Sexual Practices

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Sexual Practices

What counts as sexual? One may tend to think of sexual activity as primarily genital activity done alone, with a partner, or in a group, but genital activity alone does not cover the range of bodily pleasures available to most human beings and the wide range of activities that may be defined as sexual. In his 1905 book Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1962), psychoanalytic pioneer Sigmund Freud argues that humans have a sexual instinct akin to hunger that he terms the libido. He defines libido as having a sexual object, or person or thing one is attracted to, and a sexual aim, an act or sexual practice one wants to have with this person or thing. Further, he notes that countless deviations are possible in both object and aim. Sexual practices have come to be recognized as all of the possibilities available for both the objects and the aims of sexual attraction.

Freud formulates his theories of sexual behavior by looking at what he calls the deviations of object and aim. The idea of deviation assumes the existence of natural or normal objects and aims that would not be deviations. Deviations include deviations of object, which in Freud's time included homosexual attraction, as well as deviations still considered abnormal in the twenty-first century, such as pedophilia and bestiality. The sexual aims of these different objects comprise the realm of so-called nonnormative sexual practices, which for Freud included homosexuality, fellatio, cunnilingus, anal sex, the use of other parts of the body for sexual satisfaction, the fetishizing of objects such as shoes, voyeurism, excessive touching, sadism, and masochism. Most of these practices are considered to be normal sexual behavior by many people in the contemporary United States, Canada, and Europe. Sexual practices not mentioned by Freud but cataloged previously by influential sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840–1902), include necrophilia; violent nonconsensual acts such as rape, maiming, or murder; nymphomania; incest; and onanism, or masturbation. Modern textbooks also list exhibitionism as a perverse sexual practice, whereas masturbation, or autoeroticism, which was once considered a deviant sexual practice, has—except among some religious conservatives—come to be regarded as a normal and even healthy human sexual behavior. Newer practices unimagined by Freud include the use of many types of manufactured objects such as sex toys, cybersex, and phone sex.

Freud codified the notion of normal heterosexual and reproductive objects and aims in order to understand those desires falling outside the norm; thus, the natural object of a man is a woman and vice versa. The natural aim of this attraction is sexual coitus, where the woman's vagina encloses the man's penis until ejaculation occurs, potentially leading to pregnancy and childbirth for the woman. This procreative aim is still the only acceptable one for many religious institutions, such as the Catholic Church, which forbids the use of birth control devices and pharmaceuticals. However, many societies accept family planning and nonprocreative sex as part of their ideologies of normal heterosexual marriage, and thus, heterosexual coitus for its own sake within marriage is generally an acceptable sexual practice in most of the world. Heterosexual coitus outside of marriage is officially frowned upon but socially tolerated in most of Europe and North America, whereas more conservative countries in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East operate under a sexual double standard, punishing unmarried women and their children while tolerating male infidelity. In some Muslim countries, such as Pakistan, a woman can be executed—often by members of her own family—for dishonoring the family with adulterous behavior, promiscuity, or being the victim of rape. Officially sanctioned sexual practice in such places is strictly limited to heterosexual behavior between men and women who are married to each other.

Heterosexual sexual practices can vary widely. In North America, Europe, and countries experiencing gradual relaxation of sexual Puritanism, such as Argentina and Australia, oral-genital contact is not considered an unusual sexual practice except among some religious conservatives, and even then, what a husband and wife choose to do consensually in their bedroom is largely considered to be their business alone. In countries such as Brazil that associate worldliness with sexual experimentation, sexual cosmopolitanism is mostly limited to men and prostitutes. Heterosexual fellatio, where the penis is sucked, is a common practice among U.S. teenagers seeking to avoid pregnancy, whereas cunnilingus, where the women's genitals are licked and sucked, is less common but still practiced. Heterosexual anal penetration, where the penis is inserted into the female's anus, is also a growing trend among U.S. adolescents, again because it limits the risk of pregnancy. Although some married couples do engage in anal intercourse, it is considered by most people, even liberals, to be more deviant than is oral sex.

