Forget What You Know About Foreplay: The Importance Of Everyday Intimacies

It's time to reassess!

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When you hear the word foreplay, a familiar scenario probably springs to mind. Maybe your idea of heating up for sex is ten minutes of kissing and touching, maybe it’s a lengthy oral session, or maybe it’s thirty seconds of fingering (no judgement here!).

No matter how we get the ball rolling on a personal level, our notions about foreplay are generally the same across the board. It’s considered the precursor to sex; the prologue; the starter.

At least, this is what we’ve been taught. There’s been a discourse for some time on improving sex for women by focussing on foreplay, because we tend to ‘warm up’ to sex in a different way than men.

This is true, of course; physically, our body needs some attention to ease into the act. But the concentration is always on sparking a physiological reaction, and the sexual technique that ignites it. For some reason, the emotional and mental aspect of foreplay rarely seems to enter the chat.

Sure, the foreplay we’re used to will get you where you need to be, but is it where you want to be? Are you genuinely excited, connected to your partner, truly present in the experience? 

If the answer is ‘sort of’, it might be time to reevaluate how you’re viewing foreplay – and whether that ten minutes of pre-intercourse fumble is really hitting the mark.

Therapist and writer Esther Perel has suggested that foreplay begins long before you even step foot in the bedroom. In fact, she says that Foreplay starts at the end of the previous orgasm”. What if we viewed everything that happens between the last time and the next time we have sex, as contributing to our sexual relationship?

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What if – bear with me here – we abandon the concept of foreplay entirely? After all, who’s to say where foreplay stops and sex begins?

Psychosexual and relationship therapist Aoife Drury feels that it’s time we move away from our traditional understanding of sex and foreplay. “We’ve kind of isolated sex as being this ‘main course’”, Aoife explains. “Instead of framing it as foreplay, it’s this whole buffet – everything [should be] equal.” 

This especially makes sense when we consider that not all sex has penetration at its core – for example, many queer couples only experience digital penetration when they’re having sex (using their fingers).

And when it comes to straight sexual partners, the reality is that the “majority of women don’t orgasm through penetration at all”, says Aoife. “Penetration isn’t the pivotal, most crucial aspect of sex.” Our idea that “penis entering vagina” is the core moment of sex is a very male centred view – and it’s time we switched the narrative. 

So how can we reshape our approach to foreplay? It’s all about remembering that what happens between you and your partner outside of the bedroom can transform what happens within it – and that all of your little daily interactions are, in some way, contributing to the way you have sex!

Aoife tells me that most essentially, being mindful of your partner is key to unlocking better sex. If you’re unsure where to start, taking a look at the love languages can help you to be more “conscious and present”. Maybe you need more quality time to feel more sexually in tune with your partner, maybe you need words of affirmation. 

One great way to build intimacy and romance is by making time to kiss without the intent of having sex. How often are you intimate with your partner when sex isn’t the end goal? Taking pleasure in simply kissing can remind you to stop seeing foreplay and penetrative sex as the entirety of your sexual relationship.

Aoife recommends using massage, hugging, and soul gazing (prolonged eye contact) to deepen your connection. It doesn’t all have to be physical, either. “It could be really simple like communication, being empathic and caring” Aoife says.

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Sweet, playful gestures can remind you how attracted you are to one another, how connected you are as a couple. When was the last time you told your partner how gorgeous you find them? Or bought them a little treat just because? You might make the effort to touch them more consciously, like holding hands in public, slipping your arm around their waist when you’re out together, or leaning on their shoulder on the bus.

You could light some candles next time you cook dinner, or send them flirty texts throughout the day – little ways to signal that you’re presently appreciating each other.

Being open, flirting, and simply engaging with your partner in a loving way are all important when it comes to keeping balance in your sexual relationship. Aoife explains how over time, we can forget that we should be actively building on this sexual and emotional connection with our partners. 

“There’s this expectation that, particularly if you’ve been together a long time, it just easily happens. ‘You’re supposed to be’ or ‘you should be’ able to have sex. But in order to work on your relationship you have to work on your relationship dynamic in itself.” This is why every day intimacies can make all the difference.

We tend to view these things as contributing to our romantic relationship, and not our sexual one. But they’re all connected, and recognising this can help to create a fuller, more well rounded sexual experience.

If the first time all day you’ve connected in a sensual way is right before you get into the heat of sex, there’s no time for chemistry and erotic tension to build – it might ‘do the job’ in the moment, but long term it can end up killing your buzz. You deserve to enjoy the full buffet! So, forget what you know about foreplay, focus on those everyday intimacies, and allow your sex life to reach new heights.

This feature is from the Oct/Nov issue of STELLAR Magazine, on shelves now.