Taking a Broader View of Sex

Dr. Denise Renye, Licensed Sex Therapist and Clinical Psychologist, PsyD. MA. MEd in San Francisco.

Many people think of sex as penis-in–vagina (PIV), intercourse. People may also associate sex with orgasms or ejaculation. As a sexologist, however, I have a wider view of sex. There are at minimum five levels of sexuality. I include aftercare as well as foreplay in the sexual experience. Aftercare and foreplay are as important as sex and/or orgasm.

A Broader Understanding of Sex

In U.S. culture (and many others), we’re encouraged to think of sex as having an endgame. There’s something to achieve, accomplish, reach. Many people enter into a sexual experience thinking it “has” to end in orgasm or ejaculation, but that’s not true. Foreplay — glancing, gazing, touching, talking, and even fantasy exploration — is a part of sex.

Aftercare is also important. The word “aftercare” originates in the bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM) community wherein the Dom/Domme checks in with the Sub and vice versa to process, debrief, integrate, and regroup following a BDSM scene.

Aftercare

Aftercare following “vanilla” or “traditional” sex would be great as a regular practice! Aftercare after a sexual experience is even better. Aftercare between two or more people allows for healing through vulnerable connection. This allows for people to express their feelings and share their past experiences. Let’s get our healing on through sexual expression by incorporating aftercare!

Foreplay

Let’s also stop thinking about intercourse as the “main event.” The idea of foreplay is a heterosexually focused concept, and it can limit and restrict the sexual experience even for heterosexual partners.

“Foreplay” Can Be a Problematic Idea

As I’ve written about before, I have a problem with the concept and word “foreplay.” To start with, the word itself designates a before. Etymologically speaking, foreplay comes from the root word “fore,” meaning before, ahead, or in front of; plus “play,” meaning an activity for enjoyment and recreation. However, the word “foreplay” assumes the fun has not already begun! If looks and energy are being exchanged and consensual touching is resulting in pleasure, doesn’t that mean the fun has already started? This view of sex can be so restrictive!

Sex Isn’t Linear

All forms of play (foreward and beyond) include calling, texting and holding hands, talking over tea, wine or tea, caring, admiring and tickling, touching lips, necks, arms, bellies, inner thighs, and necks, as well as kissing lips, necks, and arms. Sex is not linear – it doesn’t start with kissing, progress to foreplay, and culminate in heterosexual intercourse. Talking to kissing could be followed by hand-holding, hand-holding, caressing, intercourse (if desired), and stroking.

The other thing about foreplay Is it’s heteronormative, because if foreplay isThe lead-up to sex is digital, oral, or anal sex. (Hi, Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sex with that woman.”) Well, no. It’s all sex. It all counts, as the queer community knows and has been teaching us since ages. PIV sex isn’t the only type of sex. It’s not superior sex, either. None is better than the others. Plus, there’s the matter of people with disabilities who may not have the capacity for anatomical penetration, as well as those who prefer outercourse. Foreplay is a way for these folx to not have sex.

Sexual Activity is Not Just About Orgasms

Lastly, the way foreplay is often presented in heterosexual relationships is it’s the “work” beforehand to turn on a woman to get to the “fun stuff” or “real sex:” penetration, orgasming and/or ejaculating. There’s nothing wrong with orgasms and ejaculations, but focusing on them so much leaves pleasure out of the equation. This may sound paradoxical since orgasms seem to be intrinsically pleasurable. However, when it’s the focus, dissociation from the body can occur. Pleasure-oriented sex means that you are primarily interested in the pleasure of the sex. Complete sexual experience – not just at one specific point. Also, if you’re focused on pleasure, orgasms and/or ejaculations are effortless byproducts of the play – they occur as a natural progression.

How we think about sex affects our experience of it

How we view sex is a big part of how we experience it. Given everything I’ve written above, you might be asking, “How can I have better sex?” Discuss potential scenes, likes, dislikes, hopes, and desires. Let sex be play as opposed to filled with “musts” “have to haves” and other rigid approaches. Pleasure cannot be combined with anxiety. If you feel anxious while playing, speak it to your partner(s). Together, you can work through it. If voicing it doesn’t feel safe, neither is playing with this person or people. You can always end a scene at any time. Yes, even midway!

Remember to incorporate aftercare. What we need in this world is more attention to each other’s internal landscapes so healing through sex can occur. The way we pay attention to each other’s internal landscapes is also by paying attention to our own. Notice what’s happening in your body. Pay attention to the sensations in your body. Your sex life will improve if you are more aware of yourself and can communicate that to your partner.

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© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Dr. Denise Renye (Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Sex Therapist), MEd, MA and PsyD in San Francisco CA granted permission to publish

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