Finally, pleasures such as pornography, fetishism, leather, sex toys, erotica, intergenerational sex, wife swapping, group sex, and phone sex are also more tolerated among heterosexuals, especially in Europe and the Americas, with group sex seen as the most deviant, probably because it offers more possibilities for homosexual sexual contact. Again, married couples enjoy a zone of privacy around their consumption of pornography, their fetishistic practices, their use of sex toys and erotica, and the ages of their choices of partners, as long as those partners are above the legal age of consent.

Homosexuality remains the most consistent dividing line the world between sanctioned and unacceptable sexual practices. Homosexual sexual practices comprise any sexual act between two people of the same sex. This includes practices also common between heterosexual partners, such as oral-genital sex; oral-anal sex; anal penetration with the hand, penis, or manufactured object; vaginal penetration with the hand or manufactured object; rubbing the genitals against a partner's body; scopophilia; sadomasochism; mutual masturbation; and talking someone to arousal and sexual climax on a telephone or using a web camera.

One of the best indices of late-twentieth-century attitudes toward human sexual practices can be found in Gayle Rubin's influential 1984 essay "Thinking Sex," which argued that mainstream U. S. culture still draws clear distinctions between good sexual practices and bad ones—distinctions that reflect the enduring influence of Freud's notion of normal sexual objects and aims versus deviant or abnormal sexual objects and aims. Contemporary good, or sanctioned, sexual practices include sex between monogamous, same-generational heterosexual married partners, done at home, potentially procreative, without monetary payment, using only bodies, and without the use of pornography for arousal. Bad sexual practices include homosexual sex, promiscuous sex, nonprocreative sex, sex for money, masturbation or group sex, casual sex, cross-generational sex, sex in public, sex that uses pornography for arousal, sex using manufactured objects, and sadomasochistic sex. Whereas many of these bad sexual practices, such as the use of pornography and manufactured objects, have become more acceptable among heterosexuals in the intervening years since Rubin's essay was published, homosexuality is still unacceptable among religious conservatives in many parts of the world. Therefore, any sexual practices that take place between same-sex partners are still considered bad, or unacceptable, on the basis of that alone. In some parts of the world where it is acceptable to have more than one wife, such as non-Christian South Africa, sanctioned sexual practices might encompass intimacy between a man and several women who are wives in his household.


Most of the following list of sexual practices can be part of heterosexual, homosexual, single, or group sexual activity. Although most of these practices are considered fairly normal today, vaginal intercourse is the only practice on this list that would have been considered normal in terms of sexual object and sexual aim by Freud and his contemporaries.


Sexual abstinence is the voluntary decision not to engage in sexual relations of any kind. For some people abstinence is more narrowly defined as the decision not to engage in penetrative sex. Reasons for abstinence include periodic abstinence for contraception, disease or pregnancy prevention, and abstinence for religious reasons.

Anal Intercourse

Anal intercourse, which at one time was one of the definitions of the term sodomy, involves the insertion of the penis into the rectum. This practice is widespread among both homosexual men and heterosexual couples. Some people define anal sex as including insertion of objects into the anus, such as dildos, fingers, and hands. Insertion of hands is often termed fisting. Some define anal-oral contact as anal sex.


Also known as rimming, anilingus is the stimulation of the anal area with the lips and tongue.

Autoerotic Asphyxiation

Autoerotic asphyxiation is the practice of self-strangulation while masturbating. Partial asphyxiation is said to enhance orgasm, though this can also inadvertently result in death. It is usually practiced by males and often by adolescent males.


Autofellatio is fellatio—sucking and licking the penis—performed on oneself. This can be most easily done by men limber enough to bend their torsos so as to hook their legs behind their heads, often facilitated by sturdy bed headboards. Very few men are able to accomplish autofellatio.

Axillary Intercourse

Referred to by the slang term bag-piping, axillary intercourse is the act of inserting the penis under a partner's armpit. It is part of a broader category of sexual practice termed outercourse.


Bestiality is a catchall term for any type of sexual contact with animals. This can involve various types of body contact, including oral, anal, and vaginal intercourse by humans on animals or animals on humans. Bestiality is another practice that was once included as part of the definition of sodomy.

