At some point “foreplay” became a huge buzzword in sex advice and along with it came a lot of baggage. Foreplay was treated like a gender issue, and became one more way men and women were told they wanted different things from sex. Not only is this unfair to both men and women, but it erases queer and non-binary folks from the equation. Read on to discover why everything you think you know about foreplay is wrong.
1. There’s no such thing as foreplay.
Despite the title of this article, I don’t actually believe in foreplay. Hear me out… Foreplay suggests that it’s the build up to a main event. So in a typical heterosexual pairing that might mean you make out for a while, do some heavy petting, maybe exchange oral sex, and then engage in penetrative (penis in vagina or PIV) sex. That whole encounter is treating penetration as the main goal, and everything else is just leading the way.
This is a problem for lots of reasons. Acting like PIV sex is the best kind of sex, or the only kind that really matters, leaves a lot of people out of the equation. For one thing, it invalidates lots of queer sex. For another, it makes people whose penises aren’t behaving exactly the way they’d want feel like they’re letting their partner down.
Bodies rarely do exactly what we’d like them to. Add age and various health conditions and that becomes doubly true. So what happens if someone’s whole sexual repertoire is about PIV sex and then they (or their partner) can’t get erections as consistently as they used to? A lot of couples land in counseling or coaching when this happens.
2. Foreplay is sex.
Building on our first point – try thinking of everything you consider foreplay as sex. A really hot, long make out? Sex. Oral sex? Sex. Hand sex? Sex. Exchanging massages? Sex.
I know you might be making a face at me while you read this. I’ve seen that face from students and clients before. But having a broad definition of sex means there are way more kinds of sex you can have that will accommodate various moods and abilities.
If everything other than PIV sex is considered a failure, people can be hesitant to offer alternatives. But if everything that leads to mutual pleasure can be under the umbrella of sex, you’ve got lots of ways to negotiate. This means if only one person feels like having sex, there might be ways to accommodate that interest that still feel fun to the other partner. Maybe one person masturbates while the other snuggles them or reads erotica aloud.
3. Focus on building arousal.
The reason foreplay gets emphasized is because building arousal is vital to pleasure during a sexual encounter. Quickies are fine now and then, but your body simply can’t experience its full range of enjoyment until certain levels of arousal are reached.
All kinds of things happen in the brain during arousal. Arousal diminishes the disgust response as well as your perception of pain. This is why some things might sounds like a great idea when you’re turned on, and not at other times.
Not only that, but bodies change during arousal, as well. You might be familiar with a penis getting an erection, but people with vulvas get erections too – you just can’t see most of it. In fact, there’s as much erectile tissue in the clitoral complex (or clitourethrovaginal (CUV) complex) as there is in a penis. But it can take a lot longer to fully engorge. Some estimates suggest full engorgement happens at upwards of forty minutes!
And that engorgement is required for some things to feel good at all, and for others to feel as good as possible. Penetration, for example, feels best to most people after a lot of arousal.
4. Foreplay doesn’t have to involve touching, or even being together.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying that the brain is the biggest sex organ? Well, in a lot of ways that’s true. It’s certainly true that arousal often begins in the brain. And that’s great news for people with busy schedules or in long distance relationships.
Try starting your foreplay (or arousal building) before you’re even together. Send sexy texts or emails. Talk about what you’re going to do when you get together. Engage in some role play or dirty talk. Play with teasing each other. You can have the arousal process last all day, or for several days, with just a little creativity.
See what you can do to play with that build up to seeing each other. Send photos or give each other assignments. You can play with edging or orgasm denial before a date, or have someone research new kinds of sex to try and then present them like a book report!
5. Foreplay isn’t about gender.
Gender differences in sex and sexuality are grossly overstated. As far as our innate wiring, we’re all far more similar than different. But people are socialized differently based on their gender presentation. So try to forget every piece of advice you’ve ever heard that starts by saying, “Men want this thing, woman want that thing.”
Everyone wants connection. Everyone wants to feel desired and appreciated. And the build up to any kind of sexual or intimate encounter is a great time to make your partner feel loved, desired, attractive, and sexually competent. Try to work some compliments and positive affirmations into your intimacy. We could all use a little help with our self esteem.
6. There’s no “right way” to engage in foreplay.
Everybody is different, and so everyone’s needs are different. The best foreplay of all might be a good conversation with your partner about what turns them on and what makes them feel wanted. Try to break out of your routine and try something new. Bring some exercises or games into the bedroom to help you find new things you’d like to try – or new ways to do the things you already enjoy.