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That sound you just heard was the Sexuality Advisor giving you a standing
ovation. This is one of the coolest letters I've received yet. Here's what
I love so much:
-- the author recognizes that "sex" encompasses a whole lot more than penis-in-vagina intercourse.
-- he knows and respects his own limits, and finds a lot of pleasure within those limits.
Young man, you are well on your way to having a long and happy sex life. Keep up the great work.
To address your question, though: The reason penis-in-vagina intercourse is considered such a Really Big Deal, societally speaking, is because that's the way babies get made. And rightly so, because making babies is a really big deal, a huge responsibility, one of the biggest responsibilities most people ever encounter. That's why penis-in-vagina intercourse is considered an "adult" issue, sort of the same way driving a car is an adult privilege. Intercourse and driving are both a lot of fun, but each also incurs a substantial degree of responsibility and risk, you know what I mean?
In a relationship, the decision to have intercourse has especial importance because of this consequence and the social repercussions that stem from it. Intercourse always carries with it the risk of pregnancy--whether the couple acknowledges that or not, whether they use contraception or not--and taking part in this potentially procreative act carries a strong emotional charge. That two people consent to take part in this experience is frequently considered to be evidence of intimacy in a relationship when, sadly, the mere material fact of a penis in a vagina is in no way a guarantee of emotional closeness.
A whole mystique about intercourse has evolved out of this whirlwind of emotion and high-stakes sexual activity. Penis-in-vagina intercourse is seen as an ultimate, an extreme; we narrow down the meaning of the word "sex" to mean only "intercourse" and so eclipse the many and varied and wonderful ways that people can pleasure one another. In fact, we place such an emphasis on this one act that no nickname is even required: there's only one thing they're doing when they're doing "it". And the reasonable expectation of restraint and reflection in the face of the responsibility of intercourse gets distorted into forbiddenness, and from there we spin off into so much of the real weirdness that surrounds intercourse, like virginity fetishes, madonnas and whores, and the peculiarity of human nature that yearns most for what is taboo... All this works together in a powerful synergy to make one of the most common, even mundane, expressions of human interaction into one of the most controversial and charged acts in all our culture.
You ask if intercourse results in a different kind of orgasm than oral or manual sex play. The honest answer is: it depends. On a purely physiological level, it's generally more pleasurable for men than women. Men usually orgasm from intercourse alone, and women infrequently do. But as you are obviously aware, a whole lot more affects the quality of lovemaking than which meaty bits are rubbing together, or even if anyone achieves orgasm. State of mind is key here, and the chemistry between partners, too; not for nothing do they say that the brain is the most important sex organ. When you ask sexually sophisticated people to describe their most mind-blowingly wonderful sexual experiences, What The Bodies Did is a pretty minor component of the description. It's the context, it's the energy, it's the circumstance surrounding the acts that makes one particular instance of something that's been done a thousand times before so incredibly memorable.
All this is a hugely long-winded way of saying, again, that you're on the right track, young man. Be responsible, be true to yourself, be good to your lover: these are three of the key components to a happy and satisfying sex life, in my opinion, perhaps only to be joined by "keep a sense of humor in bed" and "don't steal all the covers". Keep on keepin' on, and best of luck to you.
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