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Sex - Overview | February 15, 2021, 10:45 CST

Foreplay: You Should Know More Than You Do
Sex starts way before intercourse—even before anyone’s clothes come off.
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Foreplay: the pre-sex hors d’oeuvres you partake of (or maybe skip) before diving into the entrée. To some people, foreplay can feel tedious and boring, particularly if you’re not doing it right, but it can also be the key to great sex and to making sure both partners are ready to rumble and tumble.

What constitutes foreplay?

Typically, foreplay is considered any erotic stimulation prior to intercourse. But some couples don’t have penetrative sex at all, and some may just prefer to get off on foreplay alone.

What counts as erotic stimulation? Anything that turns you on. Kissing, touching, petting, rubbing, licking, sucking or even acts that don’t require physical contact, like sexting or dirty talk.

People get hot and bothered about the darndest things, so you can bet there’s an activity that’ll get your gears going before intercourse takes place.

Why it’s worth doing

Foreplay heightens senses, physical stimulation and emotional connection. It also elevates libido and decreases inhibition, so it’s no surprise that it can lead to better sex. Just the act of kissing, for example, causes the release of three hormones—oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin—which together decrease cortisol, the stress hormone. Kissing relaxes you and makes you more open to emotional connection.

Foreplay can also help increase the odds of making women climax. Did you know that very few women—one 2016 study reported as low as 6 percent—climax with vaginal sex alone? So, whether you’re penetrating your girl with a penis, strap-on, dildo or finger, she’s unlikely to get off on just that.

Foreplay is important for individuals with male partners, too, helping to ensure he has a firm erection before sex and to increase emotional closeness.

For both sexes, foreplay can help speed up arousal: genitals swell, nipples become erect and a woman’s natural lubrication increases.

Finally, foreplay increases anticipation. Even a partner who is ready to go will likely enjoy being driven wild by foreplay that makes them wait.

Incorporate foreplay into your sex life

Start with the basics: kissing, caressing, nibbling/biting, sucking, massaging, fingering. Focus on the body’s most sensitive areas: lips, nipples and genitals.

Striptease for your partner, or undress them slowly. Dirty talk can feel awkward at first if you’re not used to it, but it can be super-hot. Roleplay, with or without outfits. Try blindfolds to heighten your other senses. Incorporate scented candles for romance (be careful of fire safety). Play mood music. Follow your instincts and explore what feels good.

You can practice foreplay beyond the confines of your bedroom, even beyond your home. For example, sending a dirty text or note during the day can keep your partner in anticipation for hours before you’re able to be together. Or invite them out for dinner or drinks, so you can quietly lust for each other from across the table.

Pro tips

But what’s foreplay without the payoff? A 2004 study found that men and women both want foreplay to last around the same amount of time: 18 minutes for men, 19 for women. (For anyone previously thinking men don’t like foreplay, the data would beg to differ.) Whatever the length of time that’s good for you, it’s best to keep foreplay reciprocal.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that not everyone is into foreplay—and there is something to be said for occasional passionate, sudden, in-the-moment sex. You might even have a partner who finds foreplay pointless.

All of this is OK. Don’t take it personally, but do advocate for yourself. For example, saying, “I love when you do XYZ to me before sex” can help ensure you both get what you want from your sex life.

It can be challenging to make the time to incorporate foreplay, and the patience and self-control required to take it slow before diving into a steamy sex session may seem frustrating. But embracing foreplay is worth it: Light the flame early, and you get a hotter end result.

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