Contrary to popular belief, more “foreplay” isn’t quite the answer to better sex for women. In fact, the very concept may even be contributing to why so many women have such unsatisfying sexual experiences in the first place. And once you understand why and change the way you think about the word, your and your partner’s sex lives will improve.
Let’s break this down.
Any decent guy cares about his partner’s sexual satisfaction. And yet, there’s often a pretty significant discrepancy between how men and women experience sex, sometimes referred to as the orgasm gap. A classic 2017 study found only 65% of straight women consistently have orgasms during sex, compared to their male partners of whom 95% get off every time. Lesbians, by the way, have much less of an issue with this — 86% of them also get off every time, suggesting this is really a problem with when women have sex with men, specifically.
Part of the issue is that most sex between men and women is hyper-focused on penis-in-vagina penetration — an act that rarely gets women off. Indeed, a separate 2017 study found just 18% of women can orgasm from intercourse alone. The majority of women require stimulation of the clitoris, which often doesn’t get touched at all during penetrative sex.
The problem with the concept of “foreplay” is that it centers P-in-V as the act that defines sex. The word is used to describe all the sexual acts that happen before intercourse, with the idea being that these acts happen first to “warm-up” or prepare the partners for the “main event,” which is the penis penetrating something (a vagina or anus). This (heteronormative) distinction creates a sort of hierarchy among sexual acts, where penetration by a penis is the only thing considered “real sex” and everything else is considered secondary or superfluous.
What does it say when we make the “main act” of sex the thing that men get off from, and the “foreplay” is all the stuff that women get off from? By dividing sex acts into these categories, we’re essentially centering male pleasure as the primary purpose of sex and female pleasure as just a conduit for that.
So, what’s the solution? Many sexuality professionals today — myself included — recommend ditching the concept of “foreplay” altogether and rethinking the way we define what “counts” as sex. All sexual acts are “real sex”—they’re all just different types of sexual play, and they can all be fun and valuable parts of a sexual experience. (If it’s helpful to have a word that describes non-penetrative sex, consider the word “outercourse,” which includes everything that’s not intercourse.)
Here are a few ways to put all this into practice, as well as how men can hone their skills when it comes to all of these different kinds of sexual play. (We’re going to focus on straight cis men and women here, but you can adapt these tips for whoever and whatever you’re working with.)
1. Have More Sex Without Penetration Involved
Having sex that doesn’t include penetration leaves a lot more room for all the kinds of sexual play that feels good for women, without feeling like it’s just the “foreplay” that’s being rushed through to get to the “main act.” By removing penetration completely, both people feel like they can just really focus on all the other very enjoyable activities that can make for good sex. You don’t need to worry about maintaining an erection while you go down on her, and she doesn’t need to feel like she needs to hurry up and orgasm so you can move on to the next thing.
Yes, that means you as the guy might not orgasm every time you have sex — and that’s OK. Women have sex without having orgasms all the time, and men should be open to these types of sexual experiences as well—and not just for equity’s sake (although that’s certainly a good reason, too).
Orgasms are not the end-all-be-all of good sex, and you can still have really hot, fun sex that doesn’t involve having an orgasm. Consider the fact that most heterosexual women have sex that’s focused on P-in-V, even though the majority of them will not have an orgasm from that act — and yet they do it anyway, often enthusiastically. Why? Because they know it’s good for their male partners, and because it’s frankly just hot to be the one who gets your guy off. Men could benefit from having a similar mindset around non-penetrative sex.
So, make going down on her the “main act” every now and then. Skip the penetration entirely. That doesn’t mean never having P-in-V ever. It just means mixing it up. Sometimes you do have PIV sex; sometimes you just go down on your girl for 30 minutes and that’s all, because it’s hot to get her off.
2. Mix up the Order
Even when you do want to have vaginal penetration in the mix, consider mixing up the order of when you do what. For example, sex doesn’t need to end when you ejaculate — after you orgasm, try making the finale giving her head. Or try pausing mid-intercourse for some making out, heavy petting, and dirty talk. The point here is, again, seeing all sexual acts as equally fun and varying which act gets “main event” status.
This is also fun in part because, frankly, so many women are accustomed to feeling like “their” time is over once penetration starts, so suddenly being the recipient again when you least expect it can be a really sexy surprise.
3. Focus on the Clitoris
The clitoris and penis are homologous (i.e., different versions of the same structure), and the clitoris is thought to have equal to or even twice as many nerve endings as the head of the penis. Clitoral stimulation is necessary to orgasm for the vast majority of vagina owners; as noted, some research has found just one in five women can orgasm from vaginal penetration alone.
