On the idea of foreplay

I want to start this blog post with an assertion some might consider controversial (and therein lies the problem): THERE IS NO SUCH ACTUAL THING AS FOREPLAY.

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now. I think it’s time.

Foreplay is the thing that comes before play, right? For it to be a universally understood thing, “play” would have to be not only a universally understood thing, but a universal standard for what needs to happen for an event to be valid or real.

So let’s imagine a world without foreplay, “only” “sex”. This imaginary world brings up a couple of important questions: Which types of play are valid and therefore considered “actual sex”? Which types of sex are left out? Who’s sex is left out? Who’s pleasure is left out?

What does it mean to say that foreplay is not a universal category?

To me, it means that sex (the play in foreplay) does not necessarily or exclusively involve penis-in-vagina sex. It may involve two penises, or two vaginas, or a penis and a vagina that interact in ways that don’t involve penetration, or that other body parts mingle with each other and the genitals aren’t even invited to the party. It may involve Skype, or a phone, it may involve less or more than two people. It may involve clothes or no clothes. It may involve toys. It may involve nothing but dirty talk.

It means that sex is had by people of more sexual orientations, gender identities, and body configurations & combinations than a person with a penis and another with a vagina, and that even when that is the combination, people’s sexuality go way beyond (and often without) penetration. It means that all the various types of sex are no less valid than cisgender heterosexual able-bodied sex.

It means that everything before, after, during and outside of penetration is no less real or important, and doesn’t have to lead up to anything for it to be worth having.

It means that when someone tells you ‘I just had sex’, you know virtually nothing about what actually happened. And maybe that’s on purpose, because it may be none of your business.

Furthermore,

The idea of foreplay is scary.

It is scary because it makes sense almost exclusively if you are a cisgender dude. A cis dude with no imagination, too. Let’s be real.

It is scary that so many magazines, online media, and everyday conversations treat foreplay with a question mark, dating sites ask the question “Do you think foreplay is necessary?” and a gross amount of people answer ‘No’. It’s not scary because I think it is not valid to just drop your pants, go in and out and then leave. If people want to do that and negotiate so beforehand, that’s great. It is scary because when someone asks how much foreplay is normal or necessary, what I hear is “what is the very bare minimum of caring about the other person’s pleasure that I have to do to get what I want?” And I mean, a guy who thinks my pleasure and comfort is an obstacle course on his way to stick his dick wherever he pleases does not only make me sad, and grossed out, but also scared.
It is also scary (terrifying, actually) because if some sort of foreplay isn’t necessary and it’s only optional, there is little room for consent to be freely given. There is a pressure inherent in the term that if you agree to the fore it’s because you are leading up to the play. If you don’t ‘deliver’ (EWWW, intimacy isn’t pizza), you were leading them on, you are a tease.

There are more layers to the idea of “leading someone on” (namely this idea that women are evil manipulators out to trick men into being attracted to us only to not give “any” in return, which is fucked up and deserves its own blog post), but initially there is definitely a number of assumptions being made. The biggest assumption I have identified is that every seemingly sexual or romantic behaviour or action we engage in is with the purpose of, at the end of the obstacle course, have intercourse. There is an assumption that everything before penetration is a promise that penetration will happen, and that is not how consent works.

The idea of foreplay is also sad.

Why sad, you ask? It leaves much less room for imagination and creativity and understanding and pleasure. I understand it is easier to think of activities and things in life as having a beginning, a middle and an end: foreplay, intercourse, orgasm. But you know what that is besides easier? Boring. Not only is it completely not inclusive or validating of folks who can’t and/or don’t want to have penetrative sex, but it makes many of us lazy. If foreplay is just a necessary thing to get to the “main event”, we don’t explore. We rush through it like we rush through our veggies to get to the dessert. And some veggies are delicious. Sometimes you want to go for seconds, cook something you’ve never cooked before, have a nice conversation while you’re at it. Sometimes the chef spent a great amount of effort on a meal and there you are thinking about the cupcakes you’ll get later.

Finally, the idea of foreplay is infuriating. 

It is infuriating because it prioritizes cis men and their pleasure and their orgasm, since included in the category of foreplay are all the things that, statistically, are more likely than penetration to be pleasurable and potentially orgasmic for everyone who’s not a cis dude.

It is infuriating because it makes many men feel entitled enough to get upset at women for not “delivering”. As if sex was something to be given, and as if “foreplay” was a contract signed without any need to talk it out. The only reason men can think someone led them on is if they didn’t ask or communicate or negotiate beforehand. We as women don’t owe men a disclaimer or an apology every time we don’t want penetration, but may want something else. But the heterosexual, cisgender expectations of what foreplay means has conditioned us to think everything that isn’t penetration should head in that direction, so much so that women often feel compelled to apologize for stopping and/or switching gears along the way.

It is difficult to deconstruct and unlearn our ideas about foreplay, but it is crucial in having better conversations and understanding of consent, communication, and pleasure.

Foreplay is not a thing. Destroy the idea that foreplay is a thing. Or at the very least question it: what things qualify as foreplay to you? what about play, or sex? Does that change how you view/do these activities and/or the people you do them with? Do you talk about these expectations with partners?

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