“Which base did you get to”? is a question that is bandied around high school corridors and forms a fairly large part of how we understand sex, particularly at a young age. It’s time to move away from this particular outdated metaphor…

There are a number of different variations to this base metaphor, but the one that seems to be most popular currently is a five-base system: 

First base: Kissing, usually when there is tongue involved 

Second base: Touching and caressing of the breasts

Third base: Manual sex, meaning the stimulation of genitals using the hands 

Fourth base: Oral sex, meaning the stimulation of genitals using the lips, tongue, and mouth 

Fifth base: Penis in vagina sex, meaning the insertion of the penis into the vagina 


Unsurprisingly, the way we talk about bases with regard to sex implies (very heavily) that there is some kind of inherent hierarchy to how we have sex. That is to say that we should progress through the stages in order, starting at first, moving to second, then third, then fourth and finally we get to fifth base.

Simultaneously, it also contributes to the way we think about what ‘real sex’ is. Broadly speaking, we don’t really talk about first and second base as sex and tend to call third and fourth base ‘foreplay’, and only fifth base is widely referred to as ‘sex’ (intercourse). But this isn’t really a healthy or helpful way to talk about, and think about, the sex that we’re having. 

Why not? 

Well there are a couple of reasons, such as: 

What if you’re not straight (aka heterosexual)? 

The base structure totally assumes that any and all sex must happen between a cisman and a ciswoman (or at the very least, one person with a penis and one person with a vagina). And I’m here to tell you, just in case you hadn’t noticed, that that’s really not the case. So if you are having sex where there isn’t exactly one penis and one vagina involved, you automatically are unable to reach ‘fifth base.’ And that’s hurtful because it invalidates whether any of us are having sex and as such doesn’t adhere to the very narrow understanding of cisnormative and heteronormative sex. This is reason enough to boot out the base system for good. 

What if you don’t find fifth base enjoyable or orgasm-worthy? 

The idea of manual and oral sex being ‘foreplay’ is a significant contributor to the orgasm gap, which puts straight women having orgasms around 30% less of the time than straight men. When we look at the stats for gay (lesbian) women, who may incorporate so-called ‘foreplay’ into their sex more regularly, the orgasm gap between gay (lesbian) women and straight men are notably smaller than that of straight women and straight men. And why is that? 

Well, at least some of this difference can be attributed to the kinds of sex that people with vaginas (straight ciswomen included) find pleasurable and/or orgasm-worthy. The penis in vagina sex provides predominantly internal stimulation within the vagina and tends not to provide external stimulation to the clitoris (with the exception of certain sex positions).

If you’re in the  25% of ciswomen who can orgasm from internal stimulation alone, then you’re an exception. The remaining 75% need more focus on the clitoris, meaning they need different kinds of sex. Namely, manual and oral sex, aka third and fourth base. The base system really isn’t in our best interest, as people who either want to orgasm or want the people we’re having sex with to orgasm or both. 

The wonderful, albeit sometimes tricky thing about sex is that different things feel good for different people. So if following the base system results in great sex for you, that’s wonderful and more power to you. But it shouldn’t be treated as the default, because realistically there shouldn’t be a default at all.

And there definitely shouldn’t be a default that actively marginalizes queer people and contributes to a far-too-large, shouldn’t-exist-at-all orgasm gap. So I say boot out the base system, that metaphor needs to go!