The survey, conducted by YouGov, asked more than 5,800 Britons whether they thought sexual acts aside from intercourse can be considered sex.
According to the results, nearly half of respondents did not think that oral sex counted as sex, regardless of the gender giving or receiving. 40 to 41 per cent, meanwhile, said it does.
A higher proportion of people did not think that stimulating the penis with hands (52 per cent) or stimulating the clitoris with hands (48 per cent) count as “having sex”.
Annabelle Knight, sex and relationships expert at adult retailer Lovehoney, told The Independent that it is “a bit shocking” that “so many people in the UK don’t count oral sex or other forms of genital stimulation as ‘sex’”.
She said: “The concept that penetrative sex is the only ‘proper’ form of sex is not only outdated but also heteronormative – presuming that there has to be a penis (and in most cases, a vagina) involved.
“Viewing sex as an all-inclusive term was more common among LGBT+ people, I find it surprising that it isn’t more accepted.”
The survey revealed that sexuality does play a big role in shaping opinions about what constitutes as “sex”.
Gay and bisexual men were significantly more likely to say that oral sex on a man counts as sex (57 per cent), while lesbian and bisexual women said the same of oral sex on a woman (54 per cent).
The results also showed a generational divide. Britons over 50 (54 to 56 per cent) were more likely to consider oral sex on men and women to count as having sex. However, YouGov said the figures are “effectively reversed” for respondents under the age of 50.
Knight added: “We should really be moving away from the thought process that sex is only valid if penetration is involved – not only to be more inclusive of different sexual preferences and body types, but also because sex is about so much more than penetration and orgasms.
“Sex is ultimately about intimacy, pleasure and fun. All of this can be achieved without penetration,” she added, suggesting the stimulation of erogenous zones besides the genitals.
Knight also recommended “intimate touching” and “dirty talk” as acts that could seen as “sex” because “they all achieve what ‘sex’ should achieve – sensual pleasure and intimacy”.
“As a society, we are starting to become more accepting of different types of relationships – such as polyamory, for example – but the idea of sex being more than just penetration isn’t something we’ve quite mastered yet,” Knight said.
She put the blame on the “poor standard of sex education” in the UK for views such as those revealed by the survey, as well as “internalised shame surrounding sex and pleasure”.