What counts as sex? From the first kids who asked this question in the playground, to the sheepish couple trying to negotiate their way out of a train toilet without getting arrested, we’ve long been worried about a question that doesn’t really need an answer.
The short answer to ‘what counts as sex?’ is: whatever you find sexy. Historically, humans have been most obsessed with penetrative sex – and specifically heterosexual penetrative sex. The church laid down rules about who you could do it with, sex ed teachers explained the mechanics of it, and a good time was had by all those who really liked it and were willing to work within some pretty strict guidelines.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century, though, and we’re beginning to wake up to the idea that ‘sex’ itself is far more than simply a train going into a tunnel. So we want to talk about sex without penetration. Different techniques and tricks, why it’s amazing, and why adding some non-penetrative sex to your life could be the best thing you ever did.
What counts as sex without penetration?
Far be it from us to set ourselves up as the Oxford English Dictionary. Sex without penetration can involve anything you find fun which doesn’t involve that particular act. Including, but definitely not limited to, mutual masturbation (including whatever masturbation tricks your partner uses to get off), intercrural sex (thigh-humping), frotting (clothes on or off), sensual massage, BDSM activity (not all BDSM activity is seen as sexual but many people do count it as sex – depends on the individual), certain fetish activities such as sploshing.
Realistically, it’s hard to define ‘sex’ in a way that will be meaningful for everyone. If you’re straight and horny then it may be that penetrative sex is the hottest thing since sliced bread straight out of the toaster. Alternatively, it may be that you have a fetish for watching people play with balloons that gives you such a deep and satisfying sexual thrill that that, for you, 100% ‘counts’ as sex.
Why would you have sex without penetration?
Plenty of reasons – if we listed them all we’d be here until 2017. To give you an idea, though, we’ll start with the obvious reason: genital configuration. Not all couples have one train and one tunnel (OK, we’ll drop the train thing here – turns out British Rail does not make for very sexy chit-chat). Lesbian couples, some trans couples, gay couples who don’t enjoy anal, or straight couples in which one or other person is not cisgendered (meaning their gender matches that which they were assigned at birth).
On top of that, there are plenty of medical reasons why sex without penetration might be much more fun for you. Conditions such as vaginismus and vulvodynia can make it difficult for people with vaginas to enjoy penetration. Long story short, it can hurt: a lot.
All that’s before we’ve reached one of the key reasons: pleasure. Sex without penetration can be incredibly pleasurable – there’s no rule which says you need penetration in order to orgasm, and in fact there are many people (mostly people with vaginas, but often others too) who struggle to reach orgasm from purely penetrative sex. Exploring different kinds of sex without penetration can help you (and your partner) get more in touch with the ways your body responds to different kinds of stimulation.
OK. I’m sold. How do I have sex without penetration?
Well, given that sex without penetration can involve almost anything – from hand-jobs to frotting and fetish – the first thing to do is understand that your focus should be purely on pleasure. The ‘base’ system often makes people mistakenly think that the ‘further’ you go, the better – that sex is a valuable end-point after some arbitrarily progressive steps (snog – first base, touching – second base, etc). Lie with your partner – clothed or unclothed – and concentrate on everything you’re doing to each other. Touches, kisses, caresses. Experiment with what feels good to each of you. Remove whichever clothes you feel comfortable. Move into the positions that feel best for you both.
Using sex toys during sex without penetration can help you enhance all of that pleasure – whether it’s a bullet vibrator applied to just the right spot or a set of nipple clamps that gives them the right sensations. Couples sex toys like the PULSE II DUO can be used as hand-held vibrators, to get the powerful sensations in just the right place, as well as for partnered sex without penetration. The toy wraps round his penis, with silicon ‘wings’ to hold it in place, then she sits (or lies – whatever’s most comfortable) on top of him, with the external vibrator pressing against her clit.
Couples toys like PULSE are perfect for couples who may struggle with penetration because of things like vulvodynia or vaginismus. They’re also fun for couples who simply want to experiment with different non-penetrative kinds of sex.
Sex without penetration: could I still get pregnant?
One of the most common questions about non-penetrative sex, even among adults, is whether there can still be a pregnancy risk. The short answer is ‘yes’, and what’s more, although some kinds of non-penetrative sex drastically decrease the risk of STI transmission, that doesn’t mean it’s a concern you should chuck out of the window completely.
However, the longer answer is that it’s far less likely than if you have ‘reproductive’ sex (i.e. sex which involves ejaculating into a vagina). According to Bish – one of the UK’s top sex educators, and generally sensible chap – you are very very unlikely to get pregnant if the sex you had was non-penetrative.
So there you have it: a whistlestop guide to sex without penetration. We hope you’ll agree that the ‘without penetration’ part may be a bit superfluous, given that sex can cover such a broad spectrum of fun activities. But if you’re either struggling with penetrative sex, or you simply want to mix things up a bit, we can tell you that sex without penetration can be a brilliant way to bring a whole lot of pleasure into your bedroom.