If you’ve ever had difficulty defining what “sex” is, then you may not be surprised that foreplay is a similarly fraught concept. The fact that there are tons of misconceptions about it doesn’t help, either.
So, what is foreplay?
And is it, as Cameron Diaz suggests in “The Holiday,” totally overrated?
As the name suggests, foreplay tends to refer to any and all sexual acts that come before sex itself — in other words, the warm-up to the “play.” A major problem with the role of foreplay in today's society is that it's often considered optional: the opening act to the main event that could, if needed, be skipped, as noted by Laurie Mintz in “Becoming Cliterate: Why Orgasm Equality Matters — and How to Get It.” The problem is that when we accept this idea, we continue to perpetuate the faulty belief that pleasure equality is: Penis = Vagina.
When in reality, it is:
Penis = Clitoris.
For people with vaginas, foreplay is crucial, not just a “before activity,” because this is when most people focus on external stimulation. Ian Kerner, the author of “She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Women,” has a more specific message to the men on equating sex and foreplay:
“When we understand the role of the clitoris… sex becomes easier, simpler, and more rewarding… and we’re compelled to create pleasure with our hands and our mouths, bodies and minds. In letting go of intercourse, we open ourselves up to new creative ways of experiencing pleasure, ways that may not strike us as inherently masculine, but ultimately allow us to be more of a man. Sex is no longer penis-depedent, and we can let go of the usual anxieties around size, stamina, and performance. We are free to love with more of ourselves, with our entire self.”
Now that we hopefully understand its importance, the next step is incorporating foreplay fully and unapologetically into your sex life. Although I love my “how-tos,” I am a big believer that the most important aspect of foreplay is less about knowing what to do, and more about knowing how to ask.
In other words, communication is the best skill you can bring to the table here, because every person is different, and going in with structured rules or movements can take away from the novelty and spontaneity that defines great sex. So make sure to ask what your partner wants, and be sure to convey what you want in return.
Even so, the internet is rife with “tips” and “tricks” to get better at foreplay, or at least how to get started if you and your partner are a little shy at voicing what you like. I’ve pulled a few interesting facts I learned from Mintz Kerner’s books that help people understand why certain things might be pleasurable and others might not.
It seems like this is the area that can often go a little haywire, according to people with vaginas who have experienced awkward, painful, or straight-up bizarre “tactics” from partners.
Here are some facts about the vaginal canal that might help clear things up:
- The first 1/3rd of a vaginal canal is touch-sensitive, while the back of the vagina is pressure-sensitive. This is actually a good thing: The lack of touch sensitivity in the back is why people can wear tampons without discomfort. It's also why in-and-out fingering, which is often meant to replicate a penis, often doesn’t do that much for the person being fingered.
- A motion like a “come hither” stroke is often recommended because it will target the pressure-sensitive nerve receptors.
The best thing to do here is remember a person’s clitoris will typically need a minimum of 15 minutes of continuous stimulation to reach orgasm — this doesn’t mean you’re pleasuring them “wrong.” It means you gotta work for the reward.
Giving the body time to warm up can really help to heighten senses once sex kicks into overdrive. “During foreplay, avoid direct contact with her genitals for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes,” Kerner suggests. I know: That seems like a long time! But it’s important to recognize that 10 to 15 minutes is about more than kissing. You can use this time to fantasize together, perhaps through the use of erotic videos or literature. Kerner recommends texts such as the “Mammoth Book of Erotica” or “Les Flores Du Mal.” If you’re feeling in any way spiritual, you can try to delay gratification through Tantric Sex article as well!
If you are still looking for more “how-tos,” I highly (highly) recommend the book “She Comes First” for everyone. Kerner gives a step-by-step outline into cunnilingus that can help with both foreplay confidence as well as the overall experience.
Another great text is the last chapter in the book "Slow Sex,” which serves as a step-by-step guide to slowing things down and unlocking new experiences. And finally, if you are uncomfortable with having the books at hand, you can try an eReader or online PDF format for a more discreet, incognito read.