Foreplay is a term that is generally used to describe any sexual activity that occurs prior to sexual intercourse.¹ However, foreplay does not always have to lead to sex. Unfortunately, foreplay is something that many either rush through or ignore altogether. In doing so, many individuals are missing out on the opportunity to develop a strong personal, mental, and intimate connection with their partner and to increase their enjoyment of sex. Just as any athlete dedicates time, effort, and energy into properly warming up before any strenuous physical activity, partners also need to dedicate time, effort, and energy into foreplay. Practicing and taking the time to explore foreplay with your partner can help to build intimacy and sexual arousal.² We will describe some of the most common forms of foreplay, but there are many other ways that individuals can engage in foreplay.
Although many individuals have a tendency to overlook or rush through foreplay, it serves an important purpose in helping both partners prepare both mind and body for sex.² Without foreplay, most women find it difficult to become sufficiently sexually aroused and this can make sexual intercourse feel uncomfortable or less pleasurable for both partners.³ Although men may be able to become sexually aroused faster than women, many women need more time and want to be kissed and caressed through foreplay to help create lubrication in the vagina and to help increase blood flow to the genitals.¹ However, foreplay can also be very pleasurable and valuable to men as well. Partners should communicate with each other about what feels pleasurable and what feels uncomfortable. It also equally important for partners to communicate with each other in order to obtain consent during any sexually activity. Partners should check in with each other during every new act to ensure that they are okay with engaging in further sexual behavior. Checking in with a partner will also make them feel respected and comfortable. We would also like to emphasize that foreplay is equally important for both LGBTQ+ and straight couples and it is should also be utilized regardless of age or gender. Incorporating foreplay into sexual experiences also helps to relieve some of the nervousness surrounding sexual intercourse.
What Does Foreplay Look Like?
While foreplay is a generalized term that refers to any sexual activity that occurs prior to sexual intercourse, it encompasses a range of sexual activities that include kissing, petting, massaging, oral sex, manual stimulation, and more.¹ The definition of foreplay extends past just kissing or fondling, rather it is the culmination of the entire ambience, mood, and setting of the experience. This can also include incorporating “dirty talk,” lingerie, sex toys, erotic videos and many other things into the sexual experience. However, foreplay can look different for different partners given that each partner has their own likes and dislikes. It is because of this that partners need to be comfortable with giving each other feedback as to what feels good for them.
The act of undressing is often overlooked during foreplay, but it can be a great way to help set the mood and increase intimacy between partners. Undressing can become a part of foreplay in a variety of ways as partners can take their time undressing one another. One partner can also undress for the other and put on a fun and sensual show for them, or one can tell the other what to take off, piece by piece, and sensually explore their partner’s body by touching and kissing them. We recommend taking the time to slow down and explore each other’s body. Explore each other’s sensitive zones while feeling and kissing their whole body.
Kissing should be prolonged and lengthened during foreplay just like undressing. Do not feel shy to experiment and kiss different parts of each other’s body, including the various erogenous zones, which can provide additional pleasure when given the proper time and attention. Don’t hesitate to provide each other with feedback. Giving each other feedback in the moment can help a partner to identify their partner’s sensitive zones and what feels pleasurable or feels uncomfortable for them. Open communication between partners is essential in maintaining a healthy and happy relationship.
Sensual massages can also be a fun activity to incorporate into foreplay. Before starting the massage, we recommend that both partners bathe and get into either clothing that makes them feel comfortable or no clothing. Bathing can be done together as part of foreplay: light candles, play music, and sensually wash each other. This can be a great way to increase intimacy and set the mood for what is to come.
To begin the massage, a partner can start by having their partner lay down with either their face up or down. The other partner can then begin to gently massage the length of their legs, from their upper thighs down to their ankles. The partner should take the time to gently and slowly explore their partner’s body, but avoid directly massaging their buttocks or genitals. The partner can slowly start to graze these areas and tease their partner, but they should not be the main focus of the massage. Sexual tension should build up as the partner moves towards the regions surrounding the genitals. Once the tension has built and their arousal has increased, the partner can begin to gently massage the genitals.
When massaging a female partner, the other partner can gently rub the vulva up and down and then use their fingers to gently apply pressure to the labia (lips). Meanwhile, they can also use their other hand to continue to explore their partner’s body. Clitoral stimulation can also be incorporated once the female partner is lubricated (“wet”). This can be supplemented by using lubricants as well. The partner can then begin with a light touch and increase pressure gradually on the clitoris as they gently rub with their fingers. Partners should communicate with each other to find an appropriate pace and amount of pressure.
