Terms About Sex Adults Should Know

by | May 29, 2019 | Sex | 20 comments

A dictionary of sex terms every adult should know!

Many of us jump into marriage never knowing terms for various aspects of sex.

Even if we understand the basics of “the deed,” proper words and terms aren’t always taught.

This month, during Wednesday posts, I’ve been talking about sex ed for Christians. I really believe that, as the church, we need to do a better job teaching people about sex. Part of that is because, if we really believe sex is for marriage, we need to set couples up for success, instead of shaming them and causing libido issues. Another big reason is so that, if something seems off, people realize it and seek help.

Over the course of this month, I’ve covered the theology of the clitoris, the theology of the penis, and a (really important!) post about how noticing isn’t lusting. This Wednesday we’re finishing up the series with a list of terms about sex adults should know.

A big part of education is learning words for things. It’s actually been shown by many studies that teaching kids the correct terminology for their genitalia protects them from long term abuse. It’s important that we know what we’re talking about so that we can have open dialogue with our spouses. There was a hilarious dust-up on Twitter a while ago when a guy tried to “mansplain” what a vagina was–when really he was talking about the vulva. He wouldn’t back down, even when gynecologists told him he had the terms wrong. But that’s a common thing to not understand! Similarly, did you know that semen and sperm aren’t interchangeable terms? This stuff does matter.

All of this is why I wrote the Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex. I wanted to put together a resource to answer questions Christians have about sex in a positive way and to help support couples, whether they are preparing for marriage or have already been married, to have the best intimate lives possible.

Do you feel unprepared for sex?

I wrote the Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex to be a tool to help women learn about and embrace sex without fear. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of sex, check it out–I wrote it for you!

Last week, I put out a call to my team to suggest terms that adults should know about sex. Here’s the crazy thing – many of us learned a few new vocabulary words in the process! Give a look through our lists to see if there are any that you haven’t heard of.

A Dictionary of Sexual Health Terms Adults Should Know

Female Reproductive Anatomy

Cervical Mucus – Fluid released from the cervix throughout the menstrual cycle to aid sperm motility and increase the chance of conception. Tracking cervical mucus is a part of many natural family planning methodologies.

Female genitalia – Female external genitalia is called the vulva and includes the clitoris, urethra, vagina, labia majora, and labia minora. (Click here for a diagram)

Hymen – a membrane that partially covers the opening of the vagina, typically in a virgin. It is generally broken at first intercourse, which may or may not hurt. However, some are born without a hymen, and it may be broken at other times, and absence of the hymen does not mean absence of virginity.

Female reproductive system – The female reproductive system consists of the vagina (which ends at the opening of the uterus, or cervix), the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

G-Spot – A sensitive area of the vaginal wall, located toward the front of the vagina, which, when stimulated in many women can produce orgasm. Learn how to find your G-spot here!

Pelvic floor – the muscles controlling urination, vaginal function, and defecation. They may be strengthened by doing kegel exercises and/or by the support of a pelvic floor physiotherapist. (A pelvic floor physiotherapist explains when it’s the right time to get help)

Male Reproductive Anatomy

Diagram showing male reproductive system illustration

Male genitalia and reproductive system – Male genitalia consists of the penis, testicles (which contain the testes), and scrotum.

Semen – Reproductive fluid containing sperm which is released upon male orgasm.

Sexual Activities

Manual Stimulation – Using one’s hand to rub and/or massage a partner’s genitalia to give them sexual pleasure. Many women achieve orgasm solely through oral or manual stimulation of the clitoris.

Masturbation – Rubbing or stimulating one’s own genitals to achieve sexual pleasure.

Foreplay – Kissing, sexual touching, stimulation, etc. for the purpose of heightening arousal preceding intercourse

Oral Sex – Using one’s mouth on a partner’s genitalia to give them sexual pleasure. When the man is performing oral sex, it is called cunnilingus. When the woman is performing oral sex, it is called fellatio.

Penetrative Sex/Coitus – Sex in which the penis is inserted into the vagina.

