What Is Outercourse?

There's no doubt that sex has a lot of stigmas. From a young age, it's put into our minds that sex involves penetration, and anything else isn't actually considered sex. With this in mind, it's safe to say that many women put up with a lot. Some of us endure painful intercourse, lackluster intercourse, and even risky intercourse because of what we're told we're supposed to enjoy.

What if we told you that 81.6% of women don't orgasm solely from penetration? According to PleasureBetter, only 18.4% of women have reported orgasms from penetrative sex, and 59% of women reported faking an orgasm to please their partners.

The good news is that experts are weighing in on how we can redefine what sex means and how we can explore different options. "Penetration is an option, not the definition of sex," sexologist Carol Queen told Cosmopolitan. Queen shares that in the 1980s, the term "outercourse" was coined when people began searching for ways to practice safe sex, and that it was created "to help people differentiate between intercourse and all the sexy things that can be enjoyed without penetration." Because, really, why should women continue limiting themselves with such astonishing statistics in the pleasure department?

While many people consider outercourse to be fairly "basic" compared to traditional intercourse practices, there are plenty of ways to really spice things up. Let's take a deeper look into what outercourse truly is and if it's something you could see yourself exploring.

Why intercourse doesn't have to rule everything

For many women in heterosexual relationships, saying they don't actually enjoy intercourse can bring on many feelings of embarrassment or shame. Wanting to please their male partners, this leads to the ever-so-common faking of orgasms. "This is one of the saddest and most common problems I deal with in my clinical practice," sexuality counselor Anita Hoffer told CNN. "Women who either are uninformed or insecure and therefore easily intimidated by ignorant partners bear a great deal of shame and guilt at being unable to climax from intercourse alone. Many are greatly relieved when they learn that they are among the majority of women who engage in sexual intercourse."

Therapist Laurie Mintz explains that sex can be described as a "cultural script." Whether it's in movies or porn, it usually goes: "Foreplay (just enough to get her ready for intercourse), intercourse (during which both women and men orgasm), and game over," Mintz said.

Most women know this couldn't be further from the truth, and science is beginning to realize the importance of female pleasure in relationships. But are men and women? Not so much. As reported by Times of India, experts agree that a majority of women are hesitant to vocalize their desires inside the bedroom because female needs are typically not considered the priority. This highlights just how important communication is to sexual wellness. Because of the way society views sex, most partners you encounter will have to be educated on female pleasure.

Is outercourse the same as abstinence?

When many of us hear "sex without penetration," we tend to think back on our teenage years when we were just learning about our bodies and sexuality. This is the time when many people start exploring sex with another person. But as an adult, doesn't sex without penetration seem to be going backward in our sexuality? In fact, wouldn't this be considered abstinence?

Abstinence means different things to different people. According to birth control company Nurx, some people define abstinence as refraining from all sexual activity, while others define it as refraining from only penetrative sex.

Healthline explains that some people practice sex without penetration but perform oral sex, masturbation, fingering, etc. — which are all outercourse activities — and consider themselves abstinent, while others would not consider these acts to be a part of abstinence. But, remember, just because you practice outercourse activities doesn't mean you can't ever have intercourse. That's not the goal here. While most people who wish to be abstinent never engage in penetrative sex, exploring outercourse simply means that all sexual activity does not need to lead to or end with penetration.

As far as going backward in our sexuality, let's try not to look at it that way. By figuring out ways to bring our bodies the highest levels of pleasure, we're actually expanding upon our sexuality, if anything. We're learning new things about ourselves and our communication styles, and most importantly, we're aiming for self-love.

Outercourse vs. foreplay

Okay, so outercourse and abstinence are technically not the same thing. But outercourse is still basically just foreplay, right?

Planned Parenthood defines foreplay as the act of preparing the body for intercourse. This is the time to really get the juices flowing and increase the excitement in the genitals for penetration. While outercourse includes all of the same activities as foreplay does, the outcome isn't the same. Foreplay is meant to lead to penetrative sex, while outercourse is not. In other words, foreplay is preparing for the act of sex, while outercourse is the act of sex.

