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In human sexual behavior, foreplay is a set of intimate psychological and physical acts between two or more people meant to increase sexual arousal. Foreplay takes place before sexual intercourse or another act meant to induce mutual sexual gratification or orgasm.

Function and effects

Psychologically, foreplay lowers inhibitions and increases the emotional comfort of the partners. Physically, it stimulates the process that produces an erection in men, allowing them to penetrate an orifice. In women, it helps stimulate the process that leads to erection of the clitoris and the production of vaginal lubrication, allowing penetration to take place comfortably. In men and women foreplay is considered the precursor to orgasm, NOT the precursor to penetration of an orifice or preparation for penetration. No set of partners, regardless of gender or number, have to penetrate or be penetrated to constitute the sexual act to which foreplay leads.

What constitutes it

Whether an act constitutes foreplay depends on the intent. If no intimate sexual acts are intended, foreplay-type actions are often classified as flirting or, in colloquial terms, being "touchy-feely".

Foreplay is often subtle in its initial stages. Even before the partners are together, foreplay can be introduced by the selection and creation of a particular environment. A romantic, intimate, or overtly sexual atmosphere can be considered a gesture of foreplay.

Foreplay can begin with non-physical behavior that signals sexual availability. Verbally, foreplay may include sexual compliments, subtle comments with double entendre, and intimate conversations. Non-verbally, foreplay can include provocative clothing, preening gestures, licking or biting one's lips, standing inside a partner's personal space, and holding a gaze longer than is acceptable for casual acquaintances.

If the potential partner accepts the sexual invitation, foreplay has begun. Acceptance is often indicated by reciprocating with similar behavior. Since these interactions are non-explicit, there can be misunderstandings about whether an invitation has been extended or accepted. Inadvertent or not, this kind of miscommunication is often termed "leading someone on".


Foreplay eventually turns physical. Simple and seemingly innocuous acts, such as straightening someone's clothing or hair, bumping into someone while walking, stroking someone's arm, or whispering in someone's ear can constitute foreplay. One may also hold hands, touch the face, kiss, "bite", or massage.

As comfort increases, so usually does the level of intimacy. More intimate examples include:

  • Kissing, deep tongue kissing, also known as French kissing;
  • Touching and massaging erogenous zones over clothing, also known colloquially as groping or petting;
  • Touching and massaging erogenous zones under clothing, or heavy-petting;
  • Rubbing together erogenous zones over clothing, also known as dry humping or grinding;
  • Undressing oneself or partner, also known as stripping;
  • Erotic spanking or other forms of BDSM activity.
  • Oral sex.

Direct manipulation of naked erogenous zones is almost always considered foreplay. In women, this includes stimulation of the clitoris and vulva. In men, it includes stimulation of the penis and scrotum. For both sexes, it includes stimulation of nipples and anus. Stimulation can be achieved by mouth, hands, sex toys like dildos or vibrators, or common household objects like feathers or ice cubes.

Safe sex practices can be incorporated as part of foreplay. A condom or dental dam can be applied in an erotic or playful way as part of the final stages of foreplay.

Foreplay tends to become purely physical and intense. It reaches its peak in the moments just before intercourse, when it induces a strong mutual desire for penetration. Some genital teasing may take place for a brief time.

Technically, foreplay ends with intromission, or the beginning of intercourse. In practical terms, however, the continuity between foreplay and intercourse may be very great, since the couple may engage in foreplay-like behavior during intercourse.

Direct manipulation of naked erogenous zones is not considered foreplay when it is not preparatory for further sexual acts. For example, mutual masturbation and oral sex are often considered final sexual acts; as final acts with no expectation of further sexual congress, these are not considered foreplay.

Sexual role playing, fetish activities, and BDSM can also be considered foreplay, though they more commonly accompany sex rather than precede it.


Foreplay can vary dramatically based on age, religion, and cultural norms.

Surveys carried out by MORI and shown on 8 Out of 10 Cats, conclude that the British spend the most time of any nation on foreplay, spending 20 minutes on average. The same survey showed that the French spend the least amount of time, spending just four minutes on average on foreplay.

See also

Also see these other related Sex related articles
History (on Wikipedia site) History of human sexualityHistory of erotic depictionsSexual revolution
Sexual acts Anal sexAnal-oral sexAround the WorldAustralian sexBarebackingDirty talkFacialFingeringFistingForeplayGroup sexHand jobpositionsMasturbationMouth fuckingNon-penetrative sexOral sexSexual sublimationSexual intercourseSumataQuickie
Physiological events EjaculationErectionInseminationOrgasmPregnancySexual arousal
Health and education Birth controlErectile dysfunctionGynaecologyHypersexualityPromiscuitySexual dysfunctionSex educationSexually transmitted disease
Identity AutosexualityBisexualityHeterosexualityHomosexualitySexual identitySexual orientation
Classifications Fluid sexualityKinsey scaleKlein Sexual Orientation GridMonosexualityPansexualityParaphiliaZoosexuality
Law Age of consentObscenityPublic indecencyRapeSexual assaultSexual abuseSexual harassment
Relationships and society Affectional orientationBDSMIncestMarriageParaphiliaProstitutionReligion and sexualityRomanceSexual abstinenceSexual attractionSexual ethicsSexual objectificationSex surrogateSex tourismAbortion
Sex industry Artificial vaginaDildoEroticaLubricantPaddlePornographyVibratorSex dollSex toysSex shopAdult video game
Human Sexuality Asexuality · Casual relationship  · Celibacy · Free love · Hypergamy · Involuntary celibacy · Monogamy · Physical attractiveness · Polyamory · Polyandry · Polygamy · Promiscuity · Romance (love)  · Sexual attraction · Sexual capital · Sexual ethics · Sexual partner · Single person
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