It is a word with a very wide range of meaning. Its very etymology, related to “sect” and “section” shows how the bare concept of binary division of a species has evolved to encompass the acts and feelings etc. associated with that binary division. The earliest attested use of the word to denote the act of intercourse dates from 1929 – still barely within living memory.
How did people talk about The Act before then? I'd like to know more about this because my intuition built on perception is that they either didn't (i.e. they used circumlocutions similar to how so many people un-talk about it now) or they used direct words that are taboo in polite society. I'll use one of them below so if that bothers you then you've been warned.
So talk about sex between married couples is susceptible to many different interpretations if you don't nail terms down more precisely. Throughout my writing about sex and sexuality, I am trying to keep this in mind, and use the word “sex” with intent to acknowledge its breadth and depth of meaning. And when I turn my attention to specific acts and their meaning and contexts, I want to make that clear, and not muddy the waters. I'm sure I continue to fail in many instances.
Today I thought more about the idea that I continue to criticize: the idea of “sex” in marriage as being good, and properly built on a foundation of respect, friendship, covenants, etc. I'm trying to articulate another clarification.
I believe in respect, friendship and covenants. I believe that various kinds of erotic, physical, sexual acts (including various forms of genital contact) are compatible with and enjoyable in relationships of respect, friendship and covenant. I'm holding onto the belief that God intends for acts of genital contact and stimulation to be restricted to be used within a marriage covenant. But I don't believe that this means that those acts are preordained as a natural result or fruit of covenants. I see that stated or implied in almost all of the Mormon teachings I encounter about sex. It amounts to a declaration that Mormon married couples have some kind of One True Sex inasmuch as they keep their desires in a strict, plain road. Like so many other things, I see this as almost true, but for reasons that too many people aren't putting in the work to investigate.
I see the procreative impulse, the workings of sexual desires, the urge to fuck, as utterly indifferent to and independent of covenant, commitment, stability, love or respect. In fact as I've stated, I see sexual desire as destabilizing. It is uncivilized and wild and therefore cannot be the distilled elixir of covenant for a man and woman who have kept themselves strictly free from the degraded counterfeits of it which The World tried to corrupt them with.
Instead, I see it this way: within a relationship of covenant and (hopefully) respect, love and friendship, the wildness of sex, and in particular the barbarity of the bare genital acts and the wildness of the feelings coalesced around them; are contained. In this containment they may be managed so to bring balance to the order and stability that tend to monotony and stagnation. We need wildness to balance civilization, we need our shadows to balance our egos. This is what sexual activity offers to marriage, to complement, to give beauty and variety to commitment. It is not the only way to do this, but for most people it is the most powerful.