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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The one where I talk about why I talk about toys.

“Why do you talk about sex toys so much?” I have heard this question in some form or another more times than I’ve cared to answer it, but I will. Again. [I won’t even address for now the slut-shamey tone this question is often accompanied by. Or rather, the “are you a perv or something?” question behind it. Because DUH, goes without saying.] Now. My first instinct is to answer: “Because I can.” I know my shit decently well, for one. I also try to flutter about in social circles in which I am safe and accepted enough regardless, or at least in spite of, talking nonstop about brands and materials and how to clean them properly and “that new adorable thing that just came out”. Not every social circle or situation makes me feel equally safe and okay with talking about sex toys, of course *insert mental image of me putting the Leaf line as centerpieces for Christmas dinner*, but I know how to filter, most of the time. But really, why are you asking me that question? You’re probably asking because you’re not used to hearing much about sex toys, except for jokes and hush-hush anecdotes of friends going into sex shops and looking at dildos (because every sex toy is a dildo, DUH). You’re probably even less used to a woman talking so freely about sex. And there is part of your answer. I talk about sex toys because people joke about them out of shame-y feelings, out of guilt for being actually interested underneath that nervous laughter.I talk about them, too, because a lot of people want to and yet most people don’t. You might also associate sexuality education with some powerpoint presentation featuring pictures of genital warts, or at the very least a silver-bullet Cosmo article by an “expert” who is there to tell you the single best tecnhique to please your person. That’s another reason. I talk about sex toys because pleasure should be a part of conversations about health and a part of sex as much (or more, I would argue) as STI prevention & contraception. Sexuality education often fails to acknowledge or discuss the most common sense thing about sex, which is that IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN.  I talk about sex in general because there is no silver bullet to pleasure, we have to find it ourselves, and what better way than to play and flick around stuff? I talk about toys because they can help people have more fun, alone or with others. They can help with body image, with technique, with confidence, with dysfunctions, with disability, with intimacy, with libido. Hell, they can even help those teenagers that some adults SO want to deter from having sex “too young” by giving them a fun gadget to hump instead of each other. I also talk about sex toys because sometimes someone has to. People often don’t know about all the possibilities, the variety of aides and positioning devices and applications for them, or where to get them, or how to distinguish safe from unsafe toys, or how to clean & store them. And people often don’t know these things because we won’t talk about them. We are scared to ask, or don’t know who to go to, or even what to ask. Not only that though. It isn’t even about the toys. They’re often expensive and sometimes tricky to get (if you live with and depend on your parents for money, for example) and some people don’t like them. All of these things are legit and I don’t just talk about my undying platonic love for the Stronic to make you all want to run to your local (please, buy local) sex shop and spend a third of your month’s rent on a pulsating product of sexy wizardry. I like bringing up stuff that is good to say but people feel uneasy or shame-y or guilty about. I like helping provide the space for conversations about toys, sure, but more importantly about pleasure, about ways to make our (sex) lives better, about what works and doesn’t work for us and why. I have had a woman tell me that after I brought up anal beads in a random conversation – that’s how I make friends at parties – , her girlfriend told her she would like to give butt play a shot. That’s awesome! Communication – and having the tools and the will and the space for it – is awesome. Like Megan says, our hands are our free, first sex toys that Jimi gave us, and they are wonderful. We don’t NEED sex toys (but then again, I also don’t NEED Nutella, but want it most days anyway), but we do need better communication skills and tools. We need to be able to say the words for things. We need better sexuality education, we need more conversations about pleasure and how important it is. We need to talk about shame in order to be able to deconstruct it. Why do some people still think that sex toys are just for pervs, or for single women (thanks a lot, Carrie Bradshaw)? Or that they replace your partner? Or that strap-ons are just for lesbians, or that butt play is not for straight men? Or that BDSM is for “dysfunctional people”? Or that there are no toys for penises? Or that certain bodies can’t have certain kinds of sex? Or that porn is just for men? I know I am getting into a lot of questions (and a lot of inaccurate ideas), but they all come from the same problem: we are not talking about these things enough.

So tell me, why AREN’T we talking about sex toys enough?

