Foreplay wasn’t really a thing until the world began to acknowledge that women enjoy sex, have orgasms and possess a sexual scope that reaches well beyond the vagina. Prior to those very important revelations about women’s sexuality, there was no reason for erotic stimulation prior to intercourse. But once the cat was out of the bag, foreplay became the thing to do to get things heated up for vaginal sex. A necessary precursor to women’s pleasure. Except it was built around the premise that women, once properly primed, get the same satisfaction from vaginal sex as their male partners. Like with so many things, our pleasure was addressed from the male perspective.
Merriam-Webster defines foreplay like this:
1: erotic stimulation preceding sexual intercourse
2: action or behavior that precedes an event
Maybe it should be defined as what men do for women to get them ready for “real” sex - surely you’ve heard that women are like crockpots and men are like microwaves. They’re ready to go and we’re, well … we require time and effort. Enter foreplay.
But instead of thinking of it as a prerequisite, perhaps we should take the fore out of foreplay and think of it as a delightful part of the whole. After all, erogenous pleasure is and always has been multi-layered and involved more than orgasm. And for women, some of the activity associated with foreplay actually is the main event (I’m looking at you, clitoris). Here’s how Ash Spivak, co-founder of the digital sex-ed platform, Allbodies, said it:
“We have so much emphasis on orgasms in general as being the pinnacle, but pleasure is a spectrum. There’s so much room in there to really play around and that’s really never been taught.”
A Spectrum Indeed
Pleasure is a spectrum for women, but this is also true for men. The very notion that foreplay is for women only is just plain wrong. And the Journal of Sex Research did a study that proves it. Among other things, the study found that women, on average, want foreplay to last for 19 minutes, but reported only 11 minutes when practiced in real life. Men also reported wanting more foreplay - 18 minutes, to be exact – but reported 13. I can’t attest to the method the researchers employed to get their numbers, but I think it’s fair to say that everyone wants more foreplay than they’re getting. But that really shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the whole point of foreplay, whether you’re a man or a woman, is pleasure.
Foreplay is all about erogenous zones and there are many resources that go beyond the obvious, if you’re looking for ideas and inspiration. However, when it comes to "sensitive areas on the body that cause sexual arousal when touched" – perhaps it’s best to compile your own. After all, you're the expert on what feels good to you - and, if you're not, you should be. How else will you be able to communicate what you want to your partner? So the first step to good foreplay is to know what lights your own fire. The second step is to let your partner know. And, of course, be a good listener when it comes to your partner's sexual wish list.
When it comes to erogenous zones, I nominate the brain for the top spot. It’s the hub of the wheel and the reason why foreplay can begin before anybody touches anybody, even before you’re in the same room together. To prove this, try a ban on touching for an entire day, meanwhile, using the power of suggestion to your advantage. It’s a look or a text or a voicemail message . . . whatever you can think of to build the anticipation and heat up the temperature between the two of you. Use your imagination to picture what happens once the ban is lifted and articulate it to your partner.
You can also use your brain to tune into other erogenous zones – some that are familiar to all of us, like lips, ears and breasts and some you may not have considered like scalp, torso and the lower back. Dr. Jenn Mann wrote an article on the subject for InStyle with some professional intel on the aforementioned erogenous zones of the less known variety. She knows what she’s talking about – she’s an award-winning psychotherapist and answers sex and relationship questions on her own podcast (Hump Day). Here are some ideas from her list.
It’s all about nerve endings and the scalp has lots of them. So massage, run fingers through hair, employ a gentle tug . . . as with all things, let pleasure be your guide.
Hand & Fingers
Speaking of nerve endings, hands in general and fingers in particular have some of the body’s densest. Consider that an invitation to touch and be touched.
Dr. Mann suggests exploring your partner’s midsection with your hands, lips, tongue, fingertips or with an object – like a feather.
If you’re familiar with the ilioinguinal nerve, you know that it is very sensitive and connects to the lateral labia in women and to the scrotum in men. Obviously, the inner thighs should be on our list of places to touch.
Many people like their feet touched, but there are three spots, in particular, with powerful erogenous potential. Let’s take a page out of the reflexology playbook.
Kissing is our super power – in part because our lips are extremely sensitive due to a huge number of nerve endings. Believe it or not, women have been known to orgasm from kissing alone with no genital contact. But the kissing shouldn’t stop there – other parts of the body respond in a very positive manner to being touched by lips.
When we're talking about erogenous zones, everyone is – and should be – unique. Just like our likes and dislikes, fantasies and preferences. The important thing is that you have fun finding out what works for you and you never stop adding new ideas (#167, #168, #169 . . .).
When it comes to sex, the further we move away from perfunctory, the better. In other words, keep playing – before, during and after. Sexual play comes in many forms and should be powered by pleasure. Inspiration comes easily to some and others may welcome some outside inspiration. Members of both groups are likely to enjoy one of the podcasts I found on a list from Oprah Daily.
Savage Lovecast - Call-in advice from sex advice author, Dan Savage - no-nonsense answers to every sex and love-related predicament imaginable
Friday Night Fun Erotic Stories - "sultry call-in show"-style production. Though the series ended in 2018, there's a big enough back catalog
The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotic Sex Stories by Rose Caraway - Author, podcaster, and self-described sexy librarian Rose Caraway (who has a lovely voice) brings a wide range of erotica authors' tales to her "lurid listeners" in this pod. After a brief intro, Caraway reads a story, with most running between 30-50 minutes long
Want to see the entire list? Click here.
There are other sources of inspiration you can experience together like reading erotica or watching a movie (yes, that kind of movie). Just make sure that you both find the tone and subject matter pleasurable and that you don’t take the whole thing too literally. Remember this particular genre is good for inspiration, not instruction.
You can act out your fantasies, try blindfolds, restraints, ice cubes, feathers. How about a lap dance or strip tease? I haven’t even touched on Tantric or toys. Then again, it’s not my list. It’s yours. So, tap into your inner sex goddess and tune into what heats you up … and keeps you going.
So, foreplay? Yes, absolutely – before sex to build anticipation and excitement. But don't stop there. Keep it going and remember, when it comes to sex, you can't overestimate the power of play.
InStyle, Foreplay Ideas to Try, Because Sex Is Not a Race, Dr. Jen Mann, September 2, 2020
Psychology Today, Foreplay, Play, Orgasm, and Post-Orgasm, Linda Bloom LCSW & Charlie Bloom MSW, February 14, 2019
Glamour, 21 Foreplay Ideas & Tips You’ll Be Dying to Try, Glamour, April 3, 2021
Well + Good, It Took Us Long Enough, but We’re Finally Paying Attention to Women’s Pleasure, Erin Magner, March 30, 2020
Web MD, 7 Unexpected Erogenous Zones, Hayley Krischer, Not Dated
Independent, The Lesser Known Erogenous Zones – And How To Find Them, Samantha Evans, October 22, 2020