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What is foreplay?

Expert answer

“Foreplay” is generally defined as any sexual or romantic activity that prepares someone for intercourse. Kissing, hugging, petting, oral sex, manual stimulation (such as fingering), bondage/discipline/S&M (such as spanking), a romantic dinner, dating, sexual teasing, watching or reading porn/erotica, and talking all can be “foreplay” if partners become aroused (“turned on”).

For intercourse to be comfortable, a man’s penis needs to be engorged with blood (“hard”), and a woman’s vagina needs to be self-lubricated (“wet”). Often people get aroused at different rates, so you should have enough foreplay before intercourse to make sure everyone’s ready. If a woman tries to have intercourse when her vagina is not lubricated, for example, it can be uncomfortable or even painful for her.

If you have anal intercourse, foreplay should involve both getting turned on and relaxing the muscles of the anus of the person(s) who will be receptive. Because the anus does not self-lubricate, you’ll need to use lubricant any time that you have anal intercourse (or insert fingers).

Sometimes men or women do not become erect or lubricated, even when they feel good and are enjoying sex. A person’s age, physical health, hormone levels, monthly cycles, drug use, emotions, recent sexual activity, and comfort level with a particular partner can all affect blood flow to the genitals, and therefore may affect erections and lubrication. It is possible to add extra lubrication (water-based lubricant, silicone-based lube, saliva [spit], or vegetable oil [NOT with latex condoms]) if needed, and fortunately there are many fun sexual activities which are not focused on the genitals (penis, vagina) at all.

The word “foreplay” implies that intercourse is the “main event,” the ultimate goal of sex. It’s not, or it doesn’t have to be. We can have hot, steamy sex with or without intercourse. Scientists who study sexuality have learned that many of us can have orgasms from stimulation to almost any place on our bodies—breasts, necks, noses, feet, ears, knees—anywhere!

Some have suggested replacing the term “foreplay” with “outercourse.” Whatever you call it, I’d suggest that you can think of all of those fabulous activities I listed (and more) as part of—rather than simply a prelude to—sex.

–Amy Stapleford, M.Ed.