Expanding Our Idea of Partnered Sex
For people who desire an active sex life, it can be frustrating to feel like you are in a rut or want to change things up and don’t know where to start. Regardless of why, it’s always a good time to re-evaluate and reframe how we think about partnered sex and what it means to involve partners in our sex lives.
“Partnered sex” is a term I am using intentionally here. It refers to how we, as a society, normally think about sex and what it means to be sexually active but is a way to be more specific. When someone is talking about their sex lives, it’s fair to assume that they are talking about the other people they are involving in it. This isn’t wrong but can be reductive because our sexual self is not just external!
Just using the term “sex” ignores all the ways that people have sex with themselves and others. This is why you will hear sex educators and medical professionals make distinctions between things like penetrative, Penis-In-Vagina (P in V), oral, and anal sex, because specificity is necessary when providing information about sex.
While partnered sex can be a large (or primary) part of our sex lives, it is important to think about solo sex as well. When I say “solo sex”, I’m using the definition established by Dianne Gleim, LMFT: “your internal experience of your sexuality and your chosen external expression of that internal experience. This can include your romantic, sensual, erotic, and sexual fantasies; your turn-ons, turn-offs, and how you relate to them…”.
This explanation of solo sex goes beyond just masturbation and helps us see that our primary sexual relationship is with ourselves. Quality solo sex is the foundation of the rest of our sex lives, and just like with partners, it takes time to understand what we like, don’t like, and what we need from ourselves in order to have a fulfilling solo sex life that can translate to our partnered sex lives.
Thinking about how to have partnered sex seems fairly obvious on the surface. Take two or more sets of genitals and/or orifices and arrange them in ways that are pleasurable to all parties. But maybe someone is tired and does not have the energy to do what they normally do or maybe someone just wants to change things up.
Below, I have listed three suggestions and techniques for revamping partnered sex in ways that may bring you closer to your partner(s) but may not be obvious as an alternative to good old-fashioned fucking. As always, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy yourself, but CONSENT and COMMUNICATION are key to a safe and fulfilling sex life with yourself and others!
Outercourse is technically an umbrella term, encompassing virtually all kinds of partnered sex that does not involve penetration. Here, I’m using it to refer to external genital stimulation with a partner’s body. It may seem kind of juvenile, especially because it’s so easy to just switch to penetrative sex. But so many different sensations exist that can only be understood by exploring each other’s bodies and the different ways people use them.
Outercourse encompasses acts like erotic massage, rubbing your vulva against a partner’s leg, stroking your penis against a partner’s vulva, licking or sucking each other’s nipples, anal rimming, and anything else that stimulates you and your partner(s) without penetration. Adding lube (be sure to check for ingredient sensitivities) decreases friction between body parts and can enhance sensation! Try it with clothes on, clothes off, or just lingerie or underclothes.
Mutual masturbation and outercourse go hand in hand. It can be considered part of the outercourse “umbrella” but that comes down to personal definition. Mutual masturbation is masturbating side by side with your partner(s) without touching them or using your hands and/or toys to help each other get off. Using your hands with your partner is a perfect time to enhance communication because it is easier to get specific about what they (and you) want and how to get it done. This is also a great opportunity to add toys like vibrators, dildos, or penis toys like strokers and cock rings into the mix too! Mutual masturbation is a perfect alternative to penetrative partnered sex if it is physically feasible and you may find it enjoyable to discover how your partner likes to make their body feel good.
Too often, kissing is looked at as just a part of foreplay before penetrative sex but kissing and using your mouth on your partner can provide sexual pleasure beyond oral sex! When is the last time you made out with someone without the expectation of doing anything else? It can be a fun way to connect with a partner while simultaneously taking the pressure off.
Exploring each other’s erogenous zones like the nipples and neck with your mouth is a way to bring each other pleasure or even achieve orgasm (if that is the goal). Similarly, altering how you perform oral sex can be another option. Experiment with edging each other. Edging is defined as providing stimulation near the point of orgasm, stopping, or reducing stimulation, then starting the cycle again in order to delay orgasm. Or you can try new techniques to stimulate the clitoris or penis. Maybe your partner saw something in porn they wanted to try but were not sure how to bring it up, this could be a great time to communicate those interests to each other!
At the end of the day, your sex life is what you make of it, with yourself and with other people. It’s perfectly normal to have fluctuations in your sex drive, and it is important not to guilt yourself for not being up to having sex the way you’re used to with your partner(s). The suggestions above are a starting point, which can be used to enhance you and your partner(s)'s satisfaction while developing your own self-knowledge about pleasure!