What Counts as Sex?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 25 2010 4:14 PM

What Counts as Sex?


A group of researchers at the University of Kentucky-Lexington, thinks that Bill Clinton’s famous assertion that he "did not have sexual relations" with Monica Lewinsky may be the reason so many young people today don’t consider oral sex to count as doing the deed.


The study , which was conducted in 2007 and published this month in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health , surveyed 477 students enrolled in a human sexuality course at a large state university about their views on sex. What they found was that only 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex, compared with nearly 40 percent of a similar group of students surveyed in 1991.

In their discussion, the researchers note that "our respondents were adolescents after the Clinton-Lewinsky era, which our comparisons of data over time suggest may have been a turning point in conceptualizations of oral-genital contact." They coin this the "Clinton-Lewinsky effect."

The researchers consider other possible sources for the attitude shift-the increasing availability of information about sex , sex education programs that focus on prevention on traditional vaginal intercourse, and a huge rise in the amount of sexual content portrayed on TV -and provided references to other studies that documented those sources. The paragraph about the Clinton-Lewinsky effect was without a single citation in what was otherwise a well-documented article. Did the researchers pull it out of thin air?

Lack of documentation aside, I have other doubts about their conclusion. The majority of students studied in 2007 would have been born between 1985 and 1989, making them between 9 and 13 years old during the Lewinsky scandal. I was about to turn 10 when it unfolded, and I certainly didn’t realize that Bill Clinton was playing with semantics and proffering his own definition of sex. I don’t consider oral-genital contact to be sex, and I am confident that my developing worldview on sex was influenced much more by what I saw on TV and read in Seventeen than by my limited knowledge of the president’s sex life.

Their larger point is noble: that the changing definition of sex could lead more young adults to discount the risks associated with oral sex, and that we need to ensure that sex ed programs address that. Now that’s a cause Bill Clinton could get behind.

Photograph of Bill Clinton by Stephen Jaffe/Getty Images.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.