Let's talk about the utter nonsense of "foreplay."
The things that we think about when we think about foreplay -- flirting, kissing, giving the body relaxing, creating energetic anticipation, sensual touch in non-genital places, massages, etc. -- are most definitely not nonsense.
These are essential to gratifying, nourishing sex.
And that's precisely my point.
It's the term "foreplay" that is bullshit.
Because it implies that these behaviors are a "before sex" thing.
Not an essential aspect of sexual connection and pleasure in and of themselves.
The term "foreplay" implies that all these luscious, yummy forms of touch and connection are basically movie trailers that a person needs to get through before the "featured presentation" of intercourse can get underway.
The "dues" to pay before getting to the actual sex.
And, obviously, when you think of it that way, it feels completely acceptable -- if not preferable -- to simply skip over the trailers ... see if you can avoid paying the dues first ... and get to the "good stuff" as soon as possible.
But for women, when a partner tries to touch our pussies or enter our bodies without providing touch that first relaxes our nervous systems and arouses our sensual energies....
....it feels like hitting the gas pedal when there's a cement block still on the brake.
Our pleasure is going nowhere.
Here's an eloquent explanation of this phenomena from Naomi Wolfe, from her brilliant book Vagina:
“The linear, goal-oriented model of sex that is conventional in our culture makes many women feel frustrated and existentially unhappy over time—even if they are having orgasms…Well-intentioned men and women who are lovers of women might understandably feel baffled as they witness a wife or girlfriend grow irritable and dissatisfied over time with this kind of culturally perfectly adequate lovemaking…the lover of a woman, in other words, has to be far more patient, tactile, and time invested than he or she has probably been raised to be (and probably much more than he or she is initially inclined to be, after a long day at work). He or she must become far more interested in her state of mind, her level of stress or of relaxation, the skin of her whole body,…far more interested in offering stroking and caresses to her that do not feel to the woman as if there is a goal-oriented “agenda”.”
Always Be Seducing
The consistent "access" to sex assumed in a long-term monogamous relationship tend to suits men's needs well.
Women, on the other hand, can sometimes feel like they've been in a bait-and-switch situation, with their sex lives shifting from attentive and passionate during the dating phase, to feeling routine and ... in a sense, unearned... once the commitment has been secured.
Many people would agree that a big perk of long-term committed relationships is not needing to feel like every encounter is a test where you're being evaluated as a potential partner, where affection must be earned and sexual intimacy is never taken for granted...
It's really nice to not have to "work for it" so much. We like being able to relax and feel secure in our relationships.
The sense that we don't need to continually seduce one another even in these long term partnerships does everyone a disservice. We are not entitled to one another's bodies, to sexual intimacy, at any point, ever. And in fact, the best way to avoid your partner becoming sexually disinterested or withholding is to never take the sexual intimacy between the two of you for granted.
Wolfe explains more on this:
“In the first flush of courtship, men and women often treat their female lovers in ways that deeply relax the women, supporting the work of the sympathetic nervous system; that activate their pelvic neural networks and that trigger hormonal activity in the female brain, with delicious effects. But once the relationship is secured, many men and women tend to scale back those seductive words and lingering, relaxing caresses, or drop them altogether. This is a mistake, but it is not surprising: the “lingering caresses” kind of sex requires a great deal more time than does briefer, more goal-oriented lovemaking. Some might say it requires a good deal more “effort” from men and from women in lesbian relationships…our culture even calls these caresses and words a preamble to the real action—the idea is embedded in the very word foreplay—so they are seen as sexual “extras.” A whole set of words, actions, and gestures that women cannot do without… are, in our culture, seen as mere invitations to the feast, and not as the feast itself."
Seduction, Safety, & Sexual Arousal
In my experience, men are just as hungry for seduction as women are, but their sense of safety in their bodies and their ability to become aroused does not depend on it as much as women's do.
That is, in part, because they simply don't have as much reason to feel unsafe in the context of sex, or life in general, as women do, given their generally stronger and bigger bodies and lower rates of experiencing sexual harassment and violence.
When men DO feel unsafe - such as in situations of verbal or physical abuse from partners, or when they feel emasculated by them - it most certainly impacts their ability to get sexually aroused.
The other interesting thing is in that the female brain (I have no idea if this is true of the male brain as well), in states of high arousal, the center for behavioral regulation deactivates, putting her into a primal, uninhibited state of consciousness.
Consciously or subconsciously aware that they will be turning off her usual self-regulating ability, it makes sense that women tend to stay sexually guarded around someone who they feel they must stay vigilant around.
Even with familiar, loving partners, a woman's brain and body need the appropriate cues to signal that it is safe to relax and let down her guard before explicitly sexual activity like genital touching begins. Otherwise, that touch is NOT going to be received as pleasurable.
It's all part of the role of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in female sexual arousal:
“When you understand the role of the ANS in women, which is where the effect of seemingly “nonsexual” touches, seductive or admiring words, and that crucial sense of safety and of being uniquely valued, register, you will see what a terrible error [skipping these types of connection] is…They are integral parts of the activation of the female ANS—and in turn these words and gestures tell the female brain that this is a safe sexual environment.”
Embracing Effortful Ease
There's a concept in the personal growth space called Effortful Ease that helps to sum all this up.
The reality is that we've all got to struggle at some point or another, no matter what choices we make.
To give a couple un-nuanced but simple examples:
Either we put the proactive effort in to eat well and exercise consistently now, or we must put the effort in to take more medications, see more doctors, struggle to take the stairs, etc. later.
Either we put the proactive effort in to consistently save and invest money for retirement now, or in our golden years, we put the effort of needing to maintain a full time job to pay our bills.
Effortful Ease is the idea that we will experience overall more ease when we opt for the proactive effort. There's no avoiding effort altogether, but life will be generally easier if you direct your efforts in intentional and proactive ways.
So what does this have to do with the seductive, relaxing, safety-assuring, mind-heart-body arousing aspects of sex (previously understood as "foreplay")?
Taking the time to engage one another's autonomic nervous systems, to connect, soothe, and relax each other's bodies with compliments, slow sensual kisses, full-body massages, agenda-free pleasurable touch...
...is an investment in Effortful Ease.
Putting in the effort to seduce one another with not only make sex better on every level in that immediate instance, but it will also pay dividends into the future in the level of overall intimacy, trust, delight, and safety you experience in your relationship as a whole.
And if you repeatedly skip it...
You'll find yourself putting in a different kind of effort down the line...
Likely the effort of trying to figure out why your female-brained partner has been avoiding sex for months (or years), and struggling to feel the sense of connection, passion, and mutual desire that you did when you were dating or newly married.
I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said:
"If I had five hours to cut a tree, I'd spend the first four sharpening the saw."
That extra proactive effort will create so much more sexual desire and emotional ease in your relationship, I promise you.
Investing time and effort in seducing your female partner - priming her body for arousal by doing the things that help her feel both safe and desired in her mind and body - will return some of the best ROI of your life.