NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, September 13, 2021

Rethinking Foreplay as More Than Just a Prelude to Intercourse

Foreplay is commonly thought of as sexual activity that precedes sexual intercourse.  As such, it's often considered secondary to sexual penetration, including penis in vagina or penis in anus penetration (PIV or PIA).  Unfortunately, for many couples foreplay can last only a few minutes or it can be completely nonexistent (see my article:  What is Good Sex?)

Rethinking Foreplay as More Than Just a Prelude to Intercourse

In his books, She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman and So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex: Laying Bare and Learning to Repair Our Love Lives, sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D. emphasizes that sexual foreplay is more than just a prelude to intercourse, especially for women.  He indicates that what we normally think of as foreplay should be considered "coreplay" because it's an essential part of sex and, in particular, core to women's sexual pleasure.

Human sexuality professor Laurie Mintz, Ph.D. stresses in her book, Becoming Cliterate - Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It, that a focus on the penetration model of sex (PIV or PIA) is shortchanging women of the sexual pleasure they seek and deserve.

According to a 2016 sex research study with over 52,500 participants published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, 95% of heterosexual men usually or always have an orgasm during sex as compared to only 65% of women.  The discrepancy between men's and women's response is known as the orgasm gap (see my articles: Closing the Orgasm Gap Between Women and Men - Part 1 and Part 2).  

Dr. Mintz, who is a sex positive advocate for closing the orgasm gap between men and women, emphasizes that the main reason for this gap is cultural ignorance about what most women need to experience an orgasm, specifically ignorance about the clitoris and the importance of clitoral stimulation.

Accordingly, based on sex research, Dr. Mintz challenges the idea that sexual intercourse is the best (or only) way for heterosexual women to have a climax (see my article: Women's Sexuality: Tips on Sexual Self Discovery).

According to current sex research, a whopping 75% of women don't experience orgasm through sexual penetration alone (PIV or PIA). As previously stated, most women need clitoral stimulation.  However, many women, who lack access to good sex education about this issue, believe there's something wrong with them if they don't experience orgasms through PIV or PIA alone.

Even for couples where they're knowledgeable about the importance of clitoral stimulation, many men in those relationships approach pleasuring their female partners with oral sex as if it's a chore.  These same men often like to experience receiving oral sex but, for a variety of reasons, they don't want to reciprocate with their partner.  Needless to say, this is selfish.

When women sense that men don't like to reciprocate with oral sex, they're often hesitant to ask their partner to "go down" on them.  As a result, it's not unusual for these women to approach sex as something they have to "get through" because it's not pleasurable for them, but they don't want to annoy their partners.  In many cases, they also don't feel like they deserve sexual pleasure.

Similarly, Esther Perel, Ph.D., who is also a sex therapist, emphasizes that we need to reconsider foreplay as "more than just a warm up act" to intercourse.  She indicates that foreplay is an atmosphere a couple creates and it can run through the entire relationship.

Dr. Perel says foreplay is the art of anticipation which builds sexual tension between two people.  From her perspective foreplay is essentially about playing.  It can include a look, a gesture, banter, a text, and so on (see her book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic).  

There is more information available today from books and podcasts about enhancing sexual pleasure than ever before, but there's still not enough.  Complicating the matter, most sex education programs in the US are only focused on prevention and disease.  While this is important information, a comprehensive sex education program needs to include education about sexual pleasure--not just the potential problems that can occur during sex.

Due to the lack of information about pleasure in sex education programs, many people, especially young men, get most of their information about sex from watching porn, which gives a distorted perspective about sexual pleasure.  For instance, in heterosexual porn the woman is usually shown as being ready to have sex immediately without any prior sexual stimulation.  

Another important contributing factor is that many women don't understand their own anatomy.  This isn't women's fault.  Again, it gets back to the lack of information in sex education programs and taboos around women discovering what gives them sexual pleasure (see my articles: Sexual Pleasure - The Erotic Self - Part 1 and Part 2).  Also see Betty Dodson's book, Sex For One: The Joy of Selfloving).

In addition, many women suffer with dyspareunia, which is painful sex during intercourse due to physical and/or psychological issues.  Dyspareunia often goes untreated because women are too ashamed to get help and/or the medical community sometimes, unwittingly, sets up obstacles to appropriate medical treatment, which often consists of seeing a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor issues (see Heather Jeffcoat's book, Sex Without Pain).

Another problem is that many couples feel too ashamed to talk to each other about sex.  Many of these problems, including the most common one, discrepancies in sexual desire, could be overcome if couples learned to discuss what they like and don't like sexually (see my articles:  How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

There needs to be a rethinking of sexual foreplay as more than the preclude or the "opening act" to intercourse but as an essential part of sex.

To improve sex between heterosexual men and women there needs to be: 
  • More and better sex education, including cliteracy, about sexual pleasure for women and men
  • Psychoeducation for women about their bodies and that they are deserving of sexual pleasure
  • Improved communication about sex between heterosexual men and women
  • Improved access to appropriate medical and psychological care for women who experience sexual pain or other sexual problems 
  • Men who are willing to prioritize their female partner's sexual pleasure
  • A willingness for couples to talk openly about what they enjoy sexually

Getting Help in Therapy
The psychological and emotional toll that sexual problems cause can exact a big toll for individuals and people in relationships. 

Many relationships end unnecessarily because couples don't know how to talk about sex with their partner.  As a result, longstanding problems go unaddressed, resentment builds and people feel they have no other option but to end the relationship.

If you're struggling with unresolved issues, you're not alone.  Reach out for help.  

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through these issues so you can have a more fulfilling life.  Help is a phone call away.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.

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