Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Not Doing It

By Juliet /king
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Jen and Ian (not their real names) started dating at 16. Soon, they were head over heels. Each time they cuddled and kissed, Jen's excitement grew.

But when it came to sex, Jen was worried. If they had intercourse, she could contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or get pregnant. Besides, she didn't feel ready to go all the way. Was it possible to get sexy ... without having sex?

Yes. There are many types of "sex play" — sexual activity, with or without a partner — that don't involve intercourse, which is why some people call it outercourse. Outercourse works whether you're a teenager or a senior citizen, single or partnered, or straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.


Prolonged, deep kissing, or "making out," is a wonderful way to feel sexual without going further than you're comfortable going. It's possible to make out with closed — lips and there's the open-mouthed "French kiss" that engages your tongues.

Although kissing is considered a lower-risk kind of sex play when compared to intercourse and oral sex, it is possible — not likely, but possible — for kissing to transmit CMV, hepatitis B, herpes, and syphilis. CMV and hepatitis B can be present in saliva, and herpes and syphilis can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, particularly at times when sores are present. But relative to other kinds of sex play, kissing is a very low-risk activity. Which is one reason that there is so much of it going on!

Kissing someone for the first time can feel intimidating, and many people are nervous about it! The truth is, the first time you kiss someone, it can be awkward - just about everyone experiences that at one point or another. So when it comes to kissing, or any other kind of sex play, being as relaxed as possible is important.

A Word About Masturbation

Masturbation (touching one's own genitals for sexual pleasure) gets a bad rap. In olden days, some people thought "self-love" caused blindness and sterility. In fact, masturbation is the safest, most common way to be sexual. Jen, now a college graduate in Boston, credits masturbation with "helping me know my own body." And masturbation doesn't always have to happen alone: watching each other masturbate can be exciting, and can help you learn how he or she likes to be touched.

Outercourse, Of Course

Generally, "outercourse" means sex play without vaginal intercourse. Depending on personal preference, it can involve kissing, massage, masturbation, "frottage" (rubbing bodies together), sharing fantasies — including cybersex and phone sex, anal sex play (exploring one another's anus/rectum with hands, mouths), and oral sex play (touching one another's genitals with mouths). Advantages of outercourse include

* Safer Sex
Unprotected vaginal and anal intercourse are very high-risk activities for
dangerous sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Abstaining from
them significantly reduces the risk of infection. Abstaining from unprotected oral sex, further reduces the risk.

* Contraception
As long as no semen or pre-ejaculate enters the vagina, outercourse will not result in pregnancy.

* Psychological Relief
Like Jen, you may feel anxious or unprepared for intercourse. Outercourse can relieve the pressure to have it.

* Sexual Fulfillment
Outercourse can increase intimacy and help women have fulfilling orgasms. (Men don't usually have to worry about reaching orgasm, but outercourse can help them learn to slow down and enjoy themselves and their partners more.)

Consider what kinds of sex play are okay (and not okay) with you, and discuss preferences with your partner. Telling Ian what she did and didn't want to do "was hard," says Jen, but worth it. Try to broach the subject before you and your partner get started; setting limits is harder when you're in the middle of something hot and heavy.

If One Thing Leads to Another

One risk of outercourse: getting carried away. When things get steamy, resolve can weaken, and you can end up having unprotected sex. So always have condoms available. Some people enjoy outercourse with condoms. And if there's any chance you might have vaginal or anal intercourse, you will be prepared! Bottom line: be sure pre-ejaculate and semen don't get into the vagina.

Any kind of genital, anal/genital, oral/genital, or oral/anal contact can transmit infection. Guys receiving oral sex can reduce the risk of infection by wearing condoms. A girl can have her partner hold a cut-open condom, (a small, thin square of latex) against her vulva. Placing latex over the anus can also reduce risk during anal sex play.

Foreplay Facts

Foreplay is like outercourse, but with the expectation of intercourse. Foreplay, in other words, is sex play that generally leads to intercourse, or penetration.

Foreplay can increase a woman's arousal, causing her vagina to produce fluid known as lubrication. This natural lubrication is essential for woman to have pleasurable sex. Without it, intercourse can hurt. Even with foreplay, sometimes the vagina can't produce enough moisture. In that case, artificial lubricants can help. Oil damages latex, so use water-based lubricants, whenever latex condoms are also used.

Intercourse without condoms puts partners at high risk for infection. According to the Ghana Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, latex condoms "used consistently and correctly" are "highly effective" in preventing HIV transmission, as well as reducing risk of other STIs and cervical cancer.

Condoms can be a part of outercourse, foreplay, or intercourse. Some guys like wearing condoms for all three. Guys who are less excited by condoms can have their partners put the condom on them as part of sex play. This can help them stay aroused and erect. Female condoms are inserted into the vagina (or the rectum for anal sex). They can stay in place even when a guy's erection softens for a while.

You can explore your sexuality without having intercourse. But no matter how you choose to be sexy, do it safely.