Mental Health Advice: Dr. Darcy Sterling

Definition of sex

Dear Dr. Darcy:

I’m a gold star lesbian, but I haven’t experimented with penetration (playing with toys like strap-ons, etc.) with any of my ex-girlfriends. My question for you is: Does this mean I haven’t really had sex? And is it normal for some lesbians not to have been penetrated by a partner using a sex toy?
—Gold Star Lesbian
Dear Gold Star,
The definition of sex needs an update. (You hear that, Merriam-Webster?) 
The existing definition—which characterizes sex as an act occurring between a male and a female in which penetration occurs—is patriarchal and heteronormative. The failure of this definition to include references to homosexual sex, or any nonpenetrative sex, can lead us to believe that never having engaged in penetration renders one a virgin. That is just as ridiculous as stating that a girl who uses a tampon is no longer a virgin.
So let’s decide what the new definition is, shall we?
Sex: When two people engage in physical intimacy that includes but is not limited to: oral sex, penetrative sex, or digital sex.
Now for the second half of your question. 
There are plenty of lesbians in the world who do not engage in or enjoy penetration. That’s perfectly normal. There are also plenty who rock a strap-on with pleasure. That’s normal, too. The beauty of being gay, Gold Star, is that we get to write our own rules and determine our own norms. Any physical intimacy between two consenting adults, that doesn’t involve anything not consented to, is fine.
Dr. Darcy Sterling is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Her practice, Alternatives Counseling, specializes in LGBT issues and is located in New York City. Dr. Darcy’s clinical style is very direct, goal-oriented and pragmatic. For years, the media has been drawn to her unique personality. She has provided expert commentary for networks including E! Entertainment and has worked with television producers throughout the nation. Her blog,, provides free advice to members of the LGBT community. Email questions to or call 212-604-0144. 
*This column is not a consultation with a mental health professional and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own therapist or counselor.


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