A couple in bed kissing and foreplaying
Illustration by Marta Pucci

How to Foreplay With Your Partner

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
11/25/2021
Last updated:
11/30/2021
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
11/25/2021
Last updated:
11/30/2021

TL;DR

  • Foreplay is about more than fun, it can help prepare the body both physiologically and psychologically for intercourse.
  • For some people foreplay is an absolute must to get them warmed up and to stimulate sexual arousal and even desire.
  • Foreplay does not always have to lead on to intercourse. In fact, it is perfectly possible to orgasm through foreplay alone.
  • To build anticipation, make sure the foreplay starts long before you hit the bedroom.
  • Experiment with different textures, sensations and even temperatures to find out what you and your partner like and enjoy.

Sometimes in the heat of the moment, foreplay can get forgotten as we rush to the main event. But often, if we take the time to engage more slowly, we can find that sex becomes more enjoyable, more stimulating and ultimately brings us closer together.   

How important is foreplay?

It’s often joked that a man can just think about sex and get an erection, but for a woman it can take a while to become aroused. Of course, that’s not always true. There are many reasons that both men and women might struggle to get in the mood. From psychological reasons such as anxiety to physical issues such as vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction, sexual desire is complicated.

But one thing is for sure, engaging in some form of foreplay before sex can help increase sexual arousal and even desire. What’s more, by helping to prime the body it can actually make intercourse more enjoyable, and climax better for many people. Whether that’s through increasing heart rate and blood flow to the genitals, stimulating discharge to lubricate the vagina or simply providing emotional reassurance and connection. Engaging in a range of foreplay activities before penetration may help to overcome a number of sexual dysfunctional issues.

But what if you’re not familiar with foreplay techniques or not keen on the idea of foreplay? Don’t worry, we’ll start with the basics.

What do we mean by foreplay?

When we’re talking to our sex therapy clients about how their bodies work and why sex is different for different people, we like to use the analogy of the microwave and the oven. Some people are like ovens: it takes a while for them to warm up. While others are like microwaves: you simply switch them on and they cook immediately. Neither one is better, they are simply different. And interestingly, there are many people that can be one or the other depending on the situation.

The point here is that for the oven, foreplay is a must, while for the microwave it might be considered merely a bonus.

We have a blog dedicated to explain how desire works, if you're interested in learning more about this.

But what specifically are we talking about? When we say foreplay we mean any kind of sexual activity that takes place before sexual intercourse. It might involve body massage, passionate kissing or mutual masturbation, and may or may not involve genital stimulation.

The point of foreplay is to remain fun for both participants. It could be light-hearted and playful, and focused on the areas you know to be particularly sensitive. Or it might involve the entire body. And crucially, sexual intercourse does not have to follow. Foreplay can definitely be the main event, (making it mainplay?).

Can you orgasm through foreplay alone?

Absolutely, foreplay can lead to orgasm. In fact, research has shown that many women struggle to reach orgasm through intercourse alone (1), instead some clitoral stimulation or G-spot stimulation is often required. And that can happen before, during or even in the absence of intercourse.

If you want to explore the bounds of your sexual pleasure through foreplay alone, start by talking to your partner. While talking about sex may at first feel a little uncomfortable, it is the only way to genuinely find out what each of you likes. Spend time exploring one another’s bodies, focusing on specific areas and trying to stay in the moment. Enjoy the sensation, the temperature and the pressure. Try ticklish areas - those that tend to have thinner skin - the collarbone or inner elbow for example. Stroke inner thighs, keeping it light and playful. Introduce sensual massage with a relaxing massage oil, taking in toes, ears, nipples, scalp, those areas known to elicit a shiver. Move slowly, mindfully, checking your partner is comfortable with everything you do.

If you feel your partner is embarrassed to share their wants and desires, don’t get frustrated, help them to explore, giving you clues and turning it into a game. You’ll soon feel your heart rate rising and those nerve endings tingling with anticipation and physical arousal. Don’t give up, stick with what feels good and that orgasm will come.

Before the bedroom bit

Foreplay fun can start long before you enter the bedroom, it just requires a little creativity and perhaps an injection of spontaneity into your usual routines. As your spouse leaves for work, press yourself just that little bit closer as you bid them farewell and whisper that you’ve got plans for them later.

Perhaps slip a note into their laptop bag or lunchbox with a sweet message or a reminder of what’s to come. Or go digital by sending sext texts. Perhaps, if you’re feeling particularly naughty, a pic of your sexy underwear will do the trick to keep the anticipation high.

If you know your partner is a romantic at heart, there’s nothing better than organizing a surprise romantic dinner with candles and a dessert to share. Or if they’re more practically minded? Perhaps taking the bins out or giving the living room a quick tidying will be enough to stir them into action.

Or if you head out for dinner, why not start to raise the blood pressure? From footsie under the table to a kiss with tongues in the cloakroom, there are plenty of ways you can begin to build excitement for what lies ahead. And if all else fails, simply share your foreplay ideas as you look furtively around to see if anyone is listening in.                  

How to initiate foreplay if it’s not part of your routine

Fancy engaging in some foreplay but not sure how to get your partner in the mood? It can be tricky if you’re in the routine of moving straight to intercourse with little activity before. Try something different by taking your time, lighting some candles, selecting soft music and taking your partner in your arms.

Or add some action to your evening – try striptease, give each other a lap dance or take a long steamy shower together. Perhaps have a little go at roleplaying your favorite characters - this can be a great way to begin adding some sexy talk into the bedroom.

When you’re initiating a foreplay session make sure you take your time. Don’t go straight for the genitals, explore each part of your partner’s body. And experiment with different pressures and textures. Perhaps try your hair, your fingertips, feathers or a silk scarf. Get creative to produce different temperatures. Try ice cubes or a metal tea spoon that’s been in the fridge. Focus on how it makes you both feel, whether you like it or you’re not so sure. Using props can help you have conversations about likes and dislikes and get creative with other things to try.

If you’re struggling to master clitoral stimulation, try introducing sex toys. They're easily available online if you don't feel comfortable buying from a store. Have your partner show you how they like to use them and where they should be placed for direct stimulation.

Crucially, set aside some time, turn Netflix off and just have some fun. You don't need Netflix for Netflix and chill, if you know what I mean.

What if my partner isn't interested in foreplay - how to talk about it

We often say it: everyone is different. Different people enjoy and are comfortable with different things when it comes to sex. That’s why it’s vital you talk with your partner to understand what foreplay means for each of you. Remember foreplay can include things that aren’t overtly sexual, so if your partner is unsure you can start slowly and build up as and when they’re ready.

Some people aren’t that interested, whether they see it as a waste of time or they’re just not sure how to approach it. But that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to convince your partner to engage in a longer sex session that’s not just about intercourse. Perhaps you just need to open the lines of communication a bit and help them work out what they enjoy.

That’s the approach we take with our Blueheart app. Designed using proven sex therapy technique Sensate Focus, we’ll help you to take it back to basics, learn to be mindful in the moment and explore one another’s bodies through touch. Perfect if you need to break down anxieties around sex and simply learn to be present.

1. Towne, A., 2019. 'Clitoral stimulation during penile-vaginal intercourse: A phenomenological study exploring sexual experiences in support of female orgasm', The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, vol. 28, no. 1, pp. 68-80.
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