When it comes to hooking up, some terms are clearer than others. You and your friends all probably agree that kissing with tongue is called a French kiss, and that “second base” means that over-the-clothes contact is usually involved somehow. But when it comes to sex, there seems to be more confusion. Like, does masturbation count as sex? Or, what happens if you only did it for a couple of seconds with a partner?

Honestly, the exact definition of sex doesn’t really matter. Sex and sexual activity can involve kissing, touching, masturbation, vaginal, oral, or anal sex. Everybody is different, and what feels good for you might not feel right for someone else. What really matters is that you and your partner both gave consent to have sex or engage in sexual activity, and that you’re using protection in the form of condoms, birth control, or some other type of contraception.

Having sex — or even thinking about having sex — is a big decision. You might have a lot of questions, and although it might it might seem like a lot of information, it’s important to know what feels good, comfortable, and pleasurable for you. With that in mind, here’s Sex 101: a comprehensive discussion of what typically counts as sex and why.

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Does masturbation count as sex?

Masturbation doesn’t necessarily equal sex, and if you’ve masturbated before, that doesn’t really mean that you’ve lost your virginity. However, it’s totally normal to masturbate before or during sex to lead to a better orgasm.

Masturbation is a super safe way to learn about your body and prepare you for sex, as it’ll help you figure out what does — and doesn’t — turn you on. Bonus: You can feel good without having to worry about the risk of sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. Just make sure that if you’re masturbating, you have clean hands — you don’t want to introduce any bad bacteria into your body.

Do I have to orgasm during sex?

You might think it only counts as sex if you reach an orgasm, but that’s not true. It’s completely normal for you or your partner (or both) to not reach that height of sexual climax during your first, second, or hundredth time having sex.

According to Brown University, one in three people with vulvas (the outer part of the vagina) have trouble orgasming when having sex with a partner. Plus, everyone is different and it might take more than penetration to reach orgasm, such as clitoral stimulation. If you’re not sure what helps you get there, masturbation is a good way to explore your body and learn what feels good for you. If you’re with a partner, ask them to focus on specific areas of your body, too. No matter what, do not read too much into it if you have yet to reach the big O — it can take time.

What if it was only outercourse?

Outercourse is a way to engage in sexual activity without intercourse. Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University’s Health Q&A Internet Resource, describes outercourse as “lovemaking without penetration into a vagina or an anus. It allows a couple to be sexual, more intimate, and even orgasmic with one another without having sexual intercourse.”

Examples of outercourse include: making out, masturbating together, playing with sex toys, grinding, and dry humping. However, some exclude fingering or sex toys from outercourse, as it could be considered penetration. Outercourse is considered non-penetrative sex, but again, it’s completely subjective.

What if it was just for two seconds?

Yep, that’s still sex, even if it was just for two seconds.

Here’s what’s more important than the Sex vs. Not Sex label: No matter how long sex lasts, your partner needs to wear a condom to prevent the risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Also, if you’re sexually active, you should be getting regularly tested for STIs, and you should encourage your partners to do the same. You can visit your doctor, gynecologist, or clinics like Planned Parenthood (which offers confidential testing — your parents don’t need to know), or Google to find out where your town or city offers free STI testing. But even with testing, you still need to use condoms (which also help to prevent pregnancy) every time you have sex.

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What if my partner put their penis only halfway in?

There’s no Official Book of Sex Rules that details exactly what percentage of a penis has to be inserted in order for it to count as “Real Sex.” It’s still considered sex, or an attempt at sex. And again, no matter how far in they got, condoms are a must.

What if it was just oral sex or anal sex?

Oral and anal are definitely types of sex. The word “sex” is in the term for a reason. Oral and anal can involve fingering or sex toys, and just because pregnancy isn’t a risk factor in these types of sexual activity, that doesn’t mean you can forget about safe sex. You are still at risk for STIs, so use protection.

What if my partner says it didn’t “count”?

Honestly, what gives them the authority? Sex might mean different things to different people, but what ultimately matters is how you feel about the encounter and that you’re protecting yourself.

What if I didn’t consent to having sex?

If you didn’t consent to sex or sexual activity, it’s called rape or sexual assault. It doesn’t matter at what point in the hookup you said “no” or “stop” or changed your mind. Consent is an ongoing agreement, and you can withdraw consent at any point if you want to stop or no longer feel comfortable. If you suspect you might have been assaulted, please talk to a trusted adult. Or, you can confidentially chat 24/7 with a trained counselor from the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline here. Counselors are also available to talk at 800-656-4673.

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Hannah Orenstein

Hannah Orenstein is the author of several novels, including Meant to Be Mine (out June 7, 2022), Head Over Heels, Love at First Like, and Playing with Matches. She's also the Deputy Editor of Dating at Elite Daily. She lives in Brooklyn.