So, a good rule is to focus on the clitoris for the best odds of making a woman orgasm. Trying to make a woman orgasm without touching her clit is kind of like trying to make a guy orgasm without touching his penis — totally possible, just a little indirect. Of course, every woman is different and has different preferences (some do love some good fingering, for example), so always ask and confirm what the woman you’re sleeping with likes.
4. Give the Clitoral Hood and Glans Some Love
The clitoris, FYI, is a mostly internal structure that stretches two to four inches into the body and wraps around the vaginal canal internally in a horseshoe-like shape. Just the tip, called the clitoral glans, is visible and accessible from outside the body — but fortunately this external tip is quite sensitive. It’s located at the top of the vulva where the vaginal lips meet, and it’s usually covered by a thin fold of skin called the clitoral hood. You can stimulate the clitoris through the hood, or you can gently lift the hood to expose the clitoral glans underneath and stimulate it directly — though again, check in with your partner to see what she likes. Direct stimulation of the clitoral glans can sometimes be too intense for some people.
5. Touch Other Parts of Her Body
While the clitoris is usually the main seat of pleasure for vagina owners, take your time getting there and prioritize other parts of her body as well, especially the other erogenous zones — like the neck, naval, thighs, and booty. Grabbing her thighs or spanking her can help stimulate arousal to her genitals too because of the proximity.
6. “Activate” the Vulva
When you’re ready to go downtown, start by taking time to get the vulva aroused and the blood pumping to the area first — think of this like helping the penis get hard before you start the more direct stimulation. Try massaging or kissing the pubic mound (the fleshy part just above vulva), and then you can use your tongue or fingers to stimulate the outer and inner labia (lips) and around the vaginal opening. Once she’s good and aroused, head to the clitoris.
7. Go Slow with Your Tongue
Really take your time when you get to that clit. Start with a slow, sensual tempo and go from there. Men can sometimes be tempted to just “jackhammer it” while using their tongue because that’s a tempo that often feels good for the penis and helps men orgasm. But that’s not always the case for the clit — in fact, going at high speed like that can be uncomfortable or even painful for some women, especially if they’re not fully aroused yet. You’ll want to pay attention to your partner’s reactions and respond accordingly. In general though, by going slow, you also signal that you’re in no rush to move on, and your partner can really take her time sinking into the sensations and pleasure you’re giving her.
8. Switch up Oral Positions
Just like with P-in-V sex, different oral positions and angles offer different sensations, so don’t be afraid to mix it up. Consider face sitting, doggy style, or her standing and you on your knees. You can also try the Kivin method, aka “sideways oral.” This is where she’s on her back and you’re perpendicular to her body, so the full width of your tongue is lapping at the full length of her clitoris or vulva.
Consider mixing up your tongue technique too — sometimes using the full flat top of your tongue, sometimes just the tip of your tongue, sometimes going in a circular motion, sometimes back and forth or side to side. The possibilities are endless.
9. Incorporate Toys
We often think of sex toys as exclusive to masturbation, but they can be great additions to couple’s play. Men can sometimes get in their heads that they need to compete with sex toys, but that’s the farthest from the truth. Fingers, tongues, and penises can’t do what sex toys can, and likewise, a sex toy can’t do what a human partner can. They’re all just different types of enjoyable experiences, and neither could ever replace the other. Moreover, having a partner be the one using the sex toy on you can actually offer unique, irreplicable types of sensations for the woman because someone else’s hands are in control of the device. So, consider the toys more like an additional tool in the kit of an excellent lover.
10. Use Lube
Lubrication is key to all kinds of play, including both vaginal and clitoral. Some women will naturally produce a good amount of vaginal lubrication, but in most situations, adding some additional lube will usually make for a more enjoyable experience for her. Note that spit is not the same as lube; spit dries quite quickly, so it’s worth actually purchasing some lubricant made for vaginal play to have on hand.
11. Ask What She Likes
Every person is different, and what your particular partner likes might be different from what other people you’ve been with in the past have liked or what people on the internet like. Even if you’ve been together with your current partner for years, what she likes these days might also be different from, say, what she liked when you met her in college. Tastes can change!
There are plenty of really sexy ways to ask your partner what she likes. Consider being in the heat of the moment, with your face down between her legs, and then looking up at her in the eyes and saying, “Tell me what you want me to do to you.”
Alternatively, while you’re laying together after sex, tell her which parts of that session you liked the most and then ask her what her fave parts were to get some specifics. You can also try planning a whole date night where the plan is for the two of you to just take turns pleasuring each other based on the receiver’s instructions.
When we throw out the old conceptualization of “foreplay” and just focus on prioritizing whatever feels good to us and our partners, trust that sex becomes infinitely more interesting—and mutually satisfying.
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