Alternatives for sex without penetration

Think about it: Even when human bodies aren’t involved the most common analogy for sex is the act of penetration. A train into a tunnel; a banana in a ringed donut...

Ah, sex. The mere mention of the word musters up a mental image with near immediacy. Typically, such an image involves a conventionally gendered man and woman, straight (of course), and very often white. Although most of us know that sex expands far beyond this—involving many different genders, sexualities, actions, and kinks—it’s hard to shake that initial thought that sex=missionary. Or, more to the point, that sex=penetration.


This stereotypical embodiment of the sexual couple is often in a long-term relationship (if not married) and the sexual act of choice is missionary—or, if one’s imagination is particularly daring, woman on top ‘cowgirl’ style.

Think about it: Even when human bodies aren’t involved the most common analogy for sex is the act of penetration. A train into a tunnel; a banana in a ringed donut, the symbol of Mars thrusting into Venus. In all of these scenarios, the primary act of sex is synonymous with penis-in-vagina penetration. But sex can be so much more than penetration. In fact, very good sex often relies on actions beyond penetration in order to prepare for this act. Some call this ‘foreplay’ but that’s only the case if you chose to limit yourself to such a definition.

So, in this article, we’re going to look at (and champion) all the other amazing ways that your partner/s and you can enjoy amazing sex sessions without penetration. And trust me when I say that we’re only exploring the very tip of the iceberg.

1. Touch

‘Touch’ is such an inclusive term that it can involve literally countless possibilities, but I would like to suggest just a few. Take the time to lie with your partner/s and run your fingers gently over their body. Allow them to do the same, mirroring your motion, or tell them to close their eyes and trust you. Explore potential erogenous zones and play around with pressure and angles.

Don’t feel restricted to your fingers. Stroke their check with the back of your hand. Run your hair across their neck. If you have breasts and a partner with a penis use that to your advantage.

Once you’re explored each other’s bodies revisit the neglected art of the hand job. Communicate different speeds and motions. Discover new sensations and points of arousal. Allow yourself to reach climax this way if it feels natural to do so. Human anatomy is fantastically versatile and you’ll often get far with a touch of creativity.

2. Oral

Another action that can be considered one of the regulars of a good sex session, the correct use of one’s ‘oral’ skills can redefine the way you have sex. Fellatio and cunnilingus are great forms of oral action, naturally, but so is kissing, and the general use of the mouth and tongue.

Invest in some bodypaint and decorate your partner/s’ body with sweet nothings before licking them off to ensure they remain for your eyes only. Alternatively, play with delicate and rough kisses; fleeting nibbles, and firm bites. Soothe and suck at the areas you focus on. Find what works for you and see where it takes you.‘Oral’ doesn’t just refer to the mouth either, but also to spoken communication. Try talking dirty to each other, or being vocal when something feels good, or even talking more in general! Communication is so core to sex and yet we often neglect it. But the more we talk about sex the easier it becomes (and the more interwoven it can be when having sex).

3. Sensation Play

Closely related to touch is the wonderful world of sensation play. This sexual act encourages people to use different objects, temperatures, and scenarios to provoke a reaction in the body. These sensations can be familiar—appealing to old memories—or brand new—eliciting a previously unknown kink to come to the surface.

The most popular (yet most overlooked) form of sensation play is massage. Massage allows you to slowly and soothingly interact with each other while trying different oils, gels, scents, and sometimes even flavors.
Outside of this partners can play around with different temperatures (via ice cubes and glass/metal/ceramic sex toys), use massage candles to engage in some wax play, or begin using items such as feather teasers and tassels.

These acts of sensory investigation are even better with a blindfold. This brings me on to the next sex act…

4. BDSM

Whips, Paddles, floggers, and cuffs. BDSM can be as gentle or as hardcore as you want it to be. While such actions may be considered by some as the prelude to penetration, BDSM can cause a very strong psychological reaction in some people causing them to go into something called ‘sub space’. Subspace is the state of mind achieved when a submissive is completely immersed in the acts of domination that are occurring. This can cause a rush of chemical reactions in the body, an extreme mental high, and, yes, even orgasms.

Because BDSM does involve so much and can be so intense it’s advised that people do plenty of research before delving deep into the act of bedroom domination. And never, never skip the aftercare. That’s an order!

5. External Sex Toys

Dildos are brilliant but for many, they’re an unattractive (or even impossible) option. Thankfully sex toys have long been aware that penetration isn’t the only way to have a good time and many toys exist solely for external use. Take the tried-and-tested clitoral vibrator, for example, which aims to please the only known organ designed for pleasure, and the primary method by which up to 80% of women reach orgasm. You’ll also find sex toys such as cock rings and guy vibrators for those sporting a shaft.

Gender restrictions needn’t apply with toys, either, and a wand vibrator is an incredibly versatile (and powerful) tool that can be used to cause strong orgasms from all kinds of bodily contact. Fun fact: Wand vibrators actually aren’t suitable for penetration at all. Granted you could try to do so, but wands themselves are more focused on that external lovin’. This might be why they’re a favorite among many individuals.

6. ‘Outercourse’

And, finally, there’s ‘outercourse’ and this is where the authorial voice is going to become a bit more present for a moment. When I was suffering from Vaginismus (pain from the act of penetration) I thought that I was fundamentally broken and that I would never experience ‘real sex’. It was only when my therapist introduced me to the idea of ‘outercourse’ instead of ‘intercourse’ that it finally clicked for me—there is always another option. My sex does not have to look like anyone else’s sex, and my pleasure certainly need not be defined by the approved acts of others.

Part of what makes sex so amazing is that it’s an intimate act—an intense manifestation of our inner psyche. We don’t get very far when we limit such actions to what others would deem as ‘acceptable’ rather than finding what’s right for ourselves.

As such ‘outercourse’ as a term can mean different things for different people. For my partner and me, it was the act of rubbing his penis up against my vulva as if to mimic penetration. This was what felt right for us (with the fact that it involved the clitoris being a huge determining factor) but what ‘outercourse’ means to you (or if the term itself is even of use) is a personal decision and one well worth considering when asking yourselves ‘Just what is sex?’….

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