowledgment, consent, reciprocity, and the pursuit of
pleasure. But what about the situation where one person consents to sex
without really enjoying it? Lots of people (myself included) have had
sexual interactions that we didn’t find satisfying or didn’t really want
and, unless they were actually forced on us against our will, I think most
of us would still classify them as sex.
Maybe if both of you (or all of you) think of it as sex, then it’s sex
whether you’re having fun or not. That clears up the problem of sex
that’s consented to but not wished-for or enjoyed. Unfortunately, it begs
the question again, only worse: now you have to mesh different people’s
vague and inarticulate notions of what is and isn’t sex and find the place
where they overlap. Too messy.
Are We Having Sex Now or What?
How about sex as the conscious, consenting, mutually acknowledged
pursuit of sexual pleasure of at least one of the people involved. That’s
better. It has all the key components, and it includes the situation where
one person is doing it for a reason other than sexual pleasure—status,
reassurance, money, the satisfaction and pleasure of someone they love,
etc. But what if neither of you is enjoying it, if you’re both doing it because
you think the other one wants to? Ugh.
I’m having trouble here. Even the conventional standby—sex equals
intercourse—has a serious flaw: it includes rape, which is something I
emphatically refuse to accept. As far as I’m concerned, if there’s no consent, it ain’t sex. But I feel that’s about the only place in this whole quagmire where I have a grip. The longer I think about the subject, the more
questions I come up with. At what point in an encounter does it become
sexual? If an interaction that begins nonsexually turns into sex, was it sex
all along? What about sex with someone who’s asleep? Can you have a
situation where one person is having sex and the other isn’t? It seems
that no matter what definition I come up with, I can think of some reallife experience that calls it into question.
For instance, a couple of years ago I attended (well, hosted) an all-girl
sex party. Out of the twelve other women there, there were only a few with
whom I got seriously physically nasty. The rest I kissed or hugged or talked
dirty with or just smiled at, or watched while they did seriously physically
nasty things with each other. If we’d been alone, I’d probably say that what
I’d done with most of the women there didn’t count as having sex. But the
experience, which was hot and sweet and silly and very, very special, had
been created by all of us, and although I only really got down with a few, I
felt that I’d been sexual with all of the women there. Now, when I meet
one of the women from that party, I always ask myself: Have we had sex?
For instance, when I was first experimenting with sadomasochism, I
got together with a really hot woman. We were negotiating about what
we were going to do, what would and wouldn’t be ok, and she said she
wasn’t sure she wanted to have sex. Now we’d been explicitly planning
all kinds of fun and games—spanking, bondage, obedience—which I
strongly identified as sexual activity. In her mind, though, sex meant direct genital contact, and she didn’t necessarily want to do that with me.
Playing with her turned out to be a tremendously erotic experience,
arousing and stimulating and almost unbearably satisfying. But we spent
the whole evening without even touching each other’s genitals. And the
fact that our definitions were so different made me wonder: Was it sex?
For instance, I worked for a few months as a nude dancer at a peep
show. In case you’ve never been to a peep show, it works like this: the customer goes into a tiny, dingy black box, kind of like a phone booth, puts
in quarters, and a metal plate goes up; the customer looks through a window at a little room/stage where naked women are dancing. One time,
Greta Christina
a guy came into one of the booths and started watching me and masturbating. I came over and squatted in front of him and started masturbating too, and we grinned at each other and watched each other and
masturbated, and we both had a fabulous time. (I couldn’t believe I was
being paid to masturbate—tough job, but somebody has to do it . . . .)
After he left I thought to myself: Did we just have sex? I mean, if it had
been someone I knew, and if there had been no glass and no quarters,
there’d be no question in my mind. Sitting two feet apart from someone,
watching each other masturbate? Yup, I’d call that sex all right. But this
was different, because it was a stranger, and because of the glass and the
quarters. Was it sex?
I still don’t have an answer.

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