What Is Foreplay?

What Is Foreplay?

Sarah Riccio

Foreplay is one of those things that everyone is sure they understand, but actually confuse with straight-up sex. We're often led to believe that foreplay includes things like oral sex and finger play (remember 2nd and 3rd base?), but in fact, true foreplay frequently doesn't involve physical contact at all. 

Ready to learn the real definition of foreplay? Follow along I discuss what it is, why it's essential to arousal, and expert tips for making the most of different foreplay techniques.

What Is Foreplay?

Break up the word foreplay into fore and play, and it's easy to see that it means before play. But here's where things get lost in translation: a lot of us are unclear about what play actually means, or assume it involves PIV sex.

On the contrary, sex is a wide umbrella under which many forms of play exist. Oral sex, mutual masturbation, tribbing, and any other activity that can potentially result in orgasm are all forms of sex. It follows then that oral sex is not foreplay. Nor is kissing, any of the popular "bases," or enjoying sex toys together. 

Foreplay isn't about physical stimulation — it's about creating an atmosphere of intimacy and arousal that enhances the overall experience.

Before we get into the important reasons why foreplay is a mandatory (and frequently neglected) part of sex, let's check out some examples of what it can look like. 

Learn more: How To Have Better Sex, More Often: Tips For Long-Term Relationships

Different types of foreplay 

We've learned that foreplay is different from sex, but did you know that it often doesn't involve physical intimacy at all? Here are some examples of non-physical foreplay:

  • Sexy texts
  • Sharing fantasies
  • Planning sex together
  • Flirting over drinks or dinner
  • Shopping for sex toys together
  • Talking in a seductive way over the phone
  • Catching eyes across a room
  • Complimenting your partner
  • Telling your partner what you want to do to them sexually, or what you'd like them to do to you

Listening to music together, reading to each other, or taking a walk together can also be foreplay. It all depends on the mood, your mutual intentions, and the spark you share. 

As you can see, none of these examples involve touching of any kind. True foreplay is a mental build-up of arousal that creates sexual tension between partners, allowing desire to grow and enhancing pleasure when physical contact finally happens.

Learn more: How To Practice Sex Magic

The Role of Foreplay in Building Arousal

Arousal often doesn't happen instantly, particularly if you're in a long-term relationship. Instead, it builds up over time through psychological stimulation and connecting in ways that go beyond the physical. Effective foreplay can significantly increase this buildup, making the eventual climax even more pleasurable.

Here are some key tips for better foreplay: 

Don't rush it

If you view foreplay as something to race through to get to the main event, you could be missing out on some serious pleasure. The anticipation you build during foreplay can lead to more intense orgasms and a deeper connection with your partner. Extended periods of foreplay, when done right, can even become their own satisfying experiences separate from physical intimacy. 

Resolve conflicts

Remove the barriers to intimacy by clearing up past conflicts that may impact your feelings about each other. One of the most common culprits behind loss of desire is lingering resentment over hurts or misunderstandings. Resolving conflicts fairly and with kindness can be an important form of foreplay that boosts your attraction for each other and makes satisfying sex more likely.  


Don't be afraid to talk about foreplay in advance. Discussing your desires and fantasies with your partner can create a mental bond that will heighten the pleasure of physical intimacy.

Not sure what kinds of foreplay to try? Ask your partner what works best for them and why. Be clear about your own needs, too, and check in with each other on occasion to discuss your current desires for foreplay and any changes you might want to make. 

Learn more: How To Talk About Sex 

Do what matters to your partner

One of the best ways to practice foreplay is to do something you know is important to your partner. This might include housework, childcare, watching a movie together, planning a date night, or working out together. Any activity that matters to your partner, makes their life easier, or helps them feel loved and appreciated is a great form of foreplay! 

Get creative

Feel free to express yourself when it comes to foreplay. If you and your partner get warmed up by playing a sexy game or singing together, then add them to your foreplay repertoire. Foreplay is any non-intimate activity that sparks sexual tension and desire between you and your partner. Whether this is cooking together, surprising each other with small gifts, or taking a day away, the right foreplay is whatever works best for you and your lover. 

Just as important as foreplay is what comes after sex! Check out What Is Aftercare?