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Sex and the Power of Language

Sex and the Power of Language

Language is the metaphor we use to communicate our deepest feelings. A couple’s sexuality is the most profound vehicle of communication available. The words we use and our physical language of love define our love experience.

Penetration is the word often used to describe the culminating act of sex. It’s a word I often use when describing the best use of a good lubricant. But it was just this week after using the word in conjunction with the act that I wondered what I was saying. The verb to penetrate has six different definitions in the dictionary and as in the power of any metaphor, the meaning one attaches to the term may deeply influence our relationship to the act.

A lesbian friend of mine once told me that it is not uncommon for many of her friends to maintain a no penetration relationship, and among my heterosexual friends, it is not a small minority who avoid penetration with their spouses. I never asked them but I wonder if for them, the meaning of penetration feels like this definition of a military force entering into enemy territory or the depth of a projectile into a target. Certainly the idea of women as targets for men is rampant and so the need to protect oneself is also deeply held.

To penetrate also means to have an effect throughout, spread through; permeate, move deeply, or imbue. Applied again as a metaphor for sexuality this penetration is an act that transforms, that has the potential of changing everything. This sexual act can have the force of inspiration, the possibility of being completely saturated with love.

The act of penetration is a force of nature that is loaded with meaning and mystery. Not surprisingly, to penetrate also means to gain insight and to have a marked effect on the mind and emotions. Our language about our sexuality is as layered as the act itself, and knowing what you mean when you speak about love and sex can only be helpful.

Sexuality is a metaphor for many things in life. Those things that we share in our sexual encounters, like language, attitudes and openness with one another, have a long reach into the depth and closeness of our day-to-day relationships.

Consider your relationship to penetration–the word, the idea and the act. Penetration means all of these things all at once. But if I were to make a leap, in the name of making love sustainable, it would be that couples who build a strong and consensual relationship with the meaning and act of penetration are much more likely to have a strong and consensual relationship to each other.

Wendy Strgar, the owner and founder of Good Clean Love, manufacturer of all natural love and intimacy products. She is a sex educator focusing on “Making Love Sustainable”, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love and family. She has learned that physical intimacy is an important component of sustaining healthy loving relationships through her own marriage of over 25 years.

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Wendy Strgar

Wendy Strgar, founder and CEO of Good Clean Love, is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love, intimacy and family.  In her new book, Love that Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy,  she tackles the challenging issues of sustaining relationships and healthy intimacy with an authentic and disarming style and simple yet innovative adviceIt has been called "the essential guide for relationships."  The book is available on ebook.  Wendy has been married for 27 years to her husband, a psychiatrist, and lives with their four children ages 13- 22 in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.


+ add your own
11:55AM PDT on Jun 20, 2010

How about envelopment instead of penetration? Sounds nicer!

11:57PM PDT on Jun 14, 2009


10:27PM PDT on Mar 16, 2009

I know this is a very old thread but I still had a thought on the matter. As a heterosexual male, the word penetration has intense erotic meaning and visualization for me. However with the act of sexual intercourse with a female lover, another just as intense erotic meaning and visualization, sometimes even more so, occurs. It's in the personal perspective. When I eat a banana, the banana doesn't "penetrate" my mouth! My mouth consumes it. I get a very erotic excitation envisioning my lover's vagina consuming my penis.

12:49PM PDT on Mar 10, 2009

This article says a lot without really saying a lot at all. I agree with one of the comments above sex is so much in the mind. The physical act of penetration is just that very physical and I think you can make love to someone without it..but I think it certainly adds to the intensity of the experience and makes it a real coming together of two people. The whole thing for me is so much more moving if it is based on a strong emotional connection thats the biggest turn on there is along with the anticipation of the act and when it finally comes to fruition.

9:10AM PDT on Mar 10, 2009

There's more to this topic... Sex involves much more than our body.

11:16PM PDT on Mar 9, 2009

Wendy's onto something here, but she barely got started and just ended it. I'll add a cent or two. I write gay fiction that I term 'meaningful and erotic', ie: emotional human dramas that fully include sexual/emotional/love journeys. I've long been a student of people and relationships, and I get a lot of letters from readers-- male and female-- who open up and tell me their views and life experiences. Some feel odd or apart, and the point I make about sex and sexuality is: how people perceive sex and sexuality, relationships and love, is mind boggling in its complexity and all wrapped up in culture, religion, gender, and sexual paradigms.

How people perceive penetration, what they attach to the idea and the act, what they want emotionally from it, all matters a great deal because for most people, sex is the first element that cements their relationship (or not) and sex is the most potent communication you can have with another. Naturally, all the other sexual acts, verbal and body cues in our passion plays are holistic to the picture, but this is about penetration.

There are people for whom penetration IS perceived as invasion, and those for whom it is communion, and many other metaphors in the spectrum-- some scary, some sadly distorted and still others sublime. It's fascinating stuff, deciphering peoples' sexual perceptions. (Wrap up, out of space) I've read, and repeat often: Sex is about 90% mental and 10% physical- a powerful and beautiful thing.

10:16AM PDT on Mar 9, 2009

I believe that there is more to sex than p enetration, my Partner and I can not enjoy the act as such due to illness, but you could not find a couple more in love than us. We share all of our thoughts and dreams and are best friends.
I believe that it is up to the individuals what it means to them as far as sex goes. No rights and no Wrongs.

9:40AM PDT on Mar 9, 2009

The whole essay seems 'discombobulated'. (Sorry if that is spelled wrong, if it's even a word) I read it twice, and still don't understand what it was saying. Lot of statements that left me wondering how they all fit together. Not penetrating my brain. Sorry.

7:59AM PDT on Mar 9, 2009

wow. I thought that was the favorite part, it just feels the best- why skip it? Or worse, politicize it? Maybe you think too much!

10:48PM PST on Mar 6, 2009

"Penetration is the word often used to describe the culminating act of sex".... Hmmm, that implies that sex sessions should end with "penetration" and that other kinds of sex are only "foreplay" for penetration. Quite a moralistic idea about sex. In real life, healthy sex is whatever sexual things the sexual participants all want to do and feel happy to do. There are no absolute "shoulds". There are no "shoulds" except in people's opinions.

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