With all of the opportunities we have for miscommunication about sex, it may be time to discard one of the main contributors by eliminating the word “foreplay” from our vernacular.  I’m sure it started out innocently enough — and the word certainly has its merits — but in its present form and common usage, it does nothing but divide and confuse us.

Wikipedia tells us that “foreplay is a set of emotionally and physically intimate acts between two or more people meant to create sexual arousal and desire for sexual activity”.

Seems simple enough, and yet as a concept, foreplay gets confusing when we simply ask the question – when does the sex begin?

Some people, perhaps many, equate having sex to having intercourse, leaving everything else we might find sexually enjoyable in the “foreplay” category.  This is the hair former Prez Clinton tried to split when he proclaimed, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” (Monica Lewinsky), only later to admit that there was oral sex (and alleged, some kinky stuff involving a cigar).  I have also known other people who played this game, sometimes toting the phrase, “eatin’ ain’t cheatin'” when looking for action outside of their committed relationships.

But the problems with the word go beyond a simple matter of semantics, as it also has the unfortunate attribute of dividing us by creating the suggestion that foreplay is somehow optional with sex; that it is a separate but desirable prelude to sex.  We are repeatedly bombarded by the message, especially toward men, that we should be sure to include a proper amount of foreplay, before initiating sex.  One dubious sexpert even teaches a “secret” method of intercourse that purportedly makes women reach orgasm in 5 minutes with “the foreplay” and in 8 minutes without!  The underlying message being, why waste time with “the foreplay”, when we can get right to “the sex”?

By putting some distance between the words “foreplay” and “sex”, each could stand on its own merits, complimenting, rather than depending upon each other.  Wikipedia could even keep its definition, except that it would be understood that foreplay happens as a natural consequence of meeting someone we are attracted to.  It’s the flirting and dating, cozy moments, sexting and texting to plan time together long before most sex occurs.  In time we will find that while foreplay is enjoyable in a sexual context, most will not lead to sex, at the same time being a natural, spontaneous reaction that precedes all sex.

Free from this confusing relationship, the definition of sex could expand well beyond mere intercourse, to include all of the activities we might find sexually arousing or satisfying.  Bad sex, sex that leaves us wanting, could no longer be blamed on whether the foreplay option was selected, but will stand on its own, without excuse.  Conversely, the best lovers could continue to enjoy foreplay with many people, knowing the value of sharing casual, sexual energy, while saving sex in all its forms for their lovers.

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