Our Multiple Selves by Shanon Shah
In English, the word 'sex' can refer to biology - the kinds of reproductive organs a living organism has. It can also refer to a particular human act or family of acts that can be reproductive or recreational or both. What counts as a sex act can be contested, however, as in the infamous defence by former US President Bill Clinton against allegations of sexual misconduct with Monica Lewinsky: 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman.' To the rest of the world, it seemed like an outrageous lie. Clearly some sort of sexual activity had taken place.
Not all languages use the same word to refer to anatomical sex and sexual acts. In Malay, for example, the translation for 'sex' in reference to anatomy is 'jantina', which is a portmanteau word from the component words 'jantan' (male) and 'betina' (female). To determine the jantina of humans, animals and plants, we need to ascertain the nature of their alat kelamin (sexual/reproductive organs). Sexual intercourse is therefore more accurately translated as 'hubungan kelamin', not 'hubungan jantina'.