"I am not crazy about the term 'foreplay,' because it implies that you are doing activities that [precede] the real main event," Carol Queen told Cosmopolitan. "Many people think of outercourse as pretty vanilla, but depending on what you like, it can include as many slaps or spanks as light-fingered strokes. It is truly a variable type of play and very much worth exploring."

WebMD says outercourse releases oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. Oftentimes, foreplay can be skimmed through too quickly or sometimes not even performed at all before penetration. With outercourse, you're experiencing the rush of all three feel-good hormones as well as a heightened chance of reaching climax. Afterward, you can still move on to penetration for your partner's pleasure — after all, 95% of heterosexual men reach orgasm each time they have penetrative sex (per The Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Orgasms will vary

Birth control company Clue discloses that what our ancestors knew about the female orgasm isn't exactly the most — well, accurate. Climax in women was typically viewed as something wrong or "unhealthy." In fact, if an orgasm was achieved by clitoral stimulation rather than intercourse, it was considered scientifically not to be an orgasm at all.

Then, Sigmund Freud came along and made famous the idea that "mature women" reached climax from vaginal penetration, while only "immature women" orgasmed from stimulation (per Real Clear Science). Soon after, people spent much of the 20th century diagnosing a disorder in women who couldn't climax from heterosexual penetration.

With such misunderstandings about the female body, historical research can be a little difficult to analyze in regard to orgasms. Because of the stigma, many women likely reported false information about their climaxes. Even though science has come a long way, female orgasms can still be very difficult to classify. In fact, orgasms can vary each time we have one. Depending on our moods, surroundings, and what induced the climax, levels and feelings of intensity differ.

"Women need stimulation, focus, and a relaxed state in order to orgasm," sex therapist and sexologist Stefani Threadgill told Bustle. "Many of my female patients say that their partner(s) go directly to the nipples, clitoris, and/or anus in order to please her and that they prefer a longer warm-up." And naturally, the better the warm-up, the better the climax is said to be.

How psychological factors play a role

Psychology Today reports that a team of British and European researchers conducted a study on 7,000 participants by measuring the coordination between sex and happiness in older couples' lives. The women, ages 50 to 89, reported that "kissing, cuddling, hugging, mutual whole-body massage, and oral sex" contributed to their overall happiness, and interestingly enough, the men reported the same thing. While men likely reported this due to lack of penetration from factors like erectile dysfunction or increased vaginal dryness from their aging partners, these findings go to show that sex without intercourse is still fulfilling and meaningful to relationships.

What's more, female pleasure varies from male pleasure because women are motivated by different things than men (per BetterHelp). For men, sex is typically a type of primal and physical urge that satisfies the need for conquest. On the other hand, women often view sex as an intense and emotional bonding opportunity with their partners. Engaging in sexual relations with a partner subconsciously equals deepening her relationship with them, so this is a primary motivator.

While these are generalizations and not true in every situation, understanding our hardwiring can help make sense of why outercourse is more effective for women than penetration is. Overall, for many women, sex is a relationship-enhancing experience, whether it's with a romantic partner or a friend; outercourse involves building a sense of honesty and communication, which are driving forces in the psychology of women's sexual nature.

Health risks of outercourse

It can be easy to assume that sex without penetration is free of all health risks. While it would be nice if this were true, there are several factors that you should be mindful of when it comes to outercourse. The International Society for Sexual Medicine warns that even though no penetration is involved, any type of sex can still spread STIs. The website shares that skin-to-skin touching or coming in contact with semen or vaginal fluids can open the doorway to viruses and bacteria, in turn leading to STIs such as herpes, chlamydia, HPV, or HIV.

Moreover, Medical News Today sheds light on the fact that one of the greatest risks of outercourse is that it can actually be highly tempting for people trying to avoid intercourse to give in to the urge for it, such as in a situation where one person or a couple wishes to remain abstinent. Outercourse activities like dry humping can also add to the risk of fluids leaking through clothing and spreading bacteria, or can even cause accidental penetration. While outercourse is safe for the most part, having a knowledge and understanding of your partner's sexual history can always help eliminate health risks.

