“Foreplay” is a term I don’t use anymore. It wasn’t particularly a conscious decision; the word just faded away from my lexicon over time. I became acutely aware of this fact while having conversations with a couple people I’d met on OkCupid, when their use of the word suddenly snagged my attention. To my ears, it sounded glaring and dated, something I didn’t hear much in the sex blogging community.
Our mainstream culture very narrowly defines sex as penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse. The concept of foreplay is rooted in the belief that PIV sex is the be-all and end-all sexual activity: the main event, the primary act, the goal, the finale, the last (and most important) thing that happens when you sleep with someone. Or, as one guy from the cringe-inducing documentary Shy Boys: IRL explains:
“I know what goes on. The penis enters the vagina; thrust, thrust, thrust; question mark, question mark, question mark; profit.”
People use “foreplay” to describe any sexual activity that takes place before “thrust, thrust, thrust”.
When I started having sex with women, I realized the term “foreplay” didn’t relate to my sex life anymore. If there isn’t a penis going into a vagina at some point, then what is and what isn’t foreplay? What is and what isn’t “actual sex”? Oral sex: foreplay or not? Fingering? Mutual masturbation? Lying naked next to each other watching porn while using matching LELO Mona vibes?
Queer sex completely breaks the supposed ‘normal’ progression of sex; it often lasts for hours, an ebb and flow of different kinds of sexual play. Multiple orgasms may be involved, but orgasm is not the ultimate goal, nor does it necessarily indicate the end of sex. There’s no main queer sexual activity equivalent to heterosexual penis-in-vagina sex1, so the idea of foreplay does not apply at all.
Obviously, taking time to turn each other on, tuning into each others’ bodies, and prioritizing your partners’ pleasure is paramount. Arousal and buildup is important, especially as a prelude to penetrative sex. What’s problematic is our language: the word “foreplay” is incredibly heterocentric, lumping together everything that isn’t intercourse as “things you might do before intercourse”.
Broadening the definition of sex is beneficial to everyone. It’s more inclusive for people of different genders and sexual orientations, where sex involving a penis entering an orifice isn’t applicable or desired. For people with different ability levels or bodies, people living with STIs, physical health issues, PTSD or other mental health conditions, or any other situation where PIV sex might not be in the picture.
It is also beneficial to people who do engage in PIV sex (or for whom it is still an option). It’s common knowledge that a large percentage of people can’t reach orgasm through intercourse alone. If somebody can only come while getting fingered with a vibrator on their clit, why should that activity be categorized as foreplay: nothing more than a thing that leads up to the real sex part? Not only is it inaccurate, it severely trivializes anything that isn’t intercourse.
I’ve had more than one occasion when I’ve chosen to get naked with a friend, where we established ahead of time that the boundary line was mutual masturbation and sex toys (no oral or PIV). We made out and explored each others’ bodies for hours, we had orgasms, we played with toys. I reject the conclusion that the fact my partner’s penis never entered my vagina means we did not have sex.
Even more significant of an example in my life is my boyfriend. We’ve been together for over a year, but part of our current relationship rules include him and I not having PIV sex, because that’s what works for our polyamorous relationship right now. By our society’s standards, everything we do sexually would be classified as “foreplay”, which is untrue (and frankly, insulting) – anyone who wants to suggest that I’ve never had sex with my boyfriend is out of their mind.
Actively choosing not to have PIV sex does not invalidate all the other fun things he and I do in the bedroom. What counts as sex with my girlfriend absolutely also counts as sex with my boyfriend, regardless of the fact he has a penis and she does not.
Don’t get me wrong; I love penis-in-vagina sex. However, I refuse to perpetuate the idea that it is the #1 main sex act that all other sexual activity merely leads up to – which unfairly places all the importance on the cis male orgasm, as both the primary focus of sex and a signal of its completion. Redefining sex recognizes the sexual pleasure of everyone else, elevates it to the same level, and acknowledges the wide diversity of sexual interaction people can experience with each other.
Eliminating the term “foreplay” allows for the redefinition of what could take place during the beginning, middle, and end of sex. Intercourse doesn’t need to be the sexual finale, nor does it need to take place at all in order for people to have “actual sex”. It’s simply a popular pleasurable activity that falls under the wide spectrum of intimate things you can do with another person.
So let’s take the word “foreplay” out of our collective vocabulary. Let’s pay attention to the language we use and broaden our definition of sex. Let’s appreciate the variety of wonderful ways people enjoy each other’s bodies. It’s beneficial to everyone, no matter what gender or sexual orientation, because it’s another step toward a more inclusive, sex-positive world.
- For the love of god, please do not suggest that a strap-on dildo or double-ended toy should be considered the equivalent [↩]