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What is foreplay and why is it important?

What is foreplay and why is it important?

By Dr Dean Knoll

We’re big fans of foreplay here at Pepper. After all, the appetizer is just as delicious as the main, right? 

If you’re not completely clued in on what it is, we’ll fill you in. Essentially, foreplay is any sexual activity that happens before sexual intercourse, including many things like kissing, cuddling, touching (massage) or just talking. 

However, while it's commonly accepted that it should happen before penetrative intercourse, there are many nuanced questions here that some people may ask, like whether foreplay even happens, how long it typically lasts, how to spice it up and how to master it–questions that are answered differently by couples. 

With the help of one of our Pepper sexperts, we give our two cents on foreplay.

What is foreplay?

Foreplay, also called "outercourse", means different things to different people. In terms of sex, it is usually defined as erotic stimulation preceding intercourse, therefore is defined as an action or behavior that precedes an event. 

What the sexual foreplay event entails looks different to everyone, and it may not look the same to one person. Remember, this is totally okay and totally normal! What works for you and your partner/s will look different to what works for the couple next door.

What’s more is intercourse does not have to be the primary event if one doesn't want it to be. Foreplay may be the event that leads to orgasm, and as long as there is consent, it can be and include anything one may want. Translation: it can start and end with foreplay.

Why is it important?

Foreplay in sex is important for many reasons. Ultimately, it makes you feel good. 

Enhances sexual arousal and gratification

Firstly, foreplay in sex triggers psychological and physical responses that enhance sexual activity gratification. It should make one feel good and build emotional intimacy between couples, which can ultimately cause couples to feel more connected both in and out of the bedroom. 

Physiologically, it leads to sexual arousal. This arousal leads to a number of physical responses in one's body. With sex and foreplay, there is an increase in one's heart rate and blood pressure and dilation of one's blood vessels. Increased blood flow causes the labia, clitoris and penis to swell along with swelling of the breasts and nipples. More blood flow to the vagina increases lubrication, which avoids painful sex during penetrative intercourse and more enjoyable. 

Reduces stress and increases libido

Secondly, foreplay can lower inhibitions, which can reduce stress and increase one's libido.  For example, kissing releases oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, which are called feel-good hormones. These hormones reduce stress and increase feelings of affection, bonding and well-being. 

In short, foreplay and sex = very, very good.

How to enjoy foreplay.

One of the best ways to enjoy foreplay in sex is to communicate with one's partner ahead of time about what works and what doesn't, what one enjoys and what they do not. Clear communication about what works for one's body can make foreplay in sex enjoyable. Remember: no two couples are the same.

Always make sure this communication is in a positive, open and honest manner. Don't accuse or shame one's partner that they are not satisfying one's needs, as this will only lead to a negative attitude toward foreplay and sex.

One major myth about it is that partners who don't do it are selfish. In actuality, the most likely cause is lack of sexual experience and confidence. Keeping open lines of communication will overcome this problem and can help one add foreplay into their sexual life.  

How long should foreplay last?

There are a lot of questions, or maybe private curiosity, on the length of time a couple should invest in it. The length of foreplay in sex is a common question in intimate relationships, but one that doesn’t come up for discussion among many couples.

Everyone is different when it comes to sex and experiencing pleasure. Therefore, foreplay should not be put on a timeline, but rather be determined through preferences and response. The actual timing of it varies from person to person therefore a specific timeline doesn’t matter when it comes to how long it should last.

Ideas for you and your partner/s.


Intimate kissing is vital in establishing pleasure and connectivity during foreplay and sex. Kissing not only one's partner's lips but their neck, ears, forehead, breasts, back, thighs and buttocks, as well as experimenting with different pressures whilst kissing, can have a very positive erotogenic effect during.  

Bathing together, manual stimulation, fingering or hand jobs, massage, dryhumping, use of sex toys and oral sex during foreplay can all lead to more enjoyable penetrative sex whether vaginal, anal or both. What’s more, incorporating some kinky activity into one's foreplay such as gentle spanking, tying one's partner up or use of a blindfold can prolong the anticipation of more gratifying sex.


Foreplay and sex can start long before one is in the same room with one's partner. Leaving a romantic note like on a pillow or in a gym bag outlining the planned event can excite one's partner. Sending a sexy text (sext) telling one's partner what one is going to do to them sexually can also be exciting, as it lets one know they are being thought of.  

Other forms of it may include initiating eye contact and flirting in the same room, preparing a romantic dinner and being playful with food, or dancing with one's partner and sensually contacting their body. Lighting some candles, dimming lighting, playing romantic music, playing a sex game, performing a strip tease or watching a sex video can enhance upcoming physical forms of foreplay and sex, too.

What is considered “good” foreplay?

It is important to understand that there is no good or bad method of it. One doesn't need to spend hours cuddling, stroking and kissing before one moves onto sex. It is all about building an emotional connection. Open and honest communication about likes and dislikes between a couple will enhance foreplay and/or penetrative sexual experiences. This will ultimately lead to one having good sexual health.

Foreplay is a highly subjective term that is open to interpretation. For this reason, couples who choose to engage in it should make sure that they are on the same page about which activities they want to include in or exclude from their sexual experiences. People choose to practice it for a variety of reasons, though only one person and their partner can decide what is right for their sex life together.  

Keeping in mind the variable definitions and actions of foreplay, it is a good idea to be direct through open, honest communication about which sexual activities one would like to include or exclude with their partner(s) making sure they both respect each other’s sexual boundaries.

Ultimately, foreplay is a time for you and your partner/s to enjoy each other’s bodies in a safe, respectful and fun environment (mind-blowing sex toys optional).

L. Dean Knoll, M.D. is the Director of the Men’s Health Clinic and Prosthetic Urology for Urology Associates in Nashville, TN. Dr. Knoll received his medical degree from the University of Health Sciences, Chicago Medical School, North Chicago, Illinois. He completed an internship in general surgery and a residency in urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. A frequent contributor to the medical press, Dr. Knoll has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts and book chapters. He has delivered numerous lectures and operated both nationally and internationally. Dr. Knoll has been a principle investigator in over 110 basic science and clinical trials of new devices and pharmacotherapies for various urological diseases including new devices and pharmacotherapies for the diagnosis and treatment of male erectile dysfunction, male and female urinary incontinence and benign prostatic hypertrophy. Dr. Knoll is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a diplomat of the American Board of Urology. He is also a member of numerous international and nation medical organizations, including the American Urological Association, the International Society of Sexual Medicine and the Sexual Medicine Society of North America.

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