Apr 032011

Besides feeling good and being great fun, foreplay is important! Foreplay allows more time and stimulation for full arousal, which will likely make whatever activity you’re going to do easier and more pleasurable. Psychologically, foreplay helps lower inhibitions and increases emotional connectedness.

What physically goes on during arousal in foreplay?

For men, the most obvious change is the erection of the penis. Not all penises become erect when a man is aroused – this is especially true for older men. The glans (tip) of his penis may swell, and the foreskin, if he has one, may retract. He will also produce pre-ejaculatory fluid (pre-cum) which comes out through his urethra – this is produced by the bulbourethral glands (also known as Cowper’s glands), near the base of the penis. Why does this happen? Erection and foreskin retraction allow for easier penetration. Pre-ejaculatory fluid helps lubricate the urethra. It also contains chemicals that neutralize any remaining urine in the urethra (Urine is acidic and could be damaging to sperm).

For women, the most obvious changes are lubrication of her vagina (this is produced by the cervix of the uterus). Her vagina expands and the cervix lifts, creating more room in her vagina. Her labia change shape and color in response to increased blood flow, and her clitoris becomes swollen. Why does this happen? Largely to make vaginal penetration easier. Lubrication eases movement within the vagina, and the enlargement of the vagina allows larger items to penetrate. Also, for women, it may help with achievement of orgasm.

There are a bunch of ideas surrounding foreplay that may or may not be true. Here are a few:

  • “Men don’t really need foreplay, and women do.” I don’t think so. A fairly recent study found that both men and women need about ten minutes to reach (physical) peak arousal (Source). So physically, I’d say no. The study didn’t, however, look at mental arousal which could be a factor.
  • “Foreplay increases sexual satisfaction and chance of orgasm.” Maybe….maybe not. While the popular media and personal anecdotes definitely support this idea, a study of Czech women found that duration of sex was more important than the duration of foreplay. So the jury’s out on this one. My money, though, is on the statement being true.
  • “One technique is guaranteed to work on everybody.” Not true! Everyone is different. This is where communication is crucial.
  • “Aim for these erogenous zones.” Not as easy as it sounds. An erogenous zone is supposed to be one with heightened sensitivity…but it’s different for every person and for each situation. For a common example, look at feet. Some people find their feet to be very sensual and erotic. Others don’t feel much with their feet, and some can’t stand having their feet touched at all because they’re too sensitive. The best way to find out where they are? Explore!

What counts as foreplay? That depends very much on the people involved. I think I’ve managed to come up with a few categories of activities, though…

  • Sensual touch: including with  hands, fur, leather, metal, lips (kissing), body paint, temperature (ice/hot wax, etc) and breath. Massage (with or without oils). Includes pain and impact play (e.g., flogging).
  • Psychological play: including dirty talk, humiliation, and roleplaying.
  • Erotic dress and teasing: including strip teases, erotic clothing,
  • Preparatory: Getting ready for a “special night” – cooking, eating special foods (or feeding them to someone), getting dressed up all nice, bathing with extra care, etc.
  • Bondage: including rope, chains, leather, and handcuffs…and anything else you can think of.
  • Voyeurism: watching others having sex – whether with pornography or live.
  • Misc: talking, erotic games, tantra

All of this brings up what is probably the most important part of foreplay (or, heck, any relationship-based act): Communication. Your partner(s) are not psychic, so communicate, communicate, communicate! Even if it’s embarrassing.

There are a couple of things that may cause problems with foreplay or arousal that I feel I should mention. Physical problems or illnesses can make some foreplay activities difficult if not impossible. Nerve damage can affect otherwise sensitive areas. Erectile dysfunction and vaginal dryness are relatively common, especially as we get older. Psychology can also affect everyone’s foreplay (not just women!). Trauma especially can have debilitating effects on sexuality. Some medications or drugs can also affect sexuality. If you’re having troubles with anything like what I’ve mentioned, start by talking with your partner(s). Still need help? Try talking with your doctor or a qualified sex therapist – they ought to be able to help.

The take-away message? Foreplay is good for your sex, good for your relationship(s), and good for you. Go have fun!

  4 Responses to “The Purposes of Foreplay”

  1. With regards to the Czech study: I was going to mention the obvious, that longer foreplay creates longer sex, but then I checked your source and found that the findings were that longer coitus was correlated with more orgasms and my conclusion stopped making sense. Of course, that’s according to a science reporter and I’d have to see the original study to really critique it further.

    I think one thing that should really be mentioned is that the idea of foreplay is a bit prescriptive with regards to sex. What I’m trying to say is that the concept of foreplay looses a lot of its meaning when you don’t have a concept of what real sex is. Thus, foreplay becomes less a fulfillment on its own than it becomes a means to something else which poses a problem because such an attitude stunts the possibilities which lay in what we normally think of as foreplay. Besides, is it really foreplay when you have an orgasm?

    Finally, I think it’s worth clarifying that nothing, short of unwillingness, is a barrier to foreplay or sensuality in general but may impact the various activities one might partake in the pursuit thereof.

    • The length of foreplay isn’t necessarily related to the length of sex. You’re welcome to go looking for that study – I had difficulty getting as much as I did about it. If you find it please let me know 🙂

      I deliberately kept the definition of foreplay vague and separate from sex to keep the article far from heterosexism and vanilla-ism (new word! Yeehee!). I don’t think it lost its meaning through that, I was expanding the meaning. So the way I would think of foreplay is something that prepares you (gets the juices flowing, so to speak) for whatever act you’re about to perform…no matter what that is.

  2. I am a 75-year-old man, who is in truly exceptional health, who was single for ten years after I finished high school and was a womanizer for five years after I finally married.

    And so, I have been with a lot of women.

    One thing I know with absolute certitude is that if the man allows the woman to be on top, he can almost always last longer and the woman can almost always become uninhibited.

    Yes, long foreplay is important, but you can “fool around” too long, so long in fact that a woman can lose interest, a reality that I found out the “hard way” when I was about 23.

    AND! Knowing when to end foreplay isn’t something that jumps up, waves at you and shouts, “DO IT!”

    That is up to the woman, and far too many women let it up to the man to guess!


    To any man who is reading my comment: try letting the woman be on top, and to any woman who is reading this, when you want you man to do something, let him know! Men are lousy mind readers!

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