How To Broaden Your Definition Of Sex To Improve Intimacy


Focus on the journey of being sexual with your partner rather than the destination.

Often when we think of sex we are thinking specifically of sexual intercourse. We are focused on orgasm as the end result. The elements needed for this narrow, and very common, view of sex are an erection, lubrication and then orgasms for the parties involved. So, if the act of sex, as we commonly define it, doesn't include an erection, a self-lubricating vagina, and a big finish, we begin to think that we have failed or that there is something wrong with us. But let's face it — there are times when intercourse and orgasm just don’t work, for whatever reason, and to feel like a failure in those moments can impact our entire idea of our sexual selves. That is a lot of pressure around something that we want to bring us so much pleasure. 

An important question to look into is what do we want from being sexual with our partner? It is a way to feel close to someone else, a way to be intimate and connect. Do we get this from just the orgasm piece of it? Or do we feel close and connected by being present and exploring each other?

What if we broadened our definition of sex and sexual activity? What if we focused less on a destination (orgasm) and more on the journey? By broadening our definition of sex, we offer ourselves the opportunity to live more in the moment, to experience more pleasurable things, to take the pressure off of our sexual activity, to fear aging less, to soften the idea of dysfunction, and to find many new ways to experience ourselves and our partners. 

So, what might that look like? To begin, we might need to change our thinking around "foreplay". The very word implies that it is something to be done before the "real" sex. A colleague recently introduced me to the word outercourse as a replacement for foreplay. I love this word! It feels so positive and broad. And it doesn’t give me the feeling that we are killing time waiting to get to the finish line. Outercourse might be defined as anything that is not intercourse. The big outercourse activities might be oral sex, caressing breasts and butts, licking or biting parts of the body, mutual masturbation etc.

I challenge you to broaden your definition of being sexual with your partner even further. What if you included things like lying next to each other, holding each other naked and feeling each other breathe but doing nothing else. Or how about caressing each other’s arms or legs? What about foot massage or any kind of massage?  The idea is to begin to think of each of these things (and all of the ones that I haven’t mentioned) as stand-alone ways to be sexual with our partners. These are ways to feel good and connected without the possibility for failure and thoughts of performance anxiety. There is no performance from this broad view. There is only doing what feels good in the moment and that is what you should be doing! 

Emy Tafelski, MA, MFTI,

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