When massaging a male partner, the other partner can apply a lubricant to the palm of their hands and gently rub it onto the penis and testicles. The partner can begin by gently massaging the testicles and scrotum and can follow this by massaging the pubic region above the penis as well as the perineum. Next, the partner can start massaging the shaft with varying pressure, strokes, and speeds. Partners can also communicate with each other to find an appropriate speed, stroke, and amount of pressure that is the most pleasurable.
To spice things up, partners can also use different types of massage oils, candles, music, and lighting to enhance the mood and setting. Communication between partners throughout the sensual massage is important, so that they learn what feels the most pleasurable.
Oral sex is a sexual activity where an individual uses their mouth to stimulate their partner’s genitals.¹ It is commonly seen as the most popular type of foreplay, but most individuals neglect the other important emotional and physical aspects of foreplay that help contribute to great sexual experiences.² The two most common types of oral sex are fellatio and cunnilingus. Fellatio refers to the oral stimulation of a male’s genitals and cunnilingus refers to mouth-to-vulva stimulation where a partner uses their mouth and tongue to stimulate the vulva and clitoris.¹
For both fellatio and cunnilingus, start slowly by kissing the different erogenous zones and the sensitive areas around the genitals. Do not forget to ask and give feedback during oral sex. For fellatio, gently hold the base of the penis and then the partner can use their tongue to lick from the bottom to the top, but should also mix up their stroking and suction to keep their partner guessing the next move. The frenulum is incredibly sensitive and can provide intense pleasure when stimulated. Similarly, for cunnilingus, a partner should gradually build up from kissing and massaging their partner’s erogenous zones. From there, the partner can then flatten their tongue and use wide slow strokes around her inner and outer labial lips and then gently move to stimulate the clitoris. The clitoris is a very sensitive area and should be treated delicately unless the female enjoys rougher clitoral stimulation. Partners should communicate with each other in the moment to see what kind of strokes, pressure, and speed is most pleasurable. Partners should communicate with each other to find an appropriate pace and technique.
Mutual masturbation is a term used to describe when two individuals manually stimulate each other’s genitals meaning that they use their hands.¹ Manual stimulation can include heavy petting and mutual masturbation. This can also take place as part of heavy petting, which is sensual touching of a partner’s body. Mutual masturbation and heavy petting also allow partners to explore each other’s body and learn what feels pleasurable. Often, manual stimulation can be combined with oral stimulation for even more pleasure.
Importance of Foreplay
It is a common misconception that only women enjoy engaging in prolonged foreplay. However, studies have shown that both men and women equally enjoy partaking in prolonged foreplay.² Foreplay helps partners explore and understand each other’s bodies and what feels pleasurable or uncomfortable. Foreplay also results in different physiological and mental responses from both partners as they go through the different stages of sexual arousal.¹ It is especially important for women to engage in prolonged foreplay because it can take them longer to enter a state of complete sexual arousal. Increased levels of foreplay helps females produce natural lubrication which helps to make coitus and other stimulation of the vulva and vagina easier and more pleasurable.¹ Partners can also supplement this natural lubrication with the use of water-based lubricants.
However, one study demonstrated that there may exist differences in sexual needs and desires among men and women. In the study, both men and women were given a choice between foreplay, intercourse, and afterplay. Women reported that foreplay was the most important aspect of a sexual encounter, while the men felt that sexual intercourse was the main important aspect.³ This finding is reflected in many cultures around the world as men often overlook the importance and benefits of engaging in prolonged foreplay. Foreplay remains a key part of any sexual experience as it helps partners develop greater levels of intimacy, sexual arousal, and understanding of each other’s bodies.
Foreplay helps to make sex a more intimate and enjoyable experience for both partners, but it also important to remember that foreplay does not always have to lead to sex. Ultimately, there is no such thing as spending too much time on foreplay and there is also no formula to having the ultimate foreplay experience. Instead, foreplay is a learning experience for partners where they can begin to learn each other’s likes and dislikes and build arousal. Maintaining open and honest communication between partners is key to having a great sex life. Everyone is different and everyone has their own likes and dislikes, but foreplay and communication allow partners to develop stronger levels of intimacy, trust. and understanding.
- Levay, Simon, John Baldwin, and Janice Baldwin. Discovering Human Sexuality. 3rd ed. N.p.: Sinauer Associates, 2016. Print.
- Galinsky, Adena M. “Sexual Touching and Difficulties with Sexual Arousal and Orgasm Among U.S. Older Adults.” Archives of Sexual Behavior, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012.
- Denney, Nancy Wadsworth, et al. “Sex Differences in Sexual Needs and Desires.” SpringerLink, Kluwer Academic Publishers-Plenum Publishers, 1984.
Last Updated: 11 March 2018.