intercourse

A document referred to someone engaging in what would colloquially be called a one-night stand. I had to write a formal summary of the legal issues in the document. So do I write ‘one-night stand’ or … what? What is the formal way to say one-night stand? I started with “one-time extra-marital sexual …” then couldn’t think of the next word – encounter, incident, intercourse? My team leader suggested “short-term extra-marital sexual relationship”, but I had problems with both short-term and relationship. Short-term surely implies something longer than one act of sexual intercourse (minutes to hours). A short-term relationship is surely days or weeks or maybe months. Again, a relationship surely implies more than one act. A one-night stand may be sexual relations, but it isn’t a sexual relationship. But then Dictionary.com defines relationship first as “a connection, association, or involvement” (which would include one act of sexual intercourse) and fourth as “a sexual involvement; affair”. An affair, in turn, is “an intense amorous relationship, usually of short duration”. But it would be hard to call a one-night stand an affair. 

Intercourse started as a perfectly ordinary word meaning “communication or dealings between individuals or groups”. I encountered it several times in the writings of members of the First Fleet who arrived in the new colony of New South Wales in January 1788, and actually used it in the title of my term paper and throughout the paper. The British had intercourse with the natives, and also with the sailors on two French ships which arrived in Botany Bay a few days later.

Some time ago I was a party, and we somehow got to using the older sense of intercourse as often as we could, saying how much we enjoyed intercourse with each other and how we should do it more often. We reduced one member of the group to fits of giggles every time we used it.

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