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.)