Erotica Books written to arouse readers. Reading erotica is often accompanied by fantasizing about the characters read about or masturbation.

Pornography – Photographs and movie clips including nude and semi-nude scenes and displays of sexual encounters intended to arouse viewers. Viewing porn is almost always accompanied by masturbation.

Components of human sexual function

Arousal – Body changes that make intercourse possible and comfortable. For men, arousal results primarily in an erection of the penis (see below). For women, arousal primarily includes lubrication of the vagina and vulva. More, however, is involved in arousal than just that, and you can see my post on arousal and women for greater detail.

Consent – Agreement by both parties to engage in an activity. Consent should be voluntary and affirmative and must be given for each sexual encounter. This also applies to what is considered “okay” during a sexual encounter – for example, whether or not a sex toy can be used. It is also not possible for a partner to give consent while they are sleeping or are otherwise incapacitated.

Erection – A hardening and lengthening of the penis that occurs when a man is sexually aroused. Maintaining an erection is necessary for intercourse to occur.

Ejaculation – The release of semen and sperm from a man’s penis upon orgasm. The fluid that is released is called ejaculate.

Female Ejaculation – The release of fluid from a woman’s urethra during orgasm. The fluid contains certain enzymes and fructose. Female ejaculation is also referred to as “Squirting.” Only some women experience this (10-30%) and it’s frequency varies from woman to woman.

Erogenous Zones – Parts of the body sensitive to sexual touch. These include the genitalia and secondary sexual features such as the breasts but also may include areas such as the ears and neck (and anywhere else your spouse enjoys it!)

Hormones – Compounds which are produced by the body to help the organs function. Several different hormones work to regulate sexual function and response, and both sexes have all hormones in different proportions. Estrogen and progesterone are women’s main hormones, while testosterone is men’s. Low hormone levels often result in lower libido. People’s hormones will fluctuate, especially women’s, which are largely controlled by the menstrual cycle.

Libido – A person’s sex drive, their level of desire for sexual intimacy.

Multiple Orgasms – Many women are able to climax multiple times per sexual encounter if stimulated. (Check out this post to find out how!)

Orgasm/Climax – The result of sexual stimulation to the penis or clitoris (or, less frequently, the vagina), an involuntary response including waves of pleasurable muscular activity and, in men, the release of semen and sperm.

Oxytocin – the “bonding hormone” that is released on climax which makes the partners feel more affectionate and closer to one another. Men tend to release oxytocin in large quantities only during sex, while women release it more frequently, especially when breastfeeding or cuddling children.

Refractory Period – The period after a man orgasms during which he is unable to achieve orgasm again. This may last for a few hours up to a day.

Semen – A fluid secreted by a male’s gonads that typically contains sperm, along with enzymes that benefit the survival and motility of the sperm.

Sperm – A reproductive cell containing half of a man’s genetic code, capable of “swimming” thanks to its tail. Large quantities are released in a man’s semen when he ejaculates.

Queef – The sound of air being released from the vagina.

Sexual Health

Anorgasmia – Inability for a man or woman to achieve orgasm.

Birth Control/Contraception – The prevention of pregnancy by any number of means, including condoms, the pill, IUDs, and others. While not birth control, pregnancy may also be avoided by using natural family planning. (For more information about birth control methods, including information on the various types, check out this post.)

Delayed/Inhibited Ejaculation – Inability for a man to achieve orgasm or to achieve it in the timeframe both partners would prefer.

Dyspareunia – Pain during sex. This may be due to many reasons, but is especially common as a side effect to childbirth. Scarification and pelvic floor trauma can be treated by pelvic floor physiotherapists. (If you’re dealing with pain during sex, take a look at what pelvic floor physiotherapy is all about.)

Endometriosis – A painful condition caused by uterine epithelial cells outside of the uterus. It is a common cause of infertility and the pain is often experienced during menstruation.

Erectile Dysfunction – A condition causing an to be unable to achieve or maintain an erection long enough to reach orgasm during a sexual encounter. Its causes can be psychological or physical.

