Should We Ditch The Word “Foreplay”
Ah, foreplay. Licking, kissing, sucking, biting, and whatever else tickles your fancy – or fanny. To some foreplay includes eating out, blow jobs, fingering, handjobs, anal play, and a plethora of other activities. Activities involved in foreplay are fun, a great way to connect, and can increase your chances of experiencing an orgasm.
Let’s be clear – when we say “should we ditch foreplay” we’re not talking about the acts that are typically included in that category, but the word itself. Language is powerful. It can be used to create more inclusivity, as well as to exclude. It’s especially important as we work to normalize all different types of sexual relationships and gender dynamics. So here’s the question – do we need to stop using the term “foreplay?”
To Each Their Own
The biggest issue with the word foreplay is that infers what is or isn’t sex. It’s typically saying that if there isn’t a penis or dildo going into a vagina, it’s not sex. For some people that might be true, but for others, it’s not. You get to define sex for yourself. No one else can decide what is or isn’t sex when it comes to your personal intimate life. For some people, sex might mean oral or rubbing genitals, while for others it means penetration. Acts considered “foreplay” often create just as much of an emotional connection as penetrative sex, sometimes even more. To minimize that can mean minimizing people’s feelings and experiences. When we use the word foreplay it tends to say “This is sex, and this isn’t.” But no one gets to decide that but you.
Heteronormativity and “Foreplay”
Using the word foreplay also tends to have heteronormative implications. Heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexual behaviors are the norm, and anything outside of that isn’t. Queer couples tend to be more creative when it comes to defining sex, and heterosexual couples could often benefit from taking a page out of their books! Sex can be expansive and so much more than a penis in a vagina (although that can be incredible). Even if you are in a heterosexual relationship, you can help to create more inclusivity by being aware of the language you use to talk about sex.
Ableism and “Foreplay”
Another reason the term foreplay can be harmful is that it can be ableist. Ableism is discrimination or prejudice against people with disabilities. This can include all sorts of disabilities whether they’re mental, cognitive, or physical. People with disabilities often still want and can have a thriving sex life. That might mean needing to be more creative sexually to accommodate for their disabilities. This means the term foreplay, might not apply and can be harmful in that it’s dictating what is or isn’t sex, especially for people that need to be creative to make sex accessible.
The STI Conversation
Another issue with the term foreplay is around sexually transmitted infections, STIs. The idea that foreplay isn’t sex can be harmful when it comes to people’s sexual health. This might lead people, especially young people or those lacking in sexual education, to believe that they can’t get an STI because they’re not “having sex”. Now there’s nothing morally wrong with having an STI, it’s a part of biology, and nothing to be ashamed of. Many STIs can be treated with antibiotics, or are manageable through medications and lifestyle changes. That being said, it’s important to take steps to decrease the risk of transmitting them. It’s important to understand that all sexual acts, not just penis in vagina, run the risk of contracting or giving someone an STI. This is why it’s important to not only expand the idea of what sex is, but as well as take steps like getting tested before and after new partners, discussing STIs with new partners, and using barrier methods like condoms and dental dams.
The Main Event
The term foreplay tends to imply that penetrative sex is the “main event”. It’s great if that’s what’s most enjoyable to you, but it can also minimize all the other incredible parts of sex and intimacy. Many people tend to rush through to penetrative sex, which can be less than enjoyable for people with vaginas. Looking at the whole experience as sex can help you and your partner slow down and enjoy the ride.
Choose Your Own Destiny
Much like anything having to do with your sex life, the language you use is up to you. If it feels right for you to say foreplay, then by all means go ahead. We just ask you to be conscientious about who that applies to, and who you might be excluding by using “foreplay” to generalize or talk about other peoples’ sex lives. Language matters, and the more we can expand our vocabulary about what is possible in our sex lives, the more we normalize all sorts of experiences.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.