Foreplay is an umbrella term used to describe any activities that precede partner sex, typically with the intention of sparking desire or increasing arousal for sexual play (i.e. “warming up” for the act of sex). These activities can be physical or non-physical in nature and vary greatly from person to person due to the subjectivity of what each individual finds sexually arousing.
Traditionally, foreplay has referred to any sexual activity that happens before or leads to sexual intercourse. This heteronormative perpective places penetrative sexual intercourse at the top of the sex act hierarchy, which can be dismissive of other means of experiencing pleasure. Sex can also be manual stimulation, oral stimulation, or sex toy use with a partner and does not have to include penetration to be considered sex. Therefore, foreplay can be considered whatever initiates or heightens arousal for sexual play.
Physical Forms of Foreplay
Physical foreplay activities can include:
- Making out
- Caressing or light touching
- Giving or receiving a body massage
- Frottage, including dry humping and unclothed body-to-body rubbing without penetration
- Using a sex toy such as a vibrator or wand massager externally
- Genital massage
- Oral sex
Non-Physical Forms of Foreplay
Foreplay does not have to include touch to be effective. Many people can be aroused by
Non-physical foreplay activities can include:
- Talking about sex
- Sharing sexual fantasies with one another
- Doing a sexual inventory checklist together (i.e. a Yes/No/Maybe list)
- Dirty talk
- Sending erotic text messages (i.e. sexting)
- Sending erotic media (photos, audio, or video) to one another
- Phone sex
- Watching porn together, or sending each other recommendations for videos to watch and talk about later
- Reading erotica together, or sending each other recommendations for stories to read and talk about later
- Listening to audio erotica together, or sending each other recommendations for stories to listen to and talk about later
- Performing a strip tease or watching you partner perform one for you
- Watching other people having sex, as in a group sex or sex party setting
The Harm of Foreplay as a Heteronormative Concept
Under the heteronormative framework from which this term was born, foreplay presupposes the prioritization of penis in vagina (PIV) penetrative sex, as the activities typically considered foreplay are simply sex activities that do not include penetration with a penis.
Under this lens, PIV sex which lasts until penis ejaculation is therefore the goal of any sexual encounter and the only “real” kind of sex, thus creating a hierarchy for sexual activities. It suggests then that anything else (e.g. kissing and caressing, hand and finger stimulation, sex toy stimulation, and oral sex) is lower on the hierarchy of pleasure activities.
To some people, this renders these activities as extra, superfluous, or unimportant, and therefore optional, in spite of these forms of stimulation being important if not necessary to the pleasure experience and orgasm of a partner with a vulva. As a result, this perspective can be dangerously dismissive of female pleasure as well as any kind of queer sex.