Low Libido – Lack of sexual drive or desire, low interest in sex. (If this describes your life, we’ve got a course for you!)

Premature Ejaculation – The inability for a man to postpone orgasm in order to maintain a sexual encounter past a few minutes.

Sexually Transmitted Infection – A bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection transmitted via contact with an infected person’s genitalia or reproductive fluids.

Vaginismus – A condition that causes severe pain during sex due to a tightening of the muscles in the vagina which may make penetrative sex impossible for women suffering from the condition. The condition is thought to most often be caused by trauma or abuse. It is almost always treatable with pelvic floor physiotherapy.

Vulvodynia/Vulvular Vestibulitis – Pain during sex caused by a burning sensation in the vulva. It’s cause is unknown. It is treatable with pelvic floor physiotherapy.

Dictionary of Sex Terms Every Woman Should Know

There you have it! Sex terms adults should know. Did we miss any that you think we should include? Let me know in the comments! But please–don’t use slang terms. I deliberately left those out so I wouldn’t get caught in spam filters or mischaracterized by Google. 🙂

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Kay

    I would love if you made a video or podcast pronouncing the female and male parts. I have young children and I want to be able to tell them correctly. When I explain to my husband we just get it because I can halfways butcher the word and he still understands. Thanks!

    • LM

      Yes! I don’t know how to pronounce them either, and my hubby’s laughed at me a few times when I’ve tried. 😌

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s really funny. Maybe I will do this as a podcast! It may be kinda interesting. Of course, then I’d have to make sure I’m pronouncing them correctly. 🙂

  2. Lindsey

    I totally agree with what you said about consent not being given while sleeping, but it reminded me of something funny. On numerous occasions during our marriage I would wake up in the middle of a heavy make out session with my husband. Once my mind had fully awoken, I would be like “what are you doing?! I’m trying to sleep.” And every time he’d be like “So was I when you started kissing me!” Some people sleep walk, I apparently sleep make out.

    • Rose

      I do this too! And I actually kind of enjoy waking up to sex, so I’ve given him a free pass/invitation for that (we have a deeply trusting relationship so I know he won’t do anything we haven’t previously agreed upon). He’s never taken it without me apparently initiating in my sleep, though XD

      I feel like that does bring up an interesting thought, though. Are there any discussions of what it looks like to give your spouse a “blank cheque” of consent in certain areas? I feel like I’ve tried to do that just because I enjoy being surprised with things I find pleasant, but like I said I have a very deeply respectful husband who I’m trying to get to relax around me, so it’s not a risk of him overstepping. That’s probably not the case in a lot of relationships, from what I’ve been reading here.

  3. Andrea

    Can we please stop using euphemisms for pornography? “Displays of sexual encounters intended to arouse viewers” is hardly doing it “justice.” The problem with it is that 90% of those displays are violent towards women (I’ve written about this before — fellatio involves gagging, there is more anal than vaginal sex, and the most common scenario is three men simultaneously filling every hole a woman has). I realize this may be too graphic for a short definition, but how about this:

    Pornography, in its contemporary online form, is the brutalization of trafficked women intended to create an association between arousal and violence in the viewers.

    Some human rights groups have even called it “rape for profit.” A collection of research articles called “Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress” estimates that up to 90% of women in the sex industry have experienced incest or other childhood sexual abuse and that two-thirds of them suffer from PTSD. Reminding male (and female!) consumers of porn about this tends to ruin the experience, at least a little. Whereas if we merely discuss it in terms of arousal, it only makes it the forbidden fruit. I couldn’t blame a man (or woman) for being aroused by the sight and movement of a beautiful naked body, but I am horrified that people are capable of being aroused by watching naked men torture naked women. The average age for today’s kids first porn exposure is between 8 and 11, so let’s make sure that in addition to teaching them the correct terminology for all their body parts we also teach the truth about porn.

