A good story needs juicy build-up before you reach the climax, sex is very much the same. Unfortunately, many people still think of foreplay as the less interesting precursor to sex. There’s a reason why foreplay is often overlooked; traditional heterosexual scripts have reinforced that penis-in-vagina is the only “real” and thus truly enjoyable sex act, relegating every other type of intimate physical touch to the lesser term “foreplay.” Not only is this script very limiting, but it also makes foreplay seem trivial or optional. I like to frame foreplay as anticipation, it’s the necessary set-up before a punchline. When talking about foreplay, the focus should be placed on creating a particular state of arousal rather than specifying a certain act since we all get off on different things. Foreplay doesn’t have to be performative or extravagant either unless that’s your jam! Foreplay simply needs to be fun and create a build-up. The goal is to prolong anticipation to allow your body time to catch up with your increasing desire. Our bodies don’t always immediately respond to sexual stimuli. Foreplay not only adjusts the time discrepancy but also helps set the pace. When we finally reach the peak, our satisfaction is intensified through the resolution of built-up tension. The more you keep each other waiting, the larger the gratification when you finally get what you want. Beyond anticipation, foreplay can be a way to gain a deeper understanding of the type of sex we wish to engage in, it can set the mood for the entire experience. At its best, foreplay allows us to elongate our sexual experiences so we can be fully present, communicative with our pals, and engaged rather than going through the motions by following the same sexual script we have done a thousand times.
Here are a few types of foreplay that build anticipation:
Consent as Verbal Foreplay
Consent is enthusiastic and informed participation in an activity. It’s as simple as deciding whether you do or don’t want to engage in a certain way. Yet, I’ve heard, “asking for consent kills the mood,” more times than I can count. I chalk this up to people feeling awkward about communicating directly with their pals about pleasure. Listen, I get it! Most of us have been exposed to secretive and indirect approaches to sex. It can be intimidating to clearly ask for permission and to fully express what we do and don’t want. I have a hunch that people make consent out to be far more complicated than it is because they are actually worried about being rejected. But sex is exponentially more enjoyable when our pals understand how to touch us, what pace works best, and what we don’t like. One of the best ways to practice consent and advocate for our pleasure is to embed it into our foreplay.
Dirty talk can similarly be intimidating for folks who don’t have a lot of experience. I hear, “I don’t know what to say” from clients. The easiest way to start is actually to make consensual affirmations part of your dirty talk. By that I mean, describing what you do and don’t want. It can be as simple as using phrases like, “I love when you touch me like this” or “I want to do this to you.” Descriptive verbal foreplay not only lets your pals know what you’re interested in doing to them, but it also gives them a chance to redirect if they would prefer something different. Another common way to embed consent into dirty talk is by providing options such as, “I can kiss your neck or your thighs.” A simple, well-timed, “faster or slower,” can be just as effective. Again, most people overcomplicate dirty talk out of fear, but keeping it simple and informative is the best way to practice. As you learn how to talk dirty, you can add all your creative embellishments. Of course, if you don’t like talking in bed, you can use the same tactic while sexting. Foreplay doesn’t have to be confined to the bedroom. No one is stopping you from sending some flirty messages hours before being with your cutie to really build up the anticipation. Becoming a master at dirty talk can help you truly uncover your pals’ desires by proposing various activities and learning what they respond to the most.
I’ll admit, I read far too many Cosmo articles in the late aughts that swore that putting ice cubes on nipples would lead to the most mind-blowing orgasms of all time along with 50 additional tips involving whipped cream and chocolate strawberries. All of these tips focused on elaborate performances that seemingly had little to do with understanding our desires or response to those stimuli. But what I think Cosmo and the like were getting at was learning how to engage our senses in sexual ways to build anticipation. Far too often, we fixate on genitals during sex and forget that the rest of our bodies also crave attention.
Obviously, there’s not a single act that will work for everyone across the board. Maybe you really dig the temperature play and ice on your nipples will in fact give you the most mind-blowing orgasm of your life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your pal will respond the same way. The goal is to explore your senses together and find arousing ways to accentuate your desires. Most of us focus on touch because it’s the most straightforward way to be sexually intimate. But let’s not forget the other four senses. To help you brainstorm, here are a few ideas: Licking, sucking, spitting, and kissing, are all pleasurable ways to engage our mouths and sense of taste. Our pals’ bodies produce all sorts of arousing odors, not to mention the ways we can chemically enhance our sense of smell with other fragrances. Watching porn together, going to strip clubs, doing teases for one another, positioning ourselves in erotic ways, and slowing down long enough to notice all the beautiful details of our pals’ bodies can be a great way to activate our sight. While listening to our pals talk dirty to us, and putting on some bedroom jams, engages our hearing. You might discover that you lean towards a specific type of sensory play, or perhaps variety allows you to keep things interesting.
I personally love that more people are opening up about their kinks and the ways they engage in BDSM. I talk so frequently with clients who have one of the most common fantasies of being dominated. While you might not be ready to jump into a total power exchange (or maybe you are!) using psychological dynamics during foreplay can make sex more exciting. Simply deciding who will be leading and who will be following can add an edge of tension. You can also explore incorporating roles into your dirty talk. Of course, this too requires a level of self-awareness that usually comes from exploration. Saying you want to be dominated doesn’t necessarily give your pal enough direction, there’s a huge difference between wanting someone to praise you as you service them diligently versus wanting to be humiliated or degraded. Maybe you like both, also great!
To try psychological foreplay, start by investigating your motivation. Try to describe the type of emotional journey that you’re interested in. Once you have an idea of your motivation, you can decide which role or character you want to embody. Alternatively, you can start with a role and then identify the emotional component. For some people, tone of voice, word choice, and giving/taking direction are enough psychological stimulation to satisfy the fantasy. For others, it’s easier to fully commit to a role using costumes/props/tools in order to get into the scene. The level of involvement again depends on you and your partner. Again, these are all ways to prolong the duration of sex, allowing you to slowly build towards a climax, and create anticipation which will be more gratifying to fulfill.
Self-Touch as Foreplay
One of the most instructive activities you can engage in is watching a partner masturbate. We often, wrongly, assume that we know exactly how to get our partners off. But only they actually know how our touch feels. Watching our pals touch themselves can help us understand the tempo, pressure, rhythm, and other technical elements they prefer. Similarly, showing our pals how we masturbate can have the same effect. While some people feel shy about touching themselves in front of others, engaging in self-touch before and during sex can be arousing and often helps folks reach climax.
While it can be a turn-on for our pals to watch us masturbate, I recommend self-touch for a slightly less performative reason. A lot of folks struggle to stay present during sex. Whether it’s performance anxiety, body shame, life stressors, or anything else, it can be easy to get distracted or self-conscious during sex. Touching our own bodies, even if it’s just lightly brushing our forearms with our hands, can help us connect our minds to our bodies and ground us. Self-touch can also help us develop a softer relationship with our bodies and truly appreciate all the pleasure that we can experience through our skin. While partnered sex can be wonderful, pausing for moments to focus on ourselves and our experience can actually make us more attuned to our needs and desires.
There are many different ways to practice foreplay. My best tip is to build a broad repertoire of pleasurable activities that help you get in the mood and anticipate climax. Remember when you didn’t know what it felt like to kiss your pal? When you wondered how their kiss would taste and feel. When you couldn’t stop thinking about how much you desired them… Good foreplay replicates that longing and draws you into the experience. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a quickie! But remembering to take your time and to indulge in all the slow moments that build up to a tense climax is truly satisfying.