What is outercourse and how can it change your approach to sex?


Penetration isn’t always seven minutes in heaven for everyone involved.

A couple weeks back, I stumbled upon a word that I had never heard of before: outercourse. Although a new addition to my vocabulary, I was quick to recognise its meaning. Existing in an arguably rigid dichotomy with intercourse, outercourse represents everything other than the ‘main act’, but repositioned as the main act.

Arising out of the growing desire for safer sex in the 1980s, outercourse was introduced to the public eye as a way to experience pleasure without the need for penetration, as explained in an article for Cosmopolitan.

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“Outercourse is a sexual activity in which people receive non-penetrative sexual pleasure,” says Tyomi Morgan, certified sexologist and pleasure coach, arguing that the details of what this means is subjective from person to person, primarily based on their boundaries and desires.

In the 30 or so years since its introduction, it’s unsurprising that it hasn’t cemented itself into the fabric of our conversations surrounding sex. With A-list celebrities sensually entwining on our big screens in climactic love scenes, to our social circles still regaling in reductive gossip about when our ‘virginity’ was given the flick, it’s clear society, namely Western society, is obsessed with good ol’ penetrative sex.

So, what is ‘sex’ anyway? (No, seriously)

The question may seem straightforward, and its accompanying logic problematic in an equally straightforward way, however it comes as no shock that one form of sex is privileged and centred as the ‘legitimate’ form of sexual expression.

At present, our cultural imaginations and representations of sex – and unsurprisingly queer sex – remain deeply heteronormative.Conversations often limit the definition to P-in-V (penis in vagina) or P-in-A (penis in anus) sexual experiences. For many, sex is considered to begin when penetration starts, and the rest is defined as foreplay.

Carol Queen, a Good Vibrations sexologist and the author of Exhibitionism for the Shy, strongly attests to the reductive mechanics of pro-penetrative discourse. “I am not crazy about the term ‘foreplay’, because it implies that you are doing activities that precede the real event,” she states. The thrust of her sentiments argue that penetration should be an option in sex, not the definition of sex.

But unfortunately, her statements remain on the fringes of dominant discourse that find themselves buoyed by a patriarchal framework. Our knee-jerk response to sex is often bound by the usual trio of rules: penetration, loss of virginity and/or baby making. However, this rigidity in our current understanding of sex only continues to safeguard the reductive notion that non-procreative sexual acts, such as oral and anal, must come accompanied with qualifiers to prove their legitimacy.

It’s clear our articulation of sex explicitly sidelines a number of pleasurable acts as mere precursors to an event, that for some, just isn’t enjoyable or possible. This construct actively ignores a whole gamut of sexual experiences that fall outside of these binary scripts on sex.

Specifically, this framework alienates and invalidates the experiences of many cisgender women, as well as queer, trans and non-binary people who tend to have broader understandings of what they consider to be sex. Now, this isn’t to say that queer people can’t, or won’t, enjoy penetration. Many find it pleasurable, with or without orgasm.

But there are also many who find it incredibly uncomfortable, or just don’t care to engage with it at all. Gender dysphoria around genitalia may also be a roadblock for engaging in penetrative sex, and those who experience vaginismus are physically unable to experience penetration without great pain.

I mean, it isn’t exactly surprising. This inequality and fixation in the bedroom tends to be exacerbated by dominant media images that over-privilege male sexuality and tend to devalue, or gloss over female sexuality.

Dr Laurie Mintz, the author of Getting Cliterate, says there is a persistent cultural fascination with the male orgasm and that “what we see is women having these fast and fabulous orgasms from intercourse alone [in our media]”. The latter has been routinely proven to be unlikely and uncommon. It’s created a society that, for centuries, has obsessed over the pleasure and insertion of the phallus-shaped star of the show.

Irrespective of where we fall on the spectrum of gender and sexuality, sex is an intimate form of communication. It is an eclectic process of trial and error in figuring out what you and your partner find enjoyable, and you should feel entitled to either engage or abstain from penetration and still feel legitimate and complete in your experience.

I mean, sex has a myriad of configurations which, thank the lord, make it an endlessly entertaining experience. By consciously, or unconsciously, platforming an over-regaled sexual act, we unfortunately lose out on the intimate, confusing, but albeit pleasurable discovery of our sexual selves.

For more on outercourse, try this.

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