    By the way, a lot of my information comes from this excellent anti-pornography nonprofit organization started by a group of Mormons (though the current organization denies any formal connection to the LDS church): https://fightthenewdrug.org/stopthedemand/

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Good point, Andrea. I’ll change the description! Thank you.

    • Lyndall Cave

      The definition of pornography in this article seemed more like a dictionary definition than a euphemism to me. “Displays of sexual encounters intended to arouse viewers,” is the most basic nutshell description. Of course, I think there’s a lot more to it (and a lot negative), but a dictionary definition doesn’t have time or space to go into details. Since this article is just talking about the most basic definition of sex-related terms, I think it’s appropriate.

      • Andrea

        I understand. Pornography as such has always been around, since cave drawings. But because it has never had such a pernicious effect on real life sex (women on this blog have complained about husbands wanting to do some degrading things I’ve mentioned from pornography or losing interest in real life sex all together) and global human trafficking, I thought it was important to update it. Our body parts and other things defined in the blog post have not changed over the centuries, but pornography has and in terrible ways.

  4. Melissa W

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention female ejaculation. I’m not even sure if there is some other technical name for it. I know that this doesn’t happen for every women but it can be quite alarming to some women when this happens for the first time if they didn’t even know it was a possibility.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, good one to add! I’ve talked about that before, too. I’ll go put it in.

  5. Laura

    May I suggest a modification? Erectile dysfunction is a *condition*, not a disease.

    Also, did I miss the definition of sperm?

    • unmowngrass

      I agree on all of the above! A disease is contagious, is it not?

  6. N Wilson

    It may be helpful to readers to know that the hymen doesn’t completely cover the vaginal opening, but is around the inside edges. There’s part of an episode of Adam Ruins Everything that covers this, which you can see at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ikXim4wevc. I don’t condone their casual attitude toward extramarital sex, but their explanation is pretty good.

  7. unmowngrass

    I also have a couple of modifications, if I may:

    Men ~can~ experience multiple orgasms/orgasm without ejaculating/losing their erection. It’s not terribly common, so I believe, but it is possible. (If you can find out more about how this works then that would be useful information, please and thank you.)

    The hymen doesn’t actually get broken during intercourse. But it relaxes and the muscles change position a little bit, so that by age ~25 a woman will have a wider vaginal opening than she used to, whether or not she is a virgin. The bleeding is instead likely a result of small tears in the vagina that occur during intercourse, if it is a bit too rough/she isn’t aroused enough.

  8. unmowngrass

    I also have additions to this list.

    “Whole body orgasms”.
    I have heard of this term, but I am not really sure what it means. I know it is different from both clitoral orgasms and squirting/female ejaculation. It may or may not be related to G-spot stimulation.

    The part in between the genitals and the anus, for both men and women. Has quite a few nerve endings, without being an actual sex organ by itself; therefore will respond to light stimulation, such as stroking, during foreplay. Speaking of which…

    I am surprised this was not on this list! I am not 100% sure on what is and isn’t considered foreplay itself, vs actual sex acts, but to the best of my understanding it’s that period in between “This Is Definitely Sexy-Times” (undressing, touching, stroking, kissing, etc, of body parts), but before you get to the “We Are Doing The Actual Sex Acts Now” part. It can take anywhere from seconds to hours.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Can’t believe we forgot foreplay! Thank you, I’ll send these suggestions to Joanna to add in.

  9. J. Parker

    Whew! I passed the quiz. Knew ’em all. 😉

    Great list, Sheila!

  10. Greg

    A great list, Sheila. A minor finessing I’d suggest is, under the men’s anatomy section, is that semen is released at ejaculation, not at orgasm. Now, in men ejaculation and orgasm are usually simultaneous, but I’ve understood it that they are two distinct processes: ejaculation is the physical process that expels the semen from the body, while orgasm is something different (the process that releases the feel-good hormones like oxytocin etc.?)

    Is there a doctor in the house who can confirm or correct me?

  11. Lisa

    Queef?? Who knew there was an actual name for a vaginal fart?!


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