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!