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Sexual intercourse


Sexual intercourse, also known as copulation or coitus, commonly refers to the act in which the male reproductive organ enters the female reproductive tract.[1][2] The two entities may be of opposite sexes, or they may be hermaphroditic, as is the case with snails. Over time, the definition expanded and may now include other penetrative sexual acts, such as penetration of non-sexual organs (oral intercourse, anal intercourse) or by non-sexual organs (fingering, etc.). For example, penetrative acts between same-sex individuals can also be regarded as sexual intercourse.[2]

Sexual intercourse typically plays a powerful role in human bonding, often being used solely for pleasure and leading to stronger emotional bonds.[3] Non-penetrative sex (oral sex may or may not be penetrative) and mutual masturbation have been referred to as “outercourse”,[4][5][6][7] as it contrasts “outer” with “inter” (though the “inter” in “intercourse” means between two beings rather than being inside or outside of the body), but may also be among the sexual acts contributing to human bonding and considered intercourse. Despite strict definitions of sex, in the context of sexual intimacy (such as ones relating to “technical virginity”), it can be taken to mean any mutual genital stimulation (i.e. all forms of intercourse and outercourse).[2][8] As with most forms of sexual interaction, individuals are at risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases,[9][10] and thus safe sex practises are advised.[9]

Modern Judaism, Christianity, and Islam view sexual intercourse between husband and wife as a spiritual and edifying action. The limits of marriage and concubinage within these traditions has changed over time, along with corresponding views of acceptable sexual behavior. The teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism on sexuality have differing interpretations. Buddhism’s injunction to “refrain from sexual misconduct” finds its interpretation and practical definitions at the level of the individual. However, within each of these major religious traditions exists subgroups with varying stances on acceptable sexual practices, and some religious groups prohibit monks and nuns from engaging in sexual intercourse altogether.

Mating is the term most often used to refer to sexual intercourse between animals other than humans; for most, mating occurs at the point of estrus (the most fertile period of time in the female’s reproductive cycle),[11][12] which increases the chances of successful impregnation. However, bonobos,[13] dolphins,[14] and chimpanzees are known to engage in sexual intercourse even when the female is not in estrus, and to engage in sex acts with same-sex partners.[14][15] Like humans engaging in sex primarily for pleasure,[3] this behavior in the above mentioned animals is also presumed to be for pleasure,[16] and a contributing factor to strengthening their social bonds.[3]

Practices of human relations

Bonding and affection

In animals, sexual intercourse ranges from a purely reproductive activity to one of emotional bonding between mated pairs. It typically plays a powerful role in human bonding. In many societies, for example, it is normal for couples to have frequent intercourse while using birth control, sharing pleasure and strengthening their emotional bond through sex even though they are deliberately avoiding pregnancy.[3]

In humans and bonobos, the female undergoes relatively concealed ovulation so that both male and female partners commonly do not know whether she is fertile at any given moment. One possible reason for this distinct biological feature may be formation of strong emotional bonds between sexual partners important for social interactions and, in the case of humans, long-term partnership rather than immediate sexual reproduction.[3]

Humans, bonobos, dolphins, and chimpanzees are all intelligent social animals, whose cooperative behavior proves far more successful than that of any individual alone. In these animals, the use of sex has evolved beyond reproduction, to apparently serve additional social functions.[13][14][15] Sex reinforces intimate social bonds between individuals to form larger social structures. The resulting cooperation encourages collective tasks that promote the survival of each member of the group.[3]

The concept of “love” belongs to the domain of the virtues and to higher cognitive function, and is thus generally reserved for humans. When applied to animals, “love” is used largely for its colloquial meaning. In certain contexts, such as scientific research into emotional bonding, “love” is given a neuroscientific or neurochemical definition (rather than a human or a virtuous definition), and in such contexts human and animal intercourse are considered equivalent.

Reproduction and sexual practices

Vaginal sexual intercourse, also called coitus, is the human form of copulation. While its natural purpose and result is reproduction, it is often performed entirely for pleasure and/or as an expression of love and emotional intimacy.[2][3] Coitus is the basic reproductive method of humans. During ejaculation, which usually accompanies male orgasm, a series of muscular contractions delivers semen containing male gametes known as sperm cells or spermatozoa from the penis into the vagina. The subsequent route of the sperm from the vault of the vagina is through the cervix and into the uterus, and then into the fallopian tubes. Millions of sperm are present in each ejaculation, to increase the chances of one fertilizing an egg or ovum (see sperm competition). When a fertile ovum from the female is present in the fallopian tubes, the male gamete joins with the ovum, resulting in fertilization and the formation of a new embryo. When a fertilized ovum reaches the uterus, it becomes implanted in the lining of the uterus, known as endometrium, and a pregnancy begins. Unlike most species, human sexual activity is not linked to periods of estrus and can take place at any time during the reproductive cycle, even during pregnancy.[17]

Penetration by the hardened erect penis is additionally known as intromission, or by the Latin name immissio penis (Latin for “insertion of the penis”). Coitus may be preceded by foreplay, which leads to sexual arousal of the partners, resulting in the erection of the penis and natural lubrication of the vagina. To engage in coitus, the erect penis is inserted into the vagina and one or both of the partners move their hips to move the penis backward and forward inside the vagina to cause friction, typically without fully removing the penis. In this way, they stimulate themselves and each other, often continuing until orgasm in either or both partners is achieved. For females, stimulation of the clitoris plays a huge role in sexual intercourse; most can only achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation.[18][19][20][21]

Where a sperm donor has sexual intercourse with a woman who is not his partner, for the sole purpose of impregnating the woman, this practice may be known as natural insemination, or NI.[22]

Sexual intercourse may also be defined as referring to other forms of insertive sexual behavior, such as oral sex and anal intercourse. Sexual acts, other than as a means of reproduction, are varied: Oral sex consists of all the sexual activities that involve the use of the mouth, tongue, and possibly throat to stimulate genitalia. It is sometimes performed to the exclusion of all other forms of sexual activity, and may include the ingestion or absorption of semen or vaginal fluids. While there are many sexual acts involving the anus, anal cavity, sphincter valve and/or rectum, the most common meaning of anal sex is the insertion of a man’s penis into another person’s rectum. Non-penetrative sex acts are also common. These acts are sometimes seen among heterosexuals as maintaining “technical virginity.” Some gay men view frotting and oral sex as maintaining their virginity as well. The phrase to have sex can mean any or all of these behaviors (intercourse and outercourse).

Duration

Intercourse often ends when the man has ejaculated. Thus the woman might not have time to reach orgasm. In addition, many men suffer from premature ejaculation. Conversely, many women require a substantially longer duration of stimulation than men before reaching an orgasm.[23]

According to a Kinsey study, just under half of men reported a time to ejaculation from intromission of five minutes or less.[citation needed] About a fifth claimed that coitus lasted 10 minutes or longer. Others may have taken over one hour.

A survey[24] of Canadian and American sex therapists said that the average time for intromission was 7 minutes and that 1 to 2 minutes was too short, 3 to 7 minutes was adequate and 7 to 13 minutes desirable, while 10 to 30 minutes was too long.[25][26]

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