Body Rubbing

Also known as dry humping when partners are clothed, body rubbing is the practice of rubbing bodies together, especially sexual organs, sometimes leading to orgasm. It is also sometimes called frottage, and can be done in private with consenting partners, or in public with unwilling strangers, as is the case with people who become aroused by rubbing against strangers in crowds and on public transportation.

Bondage and Discipline

Bondage and discipline is sexual role play involving sadism and masochism in which one partner, sometimes called a bottom, is bound or restrained and then punished physically or mentally by the other partner, or the top. Some people make a distinction between sadism and masochism as involving pain and bondage and discipline as not involving pain, but there is a good deal of overlap between them, as the common acronym BDSM suggests. Such acts are generally found to be sexually arousing for both partners and mutually agreed upon or negotiated beforehand. Tops and bottoms can maintain consistent roles or switch at will, and although it may appear as if the top is in control, it is often the bottom who calls all the shots. Whereas some forms of bondage and discipline, such as the use of handcuffs, have migrated into mainstream sexual practices, it remains a subcultural sexual practice.


Bottoming is taking the role of the bottom, or submissive partner, in a consensual bondage, sadomasochistic, or disciplinary sexual scenario, becoming sexually aroused because one is being hurt or punished in some way. Bottoms used to be called masochists, but that term has fallen out of favor as too judgmental. Bottoms may enjoy being forcibly confined, bound, gagged, or blindfolded; receiving punishment such as whipping, slapping, paddling, hot wax dripped on one's body, hair pulling, or verbal or physical humiliation; consensual abuse such as rough penetration with hands, penises, or sex toys, by a single partner or a group of people; or servitude, where one may be treated as a pet animal, a beast of burden, or a human slave. Bottoms and tops may switch roles or maintain consistency over the course of many sexual encounters.


Also known as sexual intercourse, copulation, or vaginal intercourse, coitus is the insertion of the penis into the vagina, followed by rhythmic rubbing back and forth that commonly leads to male orgasm. Women may orgasm during coitus, but because coitus was socially defined until recently as a reproductive practice, it was not traditionally considered to have been completed unless the male ejaculated sperm into the woman's body.


Also called scat, coprophilia is sexual response related to the smell or taste of feces or to seeing someone defecate, either by themselves or on another person. Sexual practices enjoying contemporary notoriety that incorporate aspects of coprophilia include the dirty Sanchez, in which a man wipes feces from his penis or finger on another person's face after anal sex.


Cunnilingus, or oral sex on a woman, is the stimulation of the genitals of the woman with lips, mouth, or tongue. The clitoris can be licked or sucked, as can the vaginal lips, and the vagina can also be penetrated with the tongue. This practice may or may not be continued to orgasm. It does not carry the cultural freight of fellatio, as often it is considered masculine for a man to lick a woman's genitals. Cunnilingus between women is thought to be a common lesbian sexual practice, though this is not necessarily true. Cunnilingus between women is prominently featured in heterosexual pornography, and the sight of two women licking each other's genitals is considered arousing for heterosexual men.


Cybersex refers to sex-related activities, products, and services having to do with the Internet. Cybersex includes sexual arousal fostered between individuals or groups through games, film and video clips, computer animation, chat rooms, bulletin boards, instant messaging services, web cameras, Internet porn, and other sources.

Erotic Fantasy

Erotic fantasy is defined as reading, watching, imagining, telling, or acting out sexual fantasies with or without a partner. Erotic fantasies can involve stories, scenarios, dreams, novels, film and television, or music. Imagination is the biggest factor in erotic fantasies, which are usually more arousing as fantasies than they would be if acted out in real life.

Erotic Massage

Erotic massage is a sensual and sexually arousing body massage that sometimes includes stimulation of the sexual organs with hands, body, or mouth. An erotic message may or may not culminate in orgasm, which is sometimes referred to as a happy ending. Erotic message can be a form of sex work, a part of sex therapy, or simply a sexual practice between partners.


Exhibitionism is sexual arousal achieved by taking off one's clothes or exposing the genitals, performing sex acts, or masturbating in front of others, usually strangers. Having sex in public places where one might be caught is considered a kind of exhibitionism, as is a preference for public nudity.


