I am a queer, trans, afab person with vaginismus who doesn’t have penis-in-vagina sex: according to society’s traditional definitions of sex, I’m a virgin. Let’s set aside the fact that virginity is a social concept used to control and shame women and afab folks. Instead, let’s discuss about why foreplay is a heteronormative idea that devalues vulvalic pleasure, centralises penis-in-vagina sex, and implies that the ‘aim’ of sex is the male orgasm.
Content note for vaginismus and the cisheteropatriarchy.
People traditionally use ‘foreplay’ to describe everything that happens before penetration, specifically a penis going into a vagina. It reduces oral sex, hand jobs, and paying attention to your partner’s clit to the thing that happens before penetration, and classifies them as not being “real” sex. Because of this, foreplay ignores the existence of queer, trans, and non-binary people; folks who cannot or choose not to have penis in vagina sex; and sex where the aim is connection or pleasure or fun, rather than an orgasm.
As soon as you introduce the idea of two people with vulvas having sex, the concept of foreplay completely falls apart. If foreplay is what happens before penetration, what does that say about sex that doesn’t involve any penetration? Foreplay is heteronormative because it assumes that sex involves a cis man’s penis going into a cis woman’s vagina – sex doesn’t need to include a cis man or a cis woman, a penis or a vagina, or even more than one person. My sex involves can be fingering, mutual masturbation, spanking, and so many other things that people would tell me are technically foreplay so actually ‘not sex’ at all.
By dividing sexual activity into ‘sex’ and ‘not sex’, foreplay enforces a penis-centric narrative of sex. Did you know that 68% of women said it counts as sex when a partner gives them oral sex, but only 33% of men said it counts as sex when they give a partner oral sex*? The orgasm gap grows stronger when we hold up penis-in-vagina sex as the pinnacle of sexual experiences. The majority of people with vulvas do not come from penetration, and yet foreplay sets up penis-in-vagina sex as the climactic conclusion of fucking. This means that we end up seeing the male orgasm as the end of sex and the aim of sex. Clitoral stimulation and female pleasure are relegated to foreplay and dismissed as less important.
*This is a statistic from Becoming Cliterate by Dr. Laurie Mintz, a book that is definitely on my ‘to read’ pile.
I use binary language in that paragraph because almost by definition queer sex doesn’t follow society’s traditional sex scripts. When you have two factory installed dicks, you’re incredibly unlikely to have simultaneous orgasms, so sex will continue after orgasm (in some manner or other) for one of the people involves. When you have no dicks in the equation, you cannot build your sex script around a person with a dick having an orgasm. In those interactions, and other queer sex scripts, one person’s pleasure is not prioritised above the other’s, whereas straight sex tends to forget to emphasise clitoral stimulation.
As long as we follow a traditional sex script where foreplay precedes penetration, not only will vulvalic pleasure always take second place, but we can also forget that getting off isn’t the point of fucking. We fuck because we’re horny, because we want to connect with our partner, or because we’ve finished that Netflix series – for so many reasons that aren’t orgasms. Traditional foreplay-then-penetration sex scripts build up the male orgasm goal of sex, and ignore that sex can be fun and pleasurable without you or your partner coming. Redefining our sex scripts helps everyone: it takes pressure off people with penises to get hard, it normalises grabbing a sex toy to use while fucking, and it allows folks to recognise that some days their body just isn’t going to come, and that’s completely ok.
To me, the line between “making out” and “fucking” is blurred. It’s also up to me to define what counts as sex. The guy whose dick I have sucked three times but who only had an orgasm with me once might not define everything we got up to as sex. To me, filling his arse with a butt plug and straddling him while he jerked off and came all both of us were both excellent fucks. I have sex without taking off my knickers, I have sex where neither me nor my partner come, and I’ve had sex where a pretty girl holds me down while her partner made me orgasm with a vibrator without taking his jeans off.
Being queer, trans, kinky, and unable to have PIV sex means I am constantly redefining society’s traditional ideas of sex. Foreplay draws a clear line between ‘sex’ and ‘not-sex’ that is heteronormative because it excludes so completely valid sex scripts.
Of course, this is only if we use ‘foreplay’ in its traditional, main-stream media definition. If we use the term more broadly to mean ‘the lead-up to sex’ and let folks define sex however they like, the concept of foreplay instantly becomes much more inclusive. It includes people for whom sex is cunnilingus, or a hand job, or dry-humping their partner on the sofa while whispering filthy things in their ear. Kate Sloan wrote a really good post on solo foreplay that approaches foreplay as acts designed to create arousal and desire for sex, which you should definitely check out.
While I stand by my statement that foreplay heteronormative, cultivating desire and intimacy with the person you’re about to fuck (even if that person is yourself) is really important. We don’t have to jump into fucking without any warm up – especially afab folks whose desire tends to be more responsive – but we need to move away from the idea that sex looks the same to everyone. And in doing that we should throw foreplay out of the window, along with the cisnormative, heteronormative sex scripts it enforces.
Quinn Rhodes (he/him) is a queer, trans, disabled sex writer with vaginismus. He’s a slut and a sex nerd who writes about his adventures in trying to fuck without fucking up. Quinn can usually be found wearing stomp-on-the-patriarchy boots while falling in love every time he fucks.