Outercourse: Another View of Sexual Activity

Six months ago, during my annual physical, the nurse practitioner asked me if I was sexually active.

“Um, my husband and I have sex,” I said. “But it’s not penetration.”

According to a report recently released by CNN, my concept of what constitutes sexual intercourse is pretty common. It’s called “Outercourse,” which is another name to describe sexual activity between two people that doesn’t include penile penetration.

What they call “outercourse” you might call “foreplay.”

“Outercourse” is erotic and sensual activity between two people that includes kissing, hugging, rubbing, touching, and fondling. Fingers and tongues may be involved. Clitoral stimulation frequently happens, as well as stimulation leading to orgasm of the penis.

The CNN report is based on a study done by Debby Herbenick, director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University, in partnership with a research fellow and sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute. Herbenick and her colleagues assessed data from over 1,000 women aged 18 to 94 who responded to a detailed survey about their sex lives. What they learned was that a great majority of women fail to achieve orgasm from penetration alone.

The study suggests that couples should absolutely explore and embrace sexual activity that doesn’t necessarily end in penetration.


My own early sexual experiences bear this information out. I am sure I am not the only woman who rapturously remembers engaging in long make-out sessions and heavy petting long before I decided to embark on intercourse. I remember feeling sad after I made the decision to “go all the way,” knowing that once my partner convinced me to let him put his penis inside me, those long sessions of deep kissing and heavy petting that gave me the orgasms I enjoyed so much would truly be relegated to foreplay, i.e. something to do just long enough before engaging in penetration.

Outercourse, as any woman can attest, is extremely female pleasure-oriented. To call prolonged stimulation of the clitoris “foreplay” is limiting. Outercourse can be compared to making a dinner of tasty and inventive appetizers instead of ordering a predictable entrée or main dish. I don’t know about you, but given the opportunity, I always prefer making a dinner from the appetizers. I might order two or three, but that’s my preferred dinner.

An interesting set of statistics that came out of Herbenick’s study found that only 18 percent of women who responded to the survey said they were able to reach orgasm through intercourse alone. Thirty-six percent of women responding to the survey said they needed direct clitoral stimulation to reach climax before intercourse; another 36% said they required clitoral stimulation during intercourse to enhance their experience.

Laurie Mintz, author of a new book called Becoming Cliterate, said the main reason women fake orgasm with their partners is because they want to appear “normal” and make their partners feel confident about their lovemaking skills and techniques.

To turn it briefly back to the personal, my husband and I didn’t set out to have outercourse over intercourse. The change evolved over a decade. For a time he was on medication that suppressed his libido and interfered with his ability to have a solid erection. As menopause worked its way through my body, my vaginal tissue became thin and much dryer. Traditional intercourse was difficult and sometimes painful. He wasn’t interested in Viagra, and I wasn’t interested in hormone replacement therapy. We tried various lubricants to ease penetration. None were ideal. Because we didn’t want to give up on intimacy, we tried doing other things. Eventually we hit upon a combination of fingers, tongues, and something the French called “frottage,” which is basically rubbing.  The surprise wasn’t that we were giving and getting orgasms again. The surprise was how much we enjoyed our new methods of getting there.

Interested in exploring outercourse? Here are a few tips to get you started.

  1. Tell your partner exactly how you want to be touched. Most women prefer one particular style of touching over others, which means communication between partners is key. Tell your partner where you long to be touched and what kind of touch you prefer. More pressure, less pressure, the tiniest tickle; you’ve got to say what you like, and where. I personally like the nape of my neck touched for a long time. The nape of the neck is an important erogenous zone, in case you were unaware.
  2. What’s that again about frottage? Frottage is also known as tribadism or dry humping. You can do it with clothes on or off. There is no penetration; it’s just bodies grinding against each other. Dirty dancing, anyone?
  3. Kissing is the ultimate intimacy. After you’ve been married awhile, you may forget to kiss, really kiss. A peck on the cheek doesn’t count. Explore deep kissing once again. Go for the kind of kissing you did together before intercourse hijacked it.

Give outercourse a try. You won’t regret it.



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