What is Foreplay?

by Eleni Gabrielides

on Oct 24, 2018

What is Foreplay?

Generally, foreplay is known as ‘sexual activity during the lead up to sex’ or ‘things that get you in the mood’.

But what is sex and why doesn’t it include the lead up?

When does foreplay end and sex begin?

Foreplay can mean lots of different things to different people, so I’ll be covering what falls into the ‘generic foreplay’ category, how creating different categories of sexual acts can be damaging, my own definition of foreplay and when I think it should happen (hint – it’s not always before!).

Often, when the term 'foreplay' gets thrown around, it's sold as ‘something that comes before "actual" sex’ (i.e. a penis penetrating a vagina – thanks heteronormative school sex-ed). So for a long time, I assumed it to be kissing, cuddling and hands/mouth on genitals.

I know this experience isn't uncommon, and I know that to a lot of people, that's what foreplay is.

I’m going to assume then, that when most people differentiate ‘foreplay’ from ‘sex’, it’s when penetration is involved, particularly with penises.

So what does that mean for people that don’t participate in penetrative sex – are they then never having ‘sex’? I don’t think so.

I think we all need to keep in mind that people experience sexual activity very differently, it’s never a one-size-fits-all situation.

I’m also not too sure about foreplay just preceding the ‘big event’. Versatile sex can be really fun and interesting.

If done safely, switching from penetration to oral, to digital and back again can be amazing and can even be done simultaneously if you’re a good multitasker.

I wholeheartedly believe that foreplay is different for everyone.

For now, let’s assume that foreplay is what you do to arouse yourself or somebody else and run through some things that could be classified as foreplay.


Asking for consent, dirty talk, anything that is spoken or written that has the potential to arouse your partner(s) or yourself.

Body language

Moving closer to somebody, looking at someone’s lips or other body parts, genitals or nipples becoming erect, anything indicated through your body (that isn’t touch) that has the potential to arouse your partner(s) or yourself.


Technology has definitely made this more popular. Sending or taking a sexy snap (safely) is so arousing!

Putting on clothes

Wait, what? Putting on a sexy set of lingerie or a costume to arouse you or your partner is foreplay, too!


This could be anything from touching somebody's hand to touching somebody's (or your own) genitals

Kissing/licking/biting/sucking/mouth things

Like touching, this ranges from kissing somebody's lips to giving/receiving oral.


My personal favourite. Using a toy on yourself or someone else can be hugely arousing; this could include wearing a butt-plug during the day or using a vibe on someone else.


Whether it be watching someone strip or watching porn, visual stimulus can be excellent foreplay.

I think that making foreplay or sex about specific acts or behaviours can take a lot out of a sexual interaction.

Foreplay is about eroticising yourself or your partner, feeling and playing with sexual tension, crescendos, rhythms and the energy within a relationship.

Foreplay is a continuum and in my opinion, it’s mandatory, it shouldn’t stop. If it does, work on trying to bring it back within yourself before trying with somebody else.

That’s all from me for now, I’m going to leave you with one of my favourite quotes, from one of my favourite women – Esther Perel.

“Foreplay begins the moment the last orgasm has subsided.”

Let me know if you have any thoughts on what foreplay is, or should be. I’d love to have an open discussion about this!

Eleni is a health communications student from Sydney. Her favourite topics to communicate are sexual health, gender and sexuality; she spends her time smashing taboo topics everywhere she goes.

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Eleni Gabrielides

Written by Eleni Gabrielides.

Originally published on Oct 24, 2018. Updated on Aug 6, 2020