Foreplay is traditionally defined as the physically and emotionally intimate acts that two people engage in to turn themselves on before having sexual intercourse. But these days, the concept of foreplay can seem a little antiquated and heteronormative as society moves toward a more expansive view of sex and sexuality.
Rethinking how we define foreplay.
People often equate foreplay with all the kissing, oral sex, and hand stuff people do before they engage in penis-in-vagina intercourse. But assuming that every other sexual or intimate activity is "just" a buildup to the "main event" of P-in-V intercourse centers the pleasure of people with penises (since for people with vaginas, intercourse probably won't make you cum) and also ignores the types of sexual encounters that queer people have. Instead of "foreplay," sex therapist Sari Cooper, LCSW-R, CST, uses the term "outercourse" to describe all the sex acts that might fall into this category.
A good way to think of actual foreplay, then, is to disregard the fore and concentrate on playfulness. Think of it as anything that you and your partner(s) engage in to turn each other on and set the mood, no matter what happens before or afterward.
"Foreplay is about creating a mood that is conducive to being physical and wanting sex," says sex therapist Madeline Cooper, LCSW, CST. "Making sure that your relationship is incorporating sexually arousing moments outside of the moments right before sex is just as important as the sex itself."
Below are some foreplay ideas to try with your partners, organized by the five senses, plus a few bonus tips at the bottom for long-term couples.
"Pleasure is experienced through the body and more specifically through the body's sensations. Therefore, when looking for inspiration for foreplay, the most direct place to find it is through the senses," therapist Bri Shewan, LMFT, tells mbg.
Initiate eye contact.
Look directly at each other for an extended period of time. Alternatively, try to flirtily catch each other's eyes across the room as you both work on different things. Try to capture the "first crush" feelings of not being able to keep your eyes away from each other.
If you want to take eye contact to the next level, relationship and sexuality coach Renee Adolphe recommends incorporating tantric eye-gazing.
"Begin looking into each other's eyes. Stare into the nondominant eye, which is the left eye if you are right-handed. Stare for at least 5 minutes or however long you wish," Adolphe instructs. "This will build a connection and help both of you open up and want to go deeper into lovemaking."
(Here's our full guide to tantric sex, BTW.)
Use a blindfold.
On the flip side, disengage your sight abilities by using a blindfold to heighten other sensations. Let your partner cover your eyes and then whisper what they're going to do to you in your ear.
Strip for each other.
"Stripteases can help spice up the sexual charge," says relationship therapist Anna Dow, LMFT. "You could give your partner a striptease, request one from them, or invite them to a strip club to indulge in receiving a striptease together."
Do something else while naked.
Walk around completely naked together, especially if you're used to being covered up. Sit and watch a movie together buck naked and see how it feels to have your skin against their skin. Take time to really look at your partner, to appreciate every inch of them.
Play with lighting.
Dim the lights and light candles. Bonus points if they have a smell you find sexy.
Try mutual masturbation.
Lie facing each other and put on a show. Not only is this hot in and of itself, but "it can also give you an opportunity to show your partner(s) ways you especially enjoy being touched so you can maximize pleasure together in the future," says Dow. (We have a full guide to mutual masturbation, too.)
Be the stars of the show.
Make your own sexy video and watch it together.
Kiss—but really kiss.
"Kissing is vital in establishing pleasure and connection during foreplay. But expand your kissing to beyond the lips," Adolphe recommends. "Kiss your partner's neck, ears, forehead, breasts, chest, all over their back (backs are highly erogenous as well), the buttocks, thighs and inner thighs, back of knees, toes, etc. Enjoy kisses of different pressures. Lock eyes and use your eyes to speak and say what you want to do to them while you are kissing. They will feel that intensity."
Break out some ice cubes.
Let your partner run ice cubes over your nipples or inner thighs. Put a small cube in your mouth and make out, enjoying the sensation of the hot and the cold mingling together.
Try sensation play.
Spank each other, starting gently and increasing in intensity if desired. Aim for fleshy areas such as the ass and the thighs so as not to cause any serious damage. Get creative and use household items such as a spatula or a rolled-up newspaper if you get tired of using your hands. Enjoy the sensation of your blood rushing to the surface of your skin.
Many people, even those without a specific latex fetish, find it extremely erotic to wear this restrictive and revealing material. Put an outfit on and then do something mundane like cook or clean while your partner watches you.
