Outercourse: How Non-Penetrative Sex Includes Everyone
The PIV POV (penis in vagina point of view) limits sex. Disregard the fact that it lends itself toward heteronormativity; focusing on penetrative sex isn't realistic or safe for everyone. When the penetrative paradigm is all we know, not having insertive sex can be construed as not wanting sex at all.
Contrast this understanding of sex with the idea of outercourse, which Jane Fleishman, author and sexuality expert, describes as "any form of sexual pleasure that doesn't involve penetration. Use your imagination: oral, nipple play, tantra, kink, there's serious makeout sex, phone sex. There are so many other types of sex."
Outercourse is outta sight
While she stressed outercourse is not "her word," Fleishman said outercourse isn't just for fun. Its use for sexual health is also medically sound, according to Adrienne Crowe, a certified nurse-midwife (and the author's mother).
"As the body's supply of estrogen dwindles [and] vaginal lining thins, the tissue becomes less protective and more delicate, similar to how the rest of our skin thins as people age," Crowe said. "The same healing capacity is diminished. Thinned tissue will be more porous and prone to infection by virtue of not having as many layers."
Penetrative sex may traumatize compromised skin, leading to genitourinary symptoms at the overlap of genital and urinary health. Some women may opt for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to retain suppleness, but this comes with an array of considerations and potential side effects. Discomfort and urinary infections aren't sexy.
No PIV = freedom
Penetrative sex doesn't just hinder postmenopausal or perimenopausal women. In fact, because men are expected to do the penetrating, falling below standard can have serious effects on self-esteem and sexual performance. Whether their erection is affected by age, cardiovascular health or even mental health, men are especially hurt by the PIV POV. Their sexuality or hunger for intimacy hasn't evaporated, only their ability to perform in one very strict definition.
"When you take people out of this idea that it's all PIV and that's it, and you tell them, 'Well actually, you can still have sex'—particularly older men who have suffered from this real pain of not being able to perform—it's freedom, it's really freedom," Fleishman said.
Often, heterosexual intimacy is seen as a beginning, middle and end, with foreplay serving as the beginning, penetrative sex as the middle and an orgasm at the end. This linear concept of sex works for conception, but is generally limited. In contrast, outercourse benefits all types of bodies, even bodies for whom intercourse once was the preferred sexual behavior.
As easy as it is to view bodily changes as sexual dysfunctions, perhaps the more constructive (and pleasurable) approach is to see them as opportunities to try something new.
It's time to explore
Sexuality is an open world for exploration rather than a straight path with one set goal. Bodies are sexy, even if they don't look or act like they once did. For young and old, non-penetrative sex can be safer and even more enjoyable than PIV.
If a specific sex act is painful or stressful, consider skipping it. Don't view this as a failure as much as the wrong fit for you. There will be a lot of right fits, you just have to find them.
The end goal of most sex nowadays isn't just reproduction, but pleasure. So why do we get so hung up on penetrative sex when it may not be working for us? As long as it's safe, you've got all kinds of opportunities to have great sex.