We Cannot Overstate The Importance Of Foreplay (It's About The Journey, Not The Destination)

Foreplay is a concept that's often misunderstood. While everyone is familiar with the word, not everyone really understands what foreplay is or how essential it is to the sexual experience. This is because far too many people don't really have the basic knowledge as to how the anatomy works — especially the anatomy of those with vulvas. On average, people with vulvas need up to 20 minutes to become fully aroused, while those with penises can be fully aroused in just a matter of minutes. But while this may be the case, foreplay often takes a backseat to other sex acts.

According to a 2004 study published in The Journal of Sex Research, contrary to gender stereotypes, both cisgender women and cis men want about 20 minutes of foreplay, but were, on average, only getting 10 minutes of it. It's as if people don't really know what foreplay is or the power of it. "Foreplay is the mental build-up of arousal in which you and your partner start to feel sexual tension," sex educator Yael Rosenstock Gonzalez told Cosmopolitan. "Foreplay creates time for desire to build, which increases pleasure for when you do start sexing."

Foreplay can be experienced in dozens of ways. It's not just kissing, manual stimulation, and oral sex, but massages, stripteases, and outercourse. If you want to get the foreplay started well in advance, you can sext your partner earlier in the day and set the tone for a steamy evening ahead. It doesn't matter how you and your partner conquer foreplay, as long as foreplay is being had. Fun fact: it's perfect for those struggling to orgasm

It releases feel-good hormones

One word: oxytocin. If you've never heard this word, then it's time to introduce yourself to it. Oxytocin, also known as the cuddle hormone or love drug, is produced in the hypothalamus of the brain and is released when we're aroused. Once it starts making its way through our body it contributes to higher feelings of trust and positive moods, lowers levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), creates bonding and attachment, enhances memory, and impacts sexual behavior so the body is well prepared and ready to get busy. It's an essential ingredient to not just penetration, but all sex-related acts. 

"The release of oxytocin is one of the main reasons we feel in the mood for sex," sexual and reproductive health specialist Dr. Deborah Lee told Live Science. "Light touch, eye contact, and skin-to-skin contact all play their part, leading to higher levels of oxytocin ... Undoubtedly, oxytocin levels are vital for sexual arousal, intimacy, and a satisfactory sexual response."

Although oxytocin is the money maker, so to speak, when it comes to sexual arousal, it's not the only hormone that's released. Research has found that dopamine, endorphins, and testosterone all play a unique role in arousal. When you indulge in foreplay, you give both you and your partner ample time for these hormones to be released, and that's exactly what you want for each other. These components lubricate the mind, as well as the body. 

It gets the blood flowing

From a physical standpoint, foreplay is necessary for blood flow. When someone with a penis is aroused they have a noticeable erection. For vulva owners, it's far more subtle. You may not have realized it in the heat of the moment, but vulvas get engorged with blood, just as penises do. When we're talking about vulvas, we're also talking about clitorises, and without that blood flow, all bets for an orgasm are off.

"[The clitoris] has the same characteristics as the penis," psychosexual therapist "Dr. Ruth" Westheimer, EdD told WebMD. "Blood flows into the clitoris, and in order for a woman to have an orgasm, there must be lubrication in the vagina, but also the clitoris must get erect."

This need for blood to flow directly to the genitals for an orgasm to occur is a perfect example of why foreplay is so paramount — not just for partnered sex, but solo sex sessions too. People with vulvas can't go from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye; it takes time. When the blood reaches the vulva, it not only causes the clitoris to become erect and the internal walls of the vagina to secrete natural lubrication, but research has found that the vagina lengthens and dilates in preparation for intercourse. As much as the entire area is relaxed, there can still be a throbbing sensation that can only be quelled by the release that comes with an orgasm.

It boosts intimacy

When you introduce foreplay to your sexual repertoire, it gives you and your partner the opportunity to enjoy time together in a way that sex doesn't. While sex is great and it has so many benefits, with foreplay, things are slowed down and your awareness is increased. Because you're not immediately jumping to penetration, you're exploring each other's bodies and enjoying the journey of that exploration. It allows you both to be more present and connected. Not only does the release of oxytocin come into play here, but so does the desire to pleasure each other in different and more creative ways that have nothing to do with penetration. Together, you're building a foundation of what's to come while working your way up to it in small increments.

 "[It's important] to have conversations about sex and pleasure or even to show your partner what you like, since otherwise, the chances of just stumbling upon that one preference are pretty low," sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute Debby Herbenick told CNN. "Couples should be having conversations about what they like, what they don't like, what feels good and leads to orgasm, as well as what feels good but doesn't necessarily lead to orgasm."

Not only is sex a journey every time you have it, but it's a journey we have throughout our lives. What we like and don't like changes as we evolve and grow. Foreplay can help in that sexual growth because it creates a space where exploration and communication are essential, creating deeper intimacy and better sex — both of which contribute to increased relationship satisfaction.