Sexual Foreplay: What’s in It for Men?

Sexual foreplay means more sex. And that’s something any guy can get into

Medically Reviewed by Sheldon Marks, MD on August 29, 2007
4 min read

Dates that end with lovemaking often begin with dining out, so that the meal itself can be seen as a form of sexual foreplay -- in more ways than one. How many times has this happened to you: You take your woman out to dinner at a nice restaurant. The waiter takes your drink orders and tells you of the specials, a busboy brings you a choice of savory breads, and you get down to the business of perusing the menu. Your eye is on the right side of the page -- steak? lobster? steak and lobster? -- when your date announces, “I think I’ll just have a salad and a couple of appetizers.”

At this juncture you might say something like, “Are you crazy? You’ll be starving later!” But they insist they know their appetite and enough of those little things make, for them, a full and satisfying meal.

So it is with sexual foreplay. A lot of men don’t think they’ve had sex unless they have had full-on sexual intercourse -- the meat and potatoes of many men’s sex lives, if not the steak and lobster. Skeptical as they are of the nourishment value of the proverbial small plates, they tend to rush toward the entrée and insist they’re not really dining otherwise. They don’t see the value of sexual foreplay in lovemaking -- the well-placed nibble and stroke, the suckle and bite -- even if that is what women often want.

Or at least that’s what they say about us. “It kind of depends how much these people read,” Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and board-certified sex therapist in Fair Oaks, Calif., says of men’s attitudes about lovemaking and sexual foreplay. “If they are at all readers, they are likely to have come across the idea someplace that most women enjoy the idea of foreplay.”

Why Men Have a Fear of Foreplay

If you missed that article in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, you are not alone. A sensitive, well-read man may indeed have encountered this notion of sexual pleasure, but most of us have probably filed it under Forget. “I think it’s fair to say men are still afraid of women’s bodies,” says Mark Epstein, MD, a psychiatrist in private practice in Manhattan and author of Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for Life. “Exploration of female sexuality is still something that can be perfected.”

And some of us are working on perfecting it, even if it’s just with one woman. But why the fear of sexual foreplay? “Most men are hung up on the fear of losing their erection,” says Epstein. “It dominates their mind during the act of sex. They’re really preoccupied with themselves, or they are in some kind of dance with themselves.”

Based on her own practice, as well as her experience as author of the Sexual Health: Sex Matters blog, Weston concurs. “If men have a worry about losing an erection, they tend to sometimes rush to insert for intercourse,” she says. “They can skip over foreplay or make it extremely brief because they’re just thinking about maintaining that erection above all else.” It is as though the act of sex is a performance and they will be judged on the quality and longevity of their erection -- while the irony is that, if you please your woman in other ways, they do not care how hard you are and the imaginary American Idol judges vanish.

“The erection has its own cycles and some men are intolerant of that,” says Epstein. “That’s why they like Viagra: It takes that insecurity away.” Indeed, a lot of sex therapists approve of Viagra and its erectile dysfunction cousin, Levitra, as a sort of antianxiety drug. “It gets men over a certain kind of hump,” Epstein continues, while the more long-lasting Cialis precludes the quick-before-it-melts anxiety some men experience after popping Viagra.

Meaning that if you are worried about your erection electing to vanish, you can have your cake (or steak) and give them those appetizers too. “Some men have problems with rapid ejaculation,” says Weston, citing another oft-encountered reason for avoiding sexual foreplay. “Sometimes they’ll go for an early insert, if you will, then hope that there might be enough interest from their partner that there might be a round two later, and there might be some foreplay in between those two intercourse times.”

Does that make it interplay? Regardless, not all women want the same thing, as you may have read somewhere. Weston counseled one couple in which the woman wanted the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am while her older mate (well-trained by earlier women, no doubt) liked to linger longer. She ultimately ended up leaving him, and for the women who may be reading this: No, I do not have his number.

“He was there going, ‘But what’s wrong with this?’” recalls Weston. “’Why not take our time?’ She kind of had a heat-of-the-moment erotic pattern, the way it is often portrayed in movies.”

Sexual Foreplayand Lovemaking: What’s Your Hurry?

Pop culture is surely another culprit. How many quickie sex scenes (on the train, in the bathroom, on the kitchen table?) have you seen in movies and cable shows? Too seldom do they show the women’s frustration afterwards; it would slow down the plot. But there is no downside to slowing down the storyline in your lovemaking. In fact, there may be fringe benefits in the foreseeable future.

“They’re missing out on the time they can spend having sex,” says Weston of the men who regularly forego sexual foreplay in order to cut straight to intercourse. “Unless they’re really short on time or sleep, it seems to me that the extra minutes are only a plus. They’re also probably missing out on goodwill coming from their partner.”

You can call that dessert.