What is sex, exactly? In other words, what "counts" as having sex? Human sexuality is incredibly diverse and people define "sex" in different ways.
The traditional view is that the only real sex is intercourse - that is, it only counts as sex if a penis goes into a vagina. This idea is so ingrained in our culture and perpetuated by portrayals in the media, it is hard to convince many people to think differently about sex. Even the term ‘foreplay’ implies that all other sexual activities are secondary and merely a lead up to the main event.
This narrow view of sex is fine except sometimes intercourse simply isn't possible. Maybe you just gave birth and haven't healed yet. Maybe you're having problems with painful sex. Maybe you are having issues with erectile functioning, or one of you has a physical disability. Does that mean that you cannot express yourselves sexually or have to forgo sexual pleasure?
There are lots of different ideas about what sex can be. Have a look at this post from the Psychology Today which provides some really creative ways to enjoy sex without having intercourse.
Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is: “Can you feel good about non-intercourse activities or do you see this as a sexual failure?”. If not, then you need to ask yourself whether it is workable in the long-term to hold onto a view of sex as only being intercourse.
A variable, flexible approach humanises sexuality, is positive and realistic and gives you the opportunity to enjoy great sex whether or not it involves intercourse. While it is difficult for many people to do, challenging the thought that anything other than intercourse is settling for second class sex allows you and your partner to develop a shared understanding of sex which ultimately offers a meaningful connection.
Many people refer to sex as “being intimate”. So further down the track, we'll be looking at the difference between sex and intimacy.