Did you know that only 18% of women can orgasm from penetration alone? That number may sound shockingly low given that we live in a society that portrays pretty much any type of penetrative sex — even speedy trysts with no foreplay — as ending in simultaneous, earth-shattering orgasms for everyone involved.
The truth is, for individuals with vaginal anatomy, orgasm is mainly fueled by outercourse.
What is outercourse? It’s non-penetrative sexual activity that stimulates the clitoris, vulva, and other erogenous zones — and it’s instrumental to enjoying sex if you have a pain with intercourse (aka vaginismus, dyspareunia, or vulvodynia).
In a recent live conversation between Origin’s Dr. Celeste Compton, PT, DPT, and Maude Advisor Dr. Laura Meihofer, PT, DPT, we explored the benefits of outercourse and the many ways that it can lead to a completely satisfying, orgasmic sexual experience, sans penetration.
THE BENEFITS OF OUTERCOURSE
If you’ve always thought of intercourse as the main course and everything else as a snack, we’re excited to challenge your thinking.
Why would you practice outercourse?
- Get in touch with your body — and your head-to-toe capacity for sensual pleasure
- Build trust and intimacy with your partner (and learn to set boundaries) as you try new things
- Re-learn what you find pleasurable after major life changes like hormonal shifts or when you’re postpartum
- Have amazing sex despite having a condition that makes intercourse painful
- Explore on your own before delving into intimacy with a partner
Dr. Meihofer suggests thinking of all the things you like to do during sex as your “Sexual Menu.” In terms of outercourse, stimulation of our most obvious erogenous zones are often the only things on that menu (think: mouth, nipples, vulva, breasts/chest). And it’s common to only stimulate these areas in a few ways (kiss, lick, caress, etc.).
To reap the full benefits of outercourse, you’ll need to explore beyond the obvious and discover where and how you like to be touched in places like your…
- Feet and toes
- Inner thighs and behind your knees
- Arms and inner elbows
- Eyelids, cheeks
Outercourse gives you the opportunity to explore new sensations and map out new paths to pleasure. Explore textures, temperature, touch, and pressure. Do you prefer a feathery touch tickling your arm or does firm pressure on your skin get you going? Do your senses ignite with a hot pack pressed to your belly or does the idea of an ice cube melting down your back give you goosebumps? Dig in and learn more about yourself (and your partner, too, if you’re not going solo).
If vibrating toys are on your sexual menu, experiment with these all over your body to find out what turns you on. Consider opting for a vibrator that has many different settings as the intensity and rhythm of vibration can make a world of difference. Same goes for lubrication — having your body caressed with massage oil or lube can feel much different than without.
Reconsider the clitoris
Is clitoral stimulation on your sexual menu? Research has found that 36% of women need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. A common misconception is that the clitoris only consists of the little external bulb or “glans” that you can see when you lift up the little “hood” of skin that covers it. In reality, the glans is just the tip of the iceberg.
Beneath the glans (under the skin, so you can’t see it), lies the corpus or body of the clitoris, which splits to form the legs of the clitoris or “crura.” The crura form an upside-down “V,” with the point attached to your pubic bone and the legs running alongside the urethra and vaginal opening.
The clitoris isn’t an island — it’s connected to many parts of your lower abdomen via nerves, ligaments, and muscles. That means stimulating the clitoris may cause you to feel pleasure in other parts of your abdomen and vice versa.
All in all the clitoris contains some 8,000 nerve endings, the majority of which are best stimulated through outside contact, which might come from fingers, lips, tongue, or toys. For a comprehensive (and illustrated!) guide to clitoral stimulation, check out this resource from the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education.
Make your comfort a priority
Enjoying intimacy and reaching orgasm is often a matter of comfort. It’s hard to have fun when you’re uncomfortable. Whether you’re worried about the kids walking in or have self-conscious thoughts that stop you from letting go, ask yourself what you can do to help boost your comfort and confidence.
It could involve:
- Changing what you wear before or during sex
- Switching up the lighting in the room
- Purchasing a new door handle with a lock
- Using pillows to support your body
- Talking to your partner about your “sexual menu” outside of the bedroom
It’s important not to judge what you need to feel comfortable. For example, you may feel like you “should” be able to have sex with the lights on or that you “should” use a toy because your partner wants to. Focus on what makes you feel comfortable now and insist on it.
Crave intercourse but find it painful?
Vaginal penetration should never hurt. If you enjoy the feeling of intercourse but struggle to tolerate it due to pain, your experience isn’t uncommon. From mental and emotional boundaries like shame, trauma, and purity culture; to physical restrictions like skin conditions or pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, the barriers to penetrative sex can be vast, but they can be overcome.
With a team of professionals supporting you, you can ease your way into pleasurable penetrative sex. That team will ideally consist of your primary care provider or OBGYN, a pelvic floor physical therapist, and a sex therapist or mental health counselor.
In the meantime, we encourage you to get curious and enjoy exploring whole-body pleasure through outercourse. Listen in on the full conversation here.