Sexual intercourse (or coitus or copulation) is, broadly, the insertion and thrusting of a male's penis, usually when erect, into a female's vagina for the purposes of sexual pleasure or reproduction; also known as vaginal intercourse or vaginal sex. Other forms of penetrative sexual intercourse include penetration of the anus by the penis (anal sex), penetration of the mouth by the penis or oral penetration of the vulva or vagina (oral sex), sexual penetration by the fingers (fingering), and sexual penetration by use of a strap-on dildo. These activities involve physical intimacy between two or more individuals and are usually used among humans solely for physical or emotional pleasure and commonly contribute to human bonding.
A variety of views concern what constitutes sexual intercourse or other sexual activity and their effects on health. While the term sexual intercourse, particularly the variant coitus, most commonly denotes penile-vaginal penetration and the possibility of creating offspring (the fertilization process known as reproduction), oral sex (especially when penetrative) and particularly penile-anal sex are also commonly considered sexual intercourse. Non-penetrative sex acts (such as non-penetrative forms of cunnilingus or mutual masturbation) have been termed outercourse,but may additionally be among the sexual acts contributing to human bonding and considered sexual intercourse. The term sex, often a shorthand for sexual intercourse, can mean any form of sexual activity. Because people can be at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections during these activities, though the transmission risk is significantly reduced during non-penetrative sex, safe sex practices are advised.
Religious beliefs also play a role in personal decisions about sexual intercourse or other sexual activity, such as decisions about virginity, as well as in legal and public policy matters. Religious views on sexuality vary significantly between different religions and sects of the same religion, though there are common themes, such as prohibition of adultery.
Reproductive sexual intercourse between non-human animals is more often termed copulation; for most non-human mammals, mating and copulation occur at the point of estrus (the most fertile period of time in the female's reproductive cycle), which increases the chances of successful impregnation. However, bonobos, dolphins and chimpanzees are known to engage in sexual intercourse regardless of whether or not the female is in estrus, and to engage in sex acts with same-sex partners. Like humans engaging in sexual activity primarily for pleasure, this behavior in the aforementioned animals is also presumed to be for pleasure, and a contributing factor to strengthening their social bonds.
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