Consider Getting Rid of Foreplay

Ceara Corry is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker Associate in North Carolina and former employee of CSWC.

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


References:
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/

Carolina Sexual Wellness Center

Learn more about the author >>

Browse More Sexual Wellness Articles

A Streetcar Named Desire

You may not know this, but when it comes to sex, you have something in common with a car. Now, human sexuality is way more complex than a simple machine and each...

Let’s Talk About It!

“Can we talk?”  You know the situation: there is something difficult or uncomfortable that you wish you could talk about with your partner, but the time is...

Balance of Sexuality and Spirituality

It can be difficult to find the balance between healthy sexuality and flourishing spirituality. You may feel as if being healthy sexually leaves you feeling as if you...

Sex, Relationships, and a Global Pandemic

Date night? Meeting new people? These can be “strange” concepts for many people over the past year, thanks to a global pandemic. This year has challenged many people,...

The Elephant in the Room

The nuances of a romantic relationship are multi-faceted. From the dating, romance, and passion to the differences, power struggles, and disappointments, the average...

It’s Not You, It’s Me

Tim Horvath is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in North Carolina and a former employee of CSWC. Throughout the course of therapy, people are often surprised...

Sex and Candy? I prefer Sex and Cookies!

When you start doing therapy, one of the things that you may notice, and that may even be irritating at times, is that you really don’t get to know much about your...

Family Matters

Family can be such a loaded topic for people! It can bring up so many thoughts, feelings, memories, and associations. For some, those experiences and memories are...

More Than Monogamy

What are we?” “What does this mean?” “Is this something my partner will be ok with?” “How do I tell my partner I need something I am not getting?” All of these are...

How You Define Sex Matters!

What is sex?  Is it about intercourse? Is it about orgasm? Does it include the penis and/or vagina? What is your definition of sex? Does this definition of sex...