Oral sex on a man, called fellatio, involves licking or sucking the penis with the mouth, lips, and tongue. It can also involve licking or sucking the scrotal sacs. This action may or may not be continued to orgasm, and the partner may or may not swallow the ejaculate. Although fellatio has gained popularity among heterosexuals in the latter part of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, it has historically been considered degrading, and many men still consider fellatio improper for a wife but proper for a prostitute to perform. Male-male fellation is considered a common homosexual sexual practice. Because of this, the sexual practice of male-male fellatio is synonymous with homosexuality among homophobic men in mainstream U. S. culture, and use of the epithet cocksucker is a common form of homophobic insult that relies on the assumption that any man low enough to suck another man's penis is worthy of contempt.

Conversely, among the male population of some Melanesian, Australian, and Papua New Guinea tribes, a tradition of adolescent males ingesting the semen of adult males is considered a vital ritual of manhood. Boys are fed mother's milk until just before puberty, when they are taken away from women and brought into a society of men. It is thought that in order to become men, they must be fed semen, or man's milk, and that without this they will have no semen of their own and be unable to father children. Unlike cultures that believe males lose masculinity when they suck another man's penis, these peoples believe males gain masculinity, fertility, and power through ritualized fellatio.


Felching is licking semen out of the anus after anal intercourse. It can also refer to licking semen out of the vagina after vaginal intercourse.


Fetishism is sexual arousal in response to an object, such as a boot or baseball bat; to a practice, such as wearing animal costumes or military uniforms; or to nongenital parts of the body, such as feet, breasts, legs, elbows, armpits, hair, or ears. Fetishes vary widely and might include items of clothing, such as shoes, underwear, opposite-gender dress; materials, such as leather, latex, rubber, feathers, or silk; or body parts. Some might consider the use of sex toys to be a fetishistic practice, though others might see toys as an extension of the sexual act or acts and not the thing in itself.


Fisting involves inserting a hand into the rectum or vagina of a sexual partner, sometimes forming a fist during or after insertion. Usually the fist is moved in a rhythmic motion once inside the partner's body.

Foot Fetishism

Also called podophilia, foot fetishism is sexual arousal from viewing, handling, rubbing against, or kissing the feet and toes, as well as the shoes, socks, or boots, of another person.


Foreplay describes sexual practices other than heterosexual sexual intercourse, and includes sexual activity such as touching, kissing, licking, massaging, hugging, and other types of bodily contact that promote sexual excitement (erection or vaginal lubrication). This type of sexual activity may or may not lead to orgasm and does not necessarily lead to sexual intercourse, although it is most often understood as a prelude (fore) to heterosexual vaginal intercourse. Homosexual sex between men or between women does not involve penis-vagina sexual intercourse and so does not have the interest in distinguishing one kind of sexual practice from another, or earlier stages of sexual relations from later stages that follow it, as conveyed by a term such as foreplay.


Frottage is sexual arousal achieved by rubbing against another person, including nonconsensual rubbing against strangers in public places. Frottage can be practiced between men or between men and women and in its consensual form is a time-honored homosexual sexual alternative to oral sex and anal intercourse. It may include intercrural intercourse, which involves inserting the penis between the thighs of a partner; frotting, in which penises are rubbed together as a couple embraces; and mammary intercourse, where the penis is rubbed between the woman's breasts. Frottage is considered a safe sexual practice that reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission and has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years.


Also sometimes known as plushies, furries are people who enjoy wearing anthropomorphic animal costumes. The media has portrayed them as people looking for nontraditional sexual experiences, but many furries insist that they are merely a kind of fandom, like Star Trek Trekkers or Trekkies. Nevertheless, there are furry or plushie groups interested in dating and sex within their interest group, as is true of other fan subcultural groups.

Group Sex

Group sex is sexual activity between more than two partners at the same time in one place. It is sometimes called an orgy, though group sex can involve couples next to each other, threesomes, daisy chains, or gang bangs. Threesomes may be composed of three men; three women; or some combination of men and women, where two men have sex with one woman or two women have sex with one man. Larger groups can form and are called daisy chains if the person one is having sex with is also having sex with the person next to him or her and so on. Gang bangs are consensual scenarios where a group of men line up to have intercourse with one person, either male or female. A nonconsensual gang bang, where a person is violated by others against their will, is called a gang rape.


