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Down with Foreplay

Jennifer Beman  |  Apr 27

Down with Foreplay

Don’t say foreplay. Just stop calling it that. Think about this word, FOREplay: play you do before. Before what exactly? If you answer, “before sex,” think about that for a minute. Many heterosexual people use the word “sex” to mean intercourse. Sixty percent of college students say they didn’t have sex if it didn’t include the single act of intercourse, even though they may have gotten naked, rubbed bodies together, put genitals into their mouths, had orgasms -- all manner of sexual activity that, by the way, constitutes the full sexual behavior of LGBTQ people -- but still they say they didn’t have sex. 

The internet medical site WebMD in its page on foreplay actually says "You can think of it as the warm-up to the main event." So, WebMD says that sexual intercourse is the main event! But intercourse is not the way most women most reliably climax. It may be the main event for penis havers, but vagina-havers should be wary of having sex with people that think all that stuff that gives them the most pleasure is secondary to their "main event" pleasure. You are just the backup band: Stimulation Clit 

Calling non-intercourse sexual activity "foreplay" is like calling a deliciously prepared 5-course meal "food." 

In my interactive installation, the Graphic Sex Project, I ask people to make “graphs” of a good sexual experience. It’s kind of like their sexual script, only nerdier. Here’s one of them:

After a period of undefined “foreplay”, they have intercourse, culminating in orgasm -- though it doesn’t say for whom. In our analysis of the graphs of the Graphic Sex Project, we had to make an entire category just for the word foreplay: 41 uses in 207 graphs made by heterosexuals. Why does it matter? Because words matter. It's like that idea that the Inuits have 50 words for snow... people tend to have a lot of words for the things that are important to them. The variety of words make it possible for you to think more deeply about that thing, to talk about that thing with more subtlety, to perceive differences. Speaking to women here: if you just use the word “foreplay” to mean all the things that give you the most pleasure, then you are limiting your ability to talk and think about what you want. To really talk about oral sex, for instance, you want to be able to talk about it as something with the same value as intercourse, not just a warm-up. All sexual activity has equal value, all of it is capable of giving pleasure. 

Maybe sometimes you might want to have just oral sex without intercourse, but the word "foreplay" carries within it the assumption not just that the sexual episode will include intercourse, but that it will happen in a particular order. It’s so limiting. Calling it "foreplay" makes it sound like something dispensable, less important. It implies that the thing it is before is undeniably going to happen. If you are thinking Thing A is “before” Thing B - then Thing B is obviously going to happen, or why would you call Thing A "before?" 

Calling all that other stuff "foreplay" is like saying to a kid, “you have to eat your dinner before you get dessert.” You can't say after he's eaten dinner, oh hey, actually that was the main event. No dessert. That’s called bait and switch. So if you say to a partner, “I’d like some foreplay,” you are being pretty vague, as well as in a sense making a promise that intercourse will happen. Whereas if you say, “I’d like you to squeeze my breasts and suck my nipples, plus nuzzle my ear and deep kiss me while pushing your body against mine, then I’d like some oral and manual stimulation of my clit,” not only have you more clearly expressed your desires but intercourse may or may not happen, dependent entirely on you and your partner's common desires. 

Let me be clear: it's absolutely important that if you are having vaginal intercourse, most people with vaginas need, want, and desire other arousing activities to happen before insertion of a penis into the said vagina. That is indisputable and let's hope we are all working from that basic knowledge base. BUT! What if sometimes you don’t want that particular sex act? Using the word foreplay puts people in the same position as that kid at dinner. We did all that foreplay, now the thing all that stuff is supposed to be before "has to" happen. 

Intercourse is nice -- a lot of people like it. But it is not a necessary part of sex. It's not for gay and lesbian people, queer people, people who don't like intercourse, people whose vaginas are temporarily or permanently out of commission, or people who are perfectly satisfied with all the stuff that just happened and now feel like a bowl of ice cream. 

As for intercourse, why relegate it to only before? How about switching up the script and sometimes having intercourse and then oral and manual stimulation? Just please don't call it "post-play!”

Cover photo by Pexels


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