Outercourse and pregnancy

One very common misconception about outercourse is that there is a 0% chance of pregnancy. In fact, for some, preventing pregnancy is the main reason for practicing outercourse. However, it's good to know that although it's a very slim chance, there still is, indeed, a risk of becoming pregnant. While most everyone knows that pregnancy occurs when sperm fertilizes an egg, what a lot of people don't realize is that fertilization can take place even when penetration doesn't. NHS notes that if your partner happens to ejaculate near your vagina or if the penis comes into contact with your genital area after ejaculation, sperm can still enter the vagina.

Sperm cannot live outside the body for long periods, so the likelihood of becoming pregnant like this is extremely rare. But it can and does happen, so it's important to be mindful of this. This is especially worth noting for people who are using outercourse mainly as a pregnancy preventive. Condoms are currently the only form of contraception that prevents both STIs and pregnancy. As such, the use of a condom can absolutely still be incorporated into your outercourse routine. What's more, pregnancy is also possible from pre-ejaculate, so be sure to apply the condom as soon as your partner has become erect.

Mastering outercourse

To really get the most out of your outercourse experience, try taking a step back and analyzing your anatomy a bit further. According to pelvic therapy clinic Origin, the clitoris is much more than the little "power button" we think of it as. In fact, it's connected to multiple parts of the bottom portion of the abdomen by way of nerves and muscles. In turn, you're likely to feel pleasure from clitoral stimulation all the way up through your stomach, as well as pleasure from abdominal caresses all the way down in your clitoris.

Finding ways to stimulate the clitoris opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It gives you the opportunity to explore sensory experiences like variating pressures, temperatures, and textures. Playing around with vibrators can allow you to find out which areas of your body are the most responsive to them and which sensations you like the best.

Most important, perhaps, is to remind yourself that outercourse does not have a specific goal the way penetration does, so don't be afraid to throw all sexual tension and pressure out the window. The Sydney Morning Herald even reports how outercourse is connected to sensate focus — a term that describes sexual exercises performed to raise interpersonal and personal awareness.

Best options for outercourse

If you aren't convinced that outercourse is just as, if not more, passionate and steamy as penetrative sex, hear us out. You can actually perform most of the classic (or non-classic) sex positions without penetration. In fact, practices like BDSM don't involve penetration most of the time, and this type of erotic activity is certainly on the table for outercourse.

But if you're more comfortable starting slow, you can always begin with something simple like the missionary position. "The positioning is just as simple as it sounds: Find your way into missionary, clothes on or off," said psychotherapist Rachel Wright (via Elite Daily). "Next, kiss while you grind, hump, or find whatever feels best for your bodies."

Some other options that count as outercourse involve massage, kissing, discussing fantasies, and mutual masturbation. Expanding on that, sex educator Cassandra Corrado told MindBodyGreen that outercourse can "include handjobs, nipple stimulation, perineal massage, cunnilingus — anything that stimulates the outside of the body for sexual pleasure." With that being said, finding new and creative ways to enjoy outercourse makes it all the more exciting and pleasurable.

Other benefits of outercourse

Aside from orgasm, there are numerous reasons why outercourse can be the best option for some. According to Healthline, some reasons people may prefer to go down the outercourse route could be because of menstruation, anxiety or depression, a change-up from the norm, wanting to learn more about you or your partner's likes and dislikes, not being ready for penetrative sex, forgetting to take birth control, or even learning how to create better foreplay for when you do want to have intercourse. But most importantly, there can be several psychological and physical benefits to steering clear of penetration through outercourse.

For some women, intercourse is a painful experience. The medical term for this is called dyspareunia, which is defined by Mayo Clinic as being "persistent or recurrent genital pain that occurs just before, during, or after sex." Many factors can contribute to this condition, such as lack of lubrication, injury or trauma, vaginal spasms, or medical conditions and surgeries.

Because sex is a highly emotional experience, many mental factors contribute to dyspareunia. Having body dysmorphia or sexual anxiety, tight muscles due to stress and tension in other areas of life, or even having a history of sexual abuse can all contribute to painful sex. Consensual outercourse can offer a safe alternative to those who suffer from painful penetration.