I'm not entirely sure where I first heard the term "outercourse," but it seems pretty likely that it was in conjunction with a workshop at one of the many sex-positive events I love to attend. I remember that it first struck me as humorous, and then I realized that part of that humor was the recognition that, for me, it seemed so natural. At the time, I hadn't really thought a lot about the idea that sex could be interesting, fun, erotic and really hot without actual penetration. I'd already learned to do a breath and energy orgasm, use a vibrator and a whole lot of other fun things with playmates, none of which involved f***ing And I loved all of it.

What do we mean by the term "outercourse"? In it's simplest form, it refers to the act of sex without any sort of penetration. This means no penis in vagina or anus, and no (or very minimal) exchange of bodily fluids (including no oral sex). And honestly, it can sound, well, boring. If you look around on the Web, you'll quickly find that a number of different organizations, such as Planned Parenthood or the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, advocate outercourse as a way to be safer and have fun in a sexual relationship. Even Fox News, of all places, suggests that outercourse can be "sexy"! These endorsements are all good stuff. And outercourse can be all that. It can also be a lot more.

For me, the more recent changes in my life have highlighted what outercourse can really do for me. It started innocently enough. I had agreed to review "Best Sex Writing 2013," Rachel Kramer Bussel's most recent volume. One of this year's authors is Julia Serano, author of "Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity." In the "Best Sex Writing 2013" chapter, Serano shares this about her first female orgasm: "I found myself writhing for 10 or 15 minutes straight, in a sexual state at least 20 times more intense than any boy orgasm I had ever had."

When I read this, it was a profound first for me. I realized in that moment that, as someone preparing to undertake my own partial transition to female, it was possible to not only continue to enjoy sex, but quite possibly have it be an even more powerful experience. The fear I had around my transition, that I might be giving up great sex and orgasms, was replaced by the realization that I was about to experience a more profound sense of what sex is than I had ever dared imagine. It would seem there is life after gender in spite of it all!

This is what we often take for granted: That "sex" is what "happens" when a male gets an erection, the female gets excited, the penis is inserted, everyone has a mind-blowing orgasm and it's happily ever after. We all know, I'm sure, the many variations on this story, some not so great or happy, some tragic. But the narrative is deeply ingrained in all of us. This is what sex is supposed to be, right?

And sure, all those other fun things - cunnilingus, fellatio, massage, vibrators - they're all simply hors d'oeuvres that lead to, well, you know, real sex! Like most everyone else, I believed this too, and it took years of conscious awareness, and no small effort toward "de-programming" before I could really begin to see that a lot of what I'd thought was "sex" was more about an imposed set of norms and expectations. It's not that that kind of sex act is bad, it's that too often, we don't really get to choose that act - it's just what we do.

Now, as I move ever-closer to the day when I start hormone therapy, as I understand my own body in new ways and learn that what has, up to now, been that part of my body labeled "penis" is simply a part of how I can explore my own self, my own pleasure, more deeply than ever before. I've come to practice outercourse in new and wonderful ways. Vibrators now hold magic. Lube is a really amazing way to explore the intricacies of the body. And those years of Urban Tantra, of breath and energy orgasms, of the hold-and-clench, are now paying off in ways I would never have imagined when I first learned them. (Learn more about Tantra in Sex for the Soul: Tantric Exploration for Beginners.)

True, my partners these days need patience and understanding, and for the most part, it's worked out just fine. Intimacy in sexual activity is simply a facet of how we get close to others, and for me, recognizing that this closeness means a shift in how we do things means I am more aware of how I choose partners and playmates, and how their ability to be open to me is a reciprocal process as I open to them.

And for those of you reading this and thinking, "this doesn't apply to me!", please, think again. Some of you may be in relationships that have endured a lot. Some of you may be working hard to maintain a long-term relationship. Many of you, if the statistics are right, might be struggling to figure out why things aren't so great in the sex department. The narrative we've all been given - that "sex" is this way and this way only - isn't particularly healthy for any of us. It drives some of us to acts of desperation. It tears some of us apart. It can leave us lonely and broken. For all of you, I urge you to take the time to try something new, to step back from the compulsory dictums of social expectation and explore what it means not simply to "have sex that means no sperm in the vagina" or "lovemaking without penetration into the vagina or anus" but instead to feel the wonderful ways in which a simple sharing of touch and stroke and rub and breath can open doors.

It's all good, trust me.