faded picture of old-styled typewriter keys with the verbiage: Foreplay, Why Words Matter When We Talk About Sex. annestaggwrites.com

Foreplay, Why Words Matter When We Talk About Sex

I’ve been thinking a lot about words. Peculiar, right? (no, not really). The word foreplay has been rattling around in my noggin. About once a week, a post about foreplay pops up on my social media radar.

It’s a popular topic.

If you enjoy sexual encounters, building pleasure can be tremendously exciting. And it seems like many people have an opinion on what constitutes foreplay and why it features so centrally in discussions of good sex.

There is a cornucopia of articles about foreplay tips and tricks. From sexy texts to romantic whispers to oral sex, article after article warns against skipping the foreplay. In a vacuum, it makes sense. Building sexual pleasure can be a delightful experience if that’s your thing.

But foreplay is usually framed as important because it prepares cis-women for penetrative sex.

One Cosmopolitan article even said, “…, for a lot of women, foreplay can be the best part of sex. Especially for those who don’t orgasm from penetrative sex….”And the focus is almost exclusively on cis-women in heteronormative relationships.

Dictionary.com defines foreplay as “sexual stimulation of one’s partner, usually as a prelude to sexual intercourse.” And for the sake of thorough and clear communication, let’s dive down a little farther and see how Dictionary.com defines sexual intercourse: “genital contact, especially the insertion of the penis into the vagina followed by orgasm.”  

Do you see the problem?

The definitions frame anything that comes before penetrative sex as something less critical, an amuse-bouche to get you ready for the entree. At least the Cosmo article included foreplay as part of the sexual encounter. But even then, it referred to penetrative sex as “the main event.” 

Anne Stagg looking perplexed

But getting ready for penetrative, penis-in-vagina sex isn’t the only sexual game in town.

Take my queer little family as an example. I’m genderqueer femme and pansexual, and my honey is a cis-man who’s grey ace. He doesn’t derive much pleasure from penetrative (penis-in-vagina) sex. Most of the time, he finds it messy and off-putting. Not that he doesn’t love my vulva and vagina, or that I don’t turn him on. He experiences attraction without sexual desire most of the time. Sexual intimacy, for him, is about being close (physically and emotionally) and watching me pleasure myself. 

Does that mean our sex isn’t real? 

Does that mean that everything we do together is just foreplay? Our fucking may not look like the heteronormative version of fucking, but guess what? It’s still a deeply satisfying experience for him and a toe-curling one for me. 

And what about disabled folks? Do they lose out on sexual legitimacy because getting to the “main event” might not be possible for them? No. When we center penetrative sex as the “grand finale” of a sexual experience, we rush past and miss many pleasurable experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig penetrative sex.

For me, vaginal and anal penetration looks and feels fantastic (especially when they’re happening at the same time). And even though my cock didn’t come with the original packaging, imagining the sensation of my prick enveloped in tight, wet heat is thrilling. 

These discussions bake the assumption of cis-gender and heterosexual normativity into the foreplay cookie. Articles about foreplay generally fall into two categories. Either they center on cis-men learning how to please cis-women or cis-women understanding how to appreciate their body.

It supposes two partners whose bodies don’t require physical or emotional assistance. There is even an assumption that orgasm is the goal of sexual intimacy. Don’t get me wrong. I love a bone-shaking, thigh-quivering orgasm. But learning a sexual language that doesn’t include orgasm as the goal has been an essential part of loving someone who’s grey-ace. What would happen if we threw out the word foreplay and stopped framing penetrative sex and orgasm as the goal?

The boundaries of what constitutes a sexual encounter would open wide.

Anne Looking Satisfied

Less pressure gives everyone more time to focus on enjoying each moment. Inclusion of all genders, sexualities, and physical bodies could be (and hopefully would be) part of discussions about sexual pleasure. There’s tremendous power in being part of the conversation, in seeing yourself and your experiences represented. 

So, next time you’re talking (or writing) about foreplay, stop and think. Why not frame being present in the moment as the goal? That way, everything from the first stirring of want to snuggles and snacks is part of a sexual experience. And if penetrative sex is on the menu, it’s importance isn’t overblown. How many more people might see themselves in our work if our language is inclusive and open?

Be well, be wonderful, and above all, be you.


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