Apply makeup to each other, or give each other a facial (not that kind!).
These activities require you to be up close and personal with each other without being overtly sexual. Concentrate on the sensation of your lover brushing powder over your cheeks or massaging lotion into your forehead. Let yourself relax into their touch.
Try nipple clamps.
Use nipple clamps to increase sensation. You can apply them yourself or ask your partner to. Make out while your partner gently pulls on the clamps.
Massage each other.
It's a classic, but it's a good one. Take turns rubbing each other's bodies, asking your partner where they especially want to be touched. Use a good-quality massage oil so as to make everything glide along more smoothly. To up the ante, try a tantric massage such as a lingam massage, yoni massage, or nipple massage.
Run a bath filled with lavender oil or any essential oil you find erotic and invite your lover in to join you. "Just make sure to check about scent sensitivities and that the smells introduced have positive associations for the people involved since scent is so strongly connected to memory," reminds Shewan.
They're not just for spring! Fill your bedroom with sweet-scented and brightly colored flowers and imagine you're out in nature where anyone could come across you...
Get a sweat on.
Do some light physical activity together such as yoga. The sweaty scent of a partner can really get you in the mood! Not to mention that seeing each other in tight workout clothes can be very invigorating.
Read erotica to each other.
Either read erotica to each other from a book or website or write your own and then exchange them so you can get a clue about the other person's fantasies. This can be great if you're too shy to tell them face to face. You can also look into audio erotica, too.
Make a sex playlist.
Create a shared playlist on Spotify that you both add sexy songs to throughout the day. These can be songs that are sexy in and of themselves or just songs that remind you of your relationship, depending on whether you want to set a more erotic or romantic mood.
Voice record yourself.
Slip off to the bathroom in the middle of the workday and touch yourself while recording a voice note of your breathing and/or a narrative of what you're doing and send it to your partner.
Voice record yourselves together.
The thought of making visual porn may seem too intimidating, so how about auditory porn? You can audio record your and your partner(s) having sex and then listen back to it together to get in the mood.
Challenge yourself to be silent.
See how long you can go touching your partner without either of you making a sound. This works especially well if you're in a place where you really don't want to get caught. The element of danger can add to the eroticism.
Make one of your favorite dishes together, standing close to each other as you work. Squeeze closely past each other and brush against each other unnecessarily. Try to go through the whole cooking process without making out to heighten the feeling of longing.
Serve yourself up.
Eat foods off of each other such as berries, whipped cream, or chocolate syrup. Make sure to keep foodstuffs away from your actual genitals so as to not upset your pH balance.
Use flavored lube.
Cover your fingers or toes in flavored lube and then suck and lick it off each other.
Bonus foreplay ideas:
Create a sense of occasion.
"Inviting a partner through a sext or handwritten invitation to meet the other in a room or place other than the bedroom can be an adventurous exciting change of pace," says Sari Cooper.
Switch up your location.
"Novelty on where outercourse takes place in addition to nuanced novel activities can increase one's erotic desire and physical arousal," Sari Cooper says. "For example, inviting a partner to a nest created out of comfy blankets and pillows on a rug in a den, surrounded by a basket of sex toys, great music, and requesting a dress code."
"Put on some sexy music and dance. Couples can really become aroused with couple dancing such as salsa, tango, or reggae, depending on the person," Adolphe says.
Take penis-in-vagina intercourse off the table.
Especially if you're a cis man and cis woman, it's easy to fall into the trap of making everything revolve around eventually getting to penis-in-vagina intercourse. But therein lies the problem.
"When my clients talk about difficulty with arousal, I ask about their sexual script, and most of my heterosexual couples turn right to PIV intercourse after some kissing," Madeline Cooper says. "I will ask them if they went to a restaurant and there was only one dish on the menu, if they would get bored after a while. Most say admittedly yes, and I will ask them why they do the same thing during sexual experiences."
To offset this, Cooper recommends creating a long and diverse sexual menu featuring all sorts of sex acts other than intercourse. "Create a menu where you can do things other than PIV, and where intercourse is not always the expectation."
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Kesiena Boom, M.S., is a sociologist, writer, and poet. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Manchester and a master’s degree in Gender Studies from Lund University. Her work has been featured at Slate, Buzzfeed, Vice, Autostraddle, and elsewhere. Her writing focuses on sex, pleasure, queer experience and community, feminist theory and practice, and race and anti-racism.