A Guide to Outercourse
Sexual Health & Wellness

A Guide to Outercourse

Eleonora Ranuzzi

You have probably heard of intercourse but what about the pleasures of outercourse? As a society, we tend to give more attention and importance to everything that concerns penises and penetration, when speaking about sex. However, sexual behavior can be expressed in many more ways than that, from solo masturbation to anal play with a partner, to cuddling. The range of ways in which we can be sexual and feel pleasure is so broad and depends on so many things, some more permanent like our personality, some other more mutable like our mood, the period of our life we are in, or the weather. The good thing to remember is that everyone finds different things sexually satisfying, so there is no need to worry about being “normal”.  Many people will choose not to have sex. Others may have sex, but not sexual intercourse.

Outercourse is an option for sexual activity without intercourse. When you get down to the details, that means different things to different people.

What is Outercourse?

Sexual intercourse is any type of penetrative sex, including vaginal and anal sex.So outercourse is everything but that. Outercourse is any type of sexual activity that doesn’t include sexual intercourse

For some, it’s everything except penis-in-vagina (PIV) penetration. For others, outercourse means no penetration of any kind, including fingers, sex toys, and anal sex. Some choose outercourse as a safe sex alternative or as a form of abstinence (i.e., voluntarily choosing to not have sex). Your personal definition of outercourse may depend on your reasons for trying it and your boundaries.

What's the difference between outercourse and foreplay

The terms foreplay and outercourse could be used as synonyms, but we prefer to use outercourse. The word itself, “foreplay”, implies that the activities you are engaging in are preceding the real main event. However, foreplay or outercourse are a complete sex act in themself, not something inferior or less important that comes before or after intercourse.

For most people with a vulva, penetration is not even the best part of sex, as external clitoral stimulation is more pleasurable. 

Examples of Outercourse

  • Kissing
  • Cuddling
  • Massages. On the whole body or on more specific areas like the perineum, breast, or clitoris area.
  • Genital rubbing
  • “Dry humping”. Grinding on each other with clothes, underwear on, or naked can be very erotic. You can try imitating your favorite penetrative sexual position, but without introducing penetration. For example, doing the missionary position just rubbing your genitals together and moving your hips and bodies.
  • Mutual masturbation  or individually in front of the partner(s). You can introduce sex toys too, like an external vibrator. Oral sex, fingering and handjobs are all up to the individual’s choice.
  • Various BDSM practices and fetishes include, spanking, physical restriction or role playing. They can involve toys and objects like: nipple clamps, handcuffs, gag balls, ropes, latex clothes, costumes, furry costumes, spreader bars, chokers/collars and impact toys like floggers or whips. When exploring BDSM practices, don’t forget the importance of safe words and consent!

Introducing sex-related toys and objects within your outercourse practice can feel amazing, but remember that sex is a whole experience that involves all the senses, so it could be fun to experiment with that too: feathers or other objects that stimulate the skin, blindfolds, scented candles, and a nice playlist. Feel every sense & enjoy! 

The Benefits of Outercourse

By engaging in outercourse, you might notice an increased connection both with your body and with your partner(s). By taking the time to touch ourselves, without any specific aim or internalized path that leads to penetration, we could realize so many things we didn’t use to pay attention to before. Like how we want to be touched, where and in which way. 

Our desires and preferences, like our sexuality, change and get enriched with time. Outercourse is an amazing way to get to know yourself and your partners and give space to each other’s needs and fantasies. 

We invite you to take this time to be mindful, present in the moment, and notice all the little things. Feel every part of your body and pay attention to every sensation. How is your skin reacting? Do you want more? Do you need less? Sometimes outercourse can be way more intimate than intercourse as it can bring more intense pleasure and emotions arise more easily. Our body is our connection between our internal and external world, so embrace the feelings that come along with it.

Practicing outercourse can
  • Create and increase the bond/intimacy and knowledge between partners. 
  • Allow you to explore yourself better, with more time and attention.
  • Decrease the risk of pregnancy and STI transmission
  • Lessen focus on penetration more performative aspects of sex

Outercourse is an amazing tool also for people who
  • Suffer from pelvic pain, vulvodynia and vaginismus,
  • Suffer from performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, delayed or premature ejaculation
  • Don’t feel ready or up for intercourse
  • Are practicing some kind of abstinence
  • Want to avoid intercourse during someone’s menstruation
  • Have some trauma, body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria or a condition flare up that make intercourse impossible or uncomfortable
  • Don’t have the necessary protections against STIs/pregnancy

Outercourse Myths Debunked

There's no form of sex that's inherently safe or unsafe.

Every form of sex comes with some level of risk, whether it is emotional vulnerability, STI transmission, physical harm, or social risk

  • Just because there is no penetration or intercourse it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have the same care and attention to consent and safety.

You might see outercourse as something “softer” than intercourse but we are here to debunk this myth! For example, there are a lot of BDSM practices that don’t involve any sort of penetration but are considered part of outercourse.

Remember that outercourse is a very powerful tool to learn which are our bodily boundaries, to be able to know what you want and ask for it. Especially when you engage in some new practices it is important to choose a safe word for you and your partners to know when to stop.

  • You can still get pregnant and STIs with outercourse! It is less risky than PIV (penis-in-vagina) sex but they can still happen. Contact with genital fluids, oral sex or sharing sex toys are examples of behaviors that could lead to transmissions of viruses and infections. So it’s still important to use condoms and dental dams during outercourse and wash thoroughly sex objects before use.

Whether a person is sexually active or not, knowing your choices when it comes to taking care of your sexual health is important. It’s what helps all people to grow into individuals who are knowledgeable about our health, have pleasurable relationships, and maybe even start a family one day. Sexual health is a huge part of our lives, and understanding how sex works, our choices when it comes to having sex, the consequences of having sex, and how we can best take care of our bodies is important. 

Knowing that sexual expressions exist on a spectrum and depend on a lot of factors allows you to explore behaviors that feel right for you - and pleasurable too!

Eleonora Ranuzzi