Intercourse – Meaning & Definition

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Many words in the English language have more than one meaning, but sometimes only one definition is widely used and accepted.

It is essential to understand when only one definition is used to avoid miscommunication or embarrassment, especially when the word is associated with behaviors of a more personal nature.

Intercourse is one such word. And although its denotative meaning deals with communication, it has become a polite way to refer to sexual behaviors.

Let’s review its definition and explore how it is used below.

What Does Intercourse Mean?

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Intercourse is defined as 1) communication or exchange between countries and 2) frequent or habitual intercommunication between people or things. But while these definitions are accurate, the word now most often refers to sexual intercourse, even where the modifier sexual is absent.

To use the word in its denotative sense, you have to make it obvious that you are talking about some other kind of intercourse. In order to do so, you need to precede the word with a modifier other than sexual.

For example:

  • The new student orientation allowed for social intercourse between incoming freshmen to help build stronger communication.
  • We set up intercourse between the office computer monitors so visuals could be more easily shared from one workstation to another.

Intercourse can also be used as a verb, but it is rare—namely, to “have intercourse with” precedes the subject it is referring to.

  • The UK’s national security network has regular intercourse with the global safety monitors found in multiple countries—sharing alerts where needed.

Origins of Intercourse in Reference to Sex

Sexual Intercourse Ngram
Introduction of the Term Sexual Intercourse.

The phrase sexual intercourse developed in the 18th century as a polite or clinical way to refer to coitus between people. By the late 20th century, however, writers made the polite term even more polite by dropping the word sexual.

Today, the doubly polite term intercourse is used in reference to sexual intercourse much more often than using the entire phrase sexual intercourse.

For example:

  • Despite the concerns, she insisted that the intercourse was consensual and that they were wholly devoted to continuing their relationship.
  • The doctor said sexual intercourse would be acceptable six months after her C-section.
  • We counsel our students to wait to have intercourse until they are in a committed, healthy relationship.

Let’s Review

Although the original definition of intercourse means communication or exchange of information, it has become synonymous with sexual coitus. Sexual intercourse became a polite way to describe the sexual act in the 18th century and has been shortened to intercourse to refer to sex in speech and writing.

To use it in its original context, be sure to apply a word that modifies it to mean something other than sexual activity.