Do you have a question about sexuality? Where to find particular information/how-to guides/porn/ toys/ workshops? About feminism, gender, sex-positivity? Ask here on the comments and I will try my best to answer! Or ask me on my Tumblr! (Or if you know me and feel comfortable, ask me on Facebook or in person. I love talking about sex toys, hence this entire blog post.)  

OH HEI HERE ARE SOME (NOT ALL) ONLINE STORES THAT ARE SEX-POSI AND FANTASTIC: Canada: Ohhh Canada, Joy Toyz, DNA Toys, Good for Her, Come As You Are The US: Smitten Kitten, Good VibesBabeland Mexico: Erotika Lovestore *I don’t feel comfortable recommending stores from other places but if you have a strong recommendation for your country, let me know and I will check it out & add it.

You want a blog post on consent? Yeah?!

I have talked – and heard, and read – a lot about consent in the past few months. I am starting to give workshops on it, too, which is great experience. One thing that I have noticed most people struggle with is the practical part.

I will explain myself. Although a lot of people still have the concept of consent itself still a bit fuzzy, many people know what it is, textbook-definition-wise.

For those of you a bit unsure, or if you think you know but you really don’t, here are some characteristics of consent:

– Mutual: That means everyone involved in whatever is going on is giving it.

– Continuous: That means that it is not a yes at the beginning and then you are good to go forever and ever. It also means the people involved are responsible for checking in with the other and making sure everyone is enthusiastically into whatever is happening. AND it also means that it can be withdrawn at any point.

– Act-specific: This goes without saying if one truly understands the previous point, but consent to one thing does not mean consent to every (or any) other thing that follows. Consent to one thing now does not mean consent for that one same thing forever. This also means that relationship status does not mean consent: just because you are married does not mean both people consent to everything the other person wants.

– Freely given: This means that if a “no” carries with it negative consequences (of any kind – blackmail, emotional or physical violence, financial trouble, getting fired), then a “yes” means nothing. The space has to be a safe one in which a “no” can be said and received. (We’ll get more into this later.)

– Enthusiastic: This means many things: that a lack of a “no”, or silence, do not mean “yes”. That “not sure”, “not tonight”, “I am tired”, “could you not?”, “stop”, “I feel weird about this”, etc should be checked in and discussed and anything that is going on should STOP.

– Explicit: That means that, although non-verbal cues help, and the body should definitely (ideally) match the words, explicit verbal consent should happen. If not verbal, how can one be sure? (Hint: You can’t.)

 

Now, many people will say this list, or a variation of this list, but when it comes down to it, they will object that explicit consent is kind of unrealistic or boring or awkward or unnecessary even. I think it is in that last point, the point about being explicit and verbal, that many people get stuck and scream IMPOSSIBLE! and leave me broken-hearted.

Many people will say it is boring to explicitly ask and give consent. I find this kind of funny because I have thought this way too, until I realized what explicit, enthusiastic, consent can actually look like: dirty talk. I think people who see it as boring think of a very dry police-questioning kind of interaction: “Would you agree that now is a good time to perform manual stimulation on each other?” “I agree, certainly. But perhaps we could start by osculating for 5 to 15 minutes before proceeding” OF COURSE THAT THIS WOULD BE BORING AND UNREALISTIC.

Other people still will argue that it is often unnecessary. The “c’mon, dudebroman, I’ve got mad game! I know when a chick wants the D, y’know?” argument. Well, dudebroman, and any other person reading this: you don’t “just” know if another folk wants the D or any other letter you might want to give at that point in time. No one does. You gotta ask. The one initiating any sexual contact should always check in with the other person. Of course I don’t mean a ridiculous play-by-play “can I touch your left butt-cheek? Can I touch your right one? Can I touch both simultaneously?” so don’t be the jackass who makes that joke when someone is explaining consent to you, okay?

Many other people will argue that it is awkward and therefore unrealistic because you’d kill the mood or scare the person away.