Incest is sexual contact between closely related individuals, such as siblings; or children and their parents, grandparents, aunts, or uncles. Incest violates sociocultural or religious norms or laws concerning kinship and sexual activity. Definitions of the type of kinship within which sex is forbidden vary widely between cultures; in some cultures first cousins may marry; in others, cousins may have sexual relations but not marry; and still others consider such relationships to be incestuous and therefore completely forbidden.


Intercourse is understood to involve insertion of the erect penis into some orifice, such as the vagina, anus, or mouth. It may also be used to describe some forms of frottage, such as interfemoral (intercrural) intercourse or mammary intercourse. Intercrural or interfemoral intercourse is inserting and moving the penis between the thighs of a partner, whereas mammary intercourse involves inserting and moving the penis between a woman's breasts.

The Kama Sutra is a Hindu treatise by a writer known as Vatsyayana written during the Classical Age of India (320–540 ce) and delineating various sitting, standing, and recumbent heterosexual sexual positions. It was translated by Sir Richard Burton (1821–1890) in 1883 and exists in various photographic, illustrated, film, and animated forms. Contemporary lesbian and gay male versions of the text exist as well, and kama sutra is understood today as another name for a sex manual.


Masturbation is manual stimulation of oneself or a partner for sexual pleasure and can be penetrative or nonpenetrative. Mutual masturbation is sexual activity in which partners stimulate each other's genitals with hands or sex toys. Masturbating a man is often described as giving someone a hand job.


Necrophilia is sexual activity or obsession with a corpse. It is seen as a disorder or as signaling an underlying disorder. It is thought to be rare.


Nymphomania is an archaic and disparaging term used to refer to a very sexually active woman, implying excessive or uncontrollable desire. It was once considered unusual and even pathological for a woman to be sexually active, especially without pay. The term has been replaced by the ubiquitous whore, another sexist epithet that functions in a similar way.

Oral Intercourse

Also called oral sex, oral intercourse includes cunnilingus, fellatio, anilingus, felching, and rimming.


Paraphilia is sexual arousal or orgasm dependent upon a sexual practice that is outside of social norms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR lists the paraphilias as exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, transvestic fetishism, and voyeurism.


Pederasty is a term signifying love, friendship, sexual attraction, and sometimes sexual relations between an adult man and a pubescent boy between twelve and seventeen years of age. Pederasty was understood as an institutionalized relationship in ancient Greek society, officially sanctioned as long as it was consensual and mutually beneficial. Some relationships were sexual, although chaste pederasty was also championed as a form of self-control for both partners. The man was expected to mentor the boy in various ways and help him attain manhood; the boy was expected to delight and inspire the man to virtuous living and great deeds. Classical Greek pederasty is quite different from pedophilia, as pedophilia is a sexual attraction to children and includes girls as well as boys, and Greek pederasty excluded children and girls.

Pederastic relationships are known outside of the Greek tradition, and there are many societies in which the principal homosexual love object for males is the adolescent boy. Such relationships have been known in Korea, Japan, China, and many Islamic countries where contact between males and females is limited. Pederasty is institutionalized in Papua New Guinea, where men and boys have sexual relations until the boys marry. Pederasty was defended in poetry and philosophy in late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century Germany, England, and the United States, but by the late twentieth century, it was mostly out of favor largely because of strict sex-offender laws seeking to limit sexual contact between legal adults and minors below the age of consent.


Pedophilia is the sexual arousal for an adult obtained by sexual contact with or fantasies about children and is considered a pathological sexual disorder, or paraphilia.

Phone Sex

Telephone or phone sex is a kind of virtual sex consisting of sexually explicit conversation between two or more persons using the telephone. Usually one or more of the participants masturbates during the conversation, and details of this masturbation are candidly related to other listeners as part of the conversation. Phone sex conversations may include sexual commands and suggestions, sexual stories and confessions, and frank discussion of sensitive sexual topics. The best-known cliché of phone sex is the opening line, "What are you wearing?" Phone sex can be part of an intimate monogamous relationship when lovers are separated by distance, casual sexual contact between people interested in a network of virtual sex partners, or a commercial transaction where one person pays another person to verbally arouse them.

