Consider Getting Rid of Foreplay

At first glance, this recommendation may seem to go against previous advice you’ve heard about sex and intimacy. Perhaps you’ve been encouraged to increase foreplay as a way to enhance the sexual experience for yourself or your partner. If you consider the underlying motivations for both suggestions, the ultimate goal is the same: eliminating the sex hierarchy and ensuring a pleasurable experience for all.

Merriam-Webster defines foreplay as “erotic stimulation preceding sexual intercourse.” Under this framework, foreplay is the appetizer before the meal. It is a way to fill time or warm-up before the main event, in this case, intercourse. In our heteronormative society, this positions penetrative sex–particularly Penis in Vagina (PIV) sex –as the pinnacle of the sexual experience and creates a sexual hierarchy.

What’s so bad about a sexual hierarchy, anyway? I’m glad you asked!

For one, this perspective ignores or minimizes the experiences of many people. For example, not every sexual experience will involve a penis and vagina. Some with a penis or vagina may not wish to use their genitalia for sex. Others, such as those identifying as intersex, may not have genitalia that neatly fits into the anatomy binary. Does this mean none of these people are having sex?

Another pitfall of the sexual hierarchy is the potential dismissal of pleasure for people with vulvas who do not reach orgasm with penetration alone. A large percentage of cisgender women are in this category. Many of these women report activities that are relegated to foreplay including cunnilingus (oral sex on a vulva) or stimulating the clitoris manually as a vital factor in whether or not they orgasm. Foreplay implies that there is a designated window of time in which these women must orgasm if they hope to at all. Once that time limit has expired–due to arbitrary ideas of how long it should take, a partner that’s ready to move on, or any number of reasons–oh well, on to the main event.

Have you ever gone out with your partner just for appetizers? Maybe you each chose a few options to try and took turns sampling each other’s selections. Time goes on as you laugh and converse until you leave satisfied, resolving to consider trying an entree the next time you visit the restaurant… or maybe you won’t. This so-called warm-up fulfilled your ultimate goal — to have a satisfying meal.

Imagine if you approached sex the same way; instead of treating any particular activity as the main event or the purpose for coming together, what if the only goal was to have a satisfying experience — even if it never involved penetration? Just as not having an entree does not mean you didn’t have dinner, not having intercourse does not mean you did not have sex; it’s ALL sex!

I’m a therapist who loves giving homework so here’s yours: reflect on the following questions for yourself and ask your partner(s): Have I/we created a sexual hierarchy, and if so, what is typically at the top? Are there any non-penetrative activities that you would like to incorporate more? After discussing the answers, give a few ideas a try.

–Ceara Corry, MSW, MPA, LCSWA

Merriam-Webster Dictionary,


Ceara Corry is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate in North Carolina and former employee of Carolina Sexual Wellness Center.  To schedule an appointment with one of our therapists, please call 919-297-8322.

Carolina Sexual Wellness Center

Learn more about the author >>

Contact us!

Browse other CSWC blog posts!

Identifying (and Unlocking) Your Sexual Interests

Sexual desire and sexual interest are natural and fundamental aspects of human nature. However, understanding and identifying your own sexual desires can be a deeply...

I Am an Ally, and It’s Not About Me

It’s not about me.  This can sometimes be a difficult awareness to digest at times. In my existence, I always matter. With my level of privilege, my needs, thoughts,...

The Art of Embodying Sexuality

Quick – think of someone who you think embodies sexuality. What are some characteristics they might have that lead you to believe they do? Sexuality is not merely an...

Bridging the Gap: Desire Discrepancy and the Role of Sex Therapy

Dive into what desire discrepancy is, how to identify it, and how consulting a sex therapist can provide valuable guidance and solutions.

Sex Talk: A Celebration of Black Women in Sex Therapy

Whatever our relationship structure, most of us want our relationships to be healthy and rewarding. Research shows that couples who hold their relationships up against...

“Am I Normal?” & Other Common Worries About Sex

  A question I often get asked when meeting a new client is: “I have ____ issue affecting my sex life. Am I normal?”.  The answer? Yes! Concerns and issues related to...

STIs and Your Right to Pleasure

Life can be stressful when juggling commitments to loved ones, jobs, school, and community. There are many experiences or circumstances that can make enjoying sexual...

Honesty, Vulnerability and Trust…Oh my!

It can be difficult to fully open up to someone. It can be hard to be your authentic self and let someone fully in for fear of not being accepted. When you let someone...

We Should All Be Embodied

I hope you have had the pleasure of listening to WUNC’s Embodied, a weekly radio show hosted by Anita Rao that is “an exploration of our brains and our bodies that...

Your Trans Gender Journey

Good news: we are living in a world where people in the LGBTQI community are finding a voice and are becoming more and more accepted in our society. We are living in a...