First of all, as I like saying about any other situation that certain people see as awkward: it is only so if you make it or think it so. Furthermore, it is only awkward the first couple of times you do it – like anything else. We get this idea from the media and other people that sex “just happens”, and that there is no need for verbal communication. People are not born with this knowledge of what goes where and how fast or slow and how every D and P and A likes it and what to do with your genitals to help them become the very best they can be. People aren’t – usually, anyway – born good at sex (whatever that even means). You get good at your own, and you get good at communicating in such a way that the other person gets good at doing you and you at doing them. Same with consent, people aren’t born good at it. People are often raised to be bad at it, actually (not because they are raised to sexually abuse – although that point is arguable -, but because they are taught that you don’t need to ask, because “game” means you just intuitively know stuff). You have to learn consent, and practice it, though.

Now, let’s go back to the dirty talk. I love talking about dirty talk because it is literally what sex ed activists mean when they say this clichéd “Consent Is Sexy” line. “Do you want my dick in your mouth?” Giggle all you want, and take your time to blush and do a backflip if you need to, but that shit’s hot.

Dirty talk, furthermore, works for both questions and checking-in (“Do you like it when I do this? how much do you like it, huh? or this?”) or initiatives (“You know what drives me nuts? When you do this”). Initiatives are great because you can use them to both state what you want but also check in (“I would love to kiss you right now”). And, call me crazy, but there is no sexier thing than having someone saying to you that they really want you. As one of my faves sex educator /magic person, Megan Andelloux says, you want someone pulling towards you, not pushing and stopping you every step of the way (which is the kind of rapey “playing hard to get” model, btw. Let’s save that convo for Christmastime, though).

Now, of course dirty talk and consent (beware, I am not saying they are the same thing, and dirty talk should be consensual and checked-in for too) take some time to get used to and good at. Hell, I am speaking from no high horse of ultimate-consent-power (can that be a superhero? one that jumps into bed – or wherever consent is needed – and hits offenders with a sparkly dildo-hammer?) here. But anyone can get up there.

It takes a lot of unlearning, for sure:

Unlearning our shame with wording body parts (if you can’t say the word for it, how can you ask if someone wants something in/around/on it?) and with verbalizing desire (especially those raised as women, who are most often taught that wanting something sexual, or to show it, is slutty and shameful). Unlearning that to tell someone (or hear someone tell us) what they want means they (or we) have failed as lovers. Unlearning that “kinky” (whatever that means to every and any one of my readers) is a bad thing and that certain behaviours are inherently bad, or of this and that kind of people or orientation or gender. Yes, I am talking about guys that are still scared of their butts because “homo!” or whatever. You don’t know what you are missing (or so would a prostate-owner say).

It takes a lot of learning: about our own bodies (how are we supposed to instruct the other/s if we don’t know ourselves?), about communication, about the body (do you know that a penis-owner can have an orgasm without an erection? – if you did, a cookie for you! If you didn’t, well, there you go. Something I know (and you didn’t) about your gens.

More often than not, too, I hear arguments towards it being awkward to explicitly ask/give consent when you are starting off with someone, and arguments towards it being unnecessary when you have been with that person/people for ages. It seems then that it is never truly a good time to explicitly ask for consent, when it is ALWAYS  a good time to do so. Not only because it makes you an actually decent human being (which should be enough of a reason), but it can also make you a better partner in crime.

When you are starting off with someone, asking if they want something or other can give you a better sense of what makes them go nuts in a good way, and what is a definite OFF switch. If you have been with someone/s for ages, it spices things up a bit: you can see if they are willing to try X or Y, you can tease them about things. And c’mon, dirty talk is fun, and surprisingly new for a lot of “old” (time together-wise, not necessarily age-related) couples.

I guess what I want to say is, learn and practice consent. I would say “it’s not that hard, for fucks sakes”, but for many of us it is, because of what we’ve known all our lives, and because it takes time and willingness and thought. But hey, on the plus side, it makes you a non-rapist. And it can make sex much better. And it can make your relationships (both the one-night-stand and the lifelong partnership) much better too. Is it awkward at the beginning? Sure, but so is sex, and yet you did it anyway (that time with the sweaty palms and the parked car that was way too small and uncomfortable and the is-this-supposed-to-go-here’s ), didn’t you?

Hopefully not ON the car?

Or maybe you did do it on top of a car in January, in the Yukon. And with practice you learned that that was shitty and now you do things in ways that are better? In ways that are sexier in a way you thought that maybe on top of a car was sexy but was really just a bad idea? Right?! Okay not the best example, but there ya go.