Role Playing

Role playing is the acting out of sexual fantasies, sometimes using costumes, masks, or props. It may incorporate aspects of sadomasochism.


Sadomasochism (SM) is the consensual use of domination or pain for sexual arousal and stimulation. It is a dynamic that usually involves playing out dominant and submissive roles, where the so-called sadist inflicts pain or humiliation and appears to enjoy it while the so-called masochist becomes aroused and satisfied receiving it. Derogatory terms such as sadist and masochist have been largely replaced by words such as top and bottom, because these terms are less judgmental and emphasize the role-playing dimension of the SM sexual dynamic. Certain films, such as prison movies and military dramas, rely on stereotypical versions of sadism and masochism for plot and character development. However, SM sex is a highly ritualized form of role-playing that involves many rules and safety words to protect its participants. It may or may not involve genital stimulation, and thus may or may not lead to orgasm. It may be done in couples in private, in groups, or in public scenes divided between participants and spectators. It can be heterosexual, lesbian, or gay. Feminine women who top other women or men are sometimes referred to as dominatrixes. Although many elements of sadomasochism, such as bondage and discipline, leather and latex fetishism, and role-playing, have entered mainstream sexual culture, most people still consider SM sexual practices kinky and subcultural.

Safe Sex

Safe sex refers to sexual practices that reduce the risk of HIV transmission. These practices include various forms of rubbing, such as interfemoral intercourse, frotting, masturbation, mutual masturbation, manual stimulation wearing latex gloves, role playing and sadomasochistic scenarios where body fluids are not exchanged, phone sex, cybersex, and anal, oral, or vaginal sex using condoms or dental dams. A broader definition of safe sex might ideally include precautions to ensure against pregnancy, violence, and coercion.

Sex Toys

Sex toys are objects designed and used for sexual pleasure, such as dildos, vibrators, nipple clamps, butt plugs, cock rings, sex dolls, and penis sleeves. Sex toys also include fetish wear, such as leather, latex or rubber clothing, boots, and high-heeled shoes. Implements used for bondage and discipline, such as handcuffs and wrist restraints, paddles, whips, harnesses, hoods, and gags, are sex toys, as are mainstream items used to enhance sexual pleasure, such as lingerie, erotica, and pornography.


Sixty-nining refers to mutual, simultaneous oral sex. Two men, two women, or a man and a woman can sixty-nine.


At one time sodomy could be defined as any sexual act that was not penile-vaginal penetration. The term usually refers to oral or anal intercourse, but various legal definitions may include other activities, such as bestiality.


Also called mate swapping or wife swapping, swinging is exchanging partners between couples for sexual recreation or having sex together with at least one other additional person. It is thought to have originated among United States Air Force pilots and their spouses on bases during World War II and the Korean War, and it subsequently spread to the suburbs.

Tantric Sexual Practices

From tantra, a Sanskrit word meaning woven together, tantric sexual practices are part of a system of Hindu yoga that worships the union of men and women. Historically, the movement has its roots in the heterosexual physical and spiritual union of man and woman, which leads to a form of sexual ritual in which slow, nonorgasmic sex is believed to be a path to experience the divine. In the Buddhist tradition, tantra refers to ritual texts that urge the cultivation of sensual pleasure. Recently, gay and lesbian interpretations of tantric sex have been developed as well.


Topping is taking the dominant role in a consensual disciplinary, bondage, or sadomasochistic sexual scenario. The top distributes punishment or exacts servitude from the bottom, whose pleasure it is to serve or be dominated, humiliated, or hurt. Tops often dress in clothing meant to convey authority, such as military uniforms and leather. Professional female tops who exaggerate their femininity are sometimes called dominatrixes.


Transvestism, or cross-dressing, is dressing in clothes traditionally considered those of the opposite sex. Some people feel compelled to cross-dress in order to experience sexual arousal; others do it in order to experiment with gender identity. Many transvestites are heterosexual men who are not interested in physical gender change or homosexual object choice. Other transvestites are homosexual men, or drag queens, who develop elaborate feminine personas for entertainment purposes or as part of their sexual and gender expression but who are not interested in changing their physical or social gender to female.

Still other male cross-dressers are interested in becoming women and cross-dress as part of a gradual transition from male to female. Some butch women cross-dress to indicate that they are lesbians, though they may be uninterested in becoming men. Others cross-dress as part of a transition from female to male. Women who dress as men for entertainment purposes are called drag kings. In opera there is a long tradition of women playing young men; these are called trouser roles, or travesti roles. There is also a long tradition of women who passed as men for economic, social, or sexual reasons, living undetected for long periods of time, marrying other women, and serving in the military.


Tribadism is the practice in which a woman arouses herself by rubbing her genitals upon another woman's body, genitals, or an object such as a pillow, stimulating the clitoris to orgasm. Because this was once believed to be a common lesbian practice, tribad was a term for lesbian.

Vaginal Intercourse

Also called coitus, vaginal intercourse is heterosexual penis-vagina sex.


Vanilla is a term originally used by SM practitioners to signify sex that was not sadomasochistic or subcultural in any way. Vanilla is considered by many people to be the safest, blandest, most boring flavor of ice cream, and SM people used this notion of vanilla to describe as boring mainstream sexual practices that favored sentimentality and convention. Vanilla sex at its most conventional is heterosexual, married, missionary position vaginal intercourse. More broadly vanilla sex suggests a dynamic of equality, an ethos of tenderness and love, and the sense that sexual expression is emotionally and spiritually meaningful rather than casual. The opposite of vanilla is SM, suggesting that the more one incorporates the dynamics of dominance and submission, role-playing, fantasy, and fetishism into one's sexual relationships, the less vanilla they will be.

Violent Practices (Extreme)

This describes practices in which someone becomes sexually aroused by hurting another human being, such as maiming, murder, or rape. Violent practices are behaviors linked to psychological disorders and are considered deeply antisocial and criminal. Maiming or murder is an extreme form of sadism in which a subject becomes sexually aroused by injuring or killing another person. This compulsive criminal behavior is often what drives serial killers. Rape is nonconsensual sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, oral) or other sexual contact using physical force, threat, or coercion.

Rape fantasy, a form of sexual arousal achieved by fantasizing about being forced to engage in sexual activity or forcing a person to engage in sexual activity, does not imply an actual desire to be raped or to rape. More often rape fantasies merely express the desire to incorporate dominance and submission or forms of sadomasochism into consensual sexual relationships.


Voyeurism is sexual arousal achieved by watching other people undress or engage in sexual activity. It is related to scopophilia, the visual pleasure of an unobserved spectator coded as heterosexual and male, which film critics use to describe the eye of the camera in classical Hollywood cinema. The scopophilic gaze is most often a heterosexual male gaze interested in fetishizing women and observing their intimate lives. Voyeurism is also called peeping, and is catered to in peep shows in which women display themselves through windows to anonymous observers. Peeping Tom is a slang term for a voyeur and derives from the name of the one man said not to have averted his gaze when Lady Godiva rode naked through Coventry in the eleventh century to get her husband to repeal his taxes on the peasantry. Historians think Peeping Tom, who was supposedly struck blind for his voyeurism, was added to the legend in the seventeenth century as a cautionary lesson.


Also known as urolagnia or urophilia, watersports refers to sexual arousal at the scent, taste, or sight of urine. Watersports may include watching someone urinate, smelling urine, urinating on or being urinated on by a partner (also known as golden showers) or drinking urine. Watersports may be practiced alone, in a couple, or in a group and can include same-sex or opposite-sex participants.

see also Oral Sex; Penetration.


American Psychiatric Association. 2000. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR. 4th edition, text revision. Washington, DC: Author.

Francoeur, Robert T., and Raymond J. Noonan, eds. 2004. The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum.

Freud, Sigmund. 1962. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, trans. and ed. James Strachey. New York: Basic Books. (Orig. pub 1905.)

Rubin, Gayle. 1984. "Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality." In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance. Boston, MA: Routledge and K. Paul.

                                            Jaime Hovey