foreplay and arousal

Last updated on May 18, 2022

Average reading time: 9-10 minutes.

Simone de Beauvoir claims that on average, a woman needs between 20 and 45 minutes of physical stimulation to get properly aroused and ready for penetration. Many female authors make similar statements, with similar numerical timing figures for those who give them. 

What we call “foreplay” (cuddling, kissing, caressing...) is actually a time to build intimacy and relating to each other, actions to discover each other's bodies, and a part of what "making love" is. It also has a physiological function. It is an essential part of mutual arousal.

1. physical needs

Vaginal tissues are somewhat spongy, and very elastic when irrigated. The average length of a vagina is about 11 centimetres (whereas average penis length is 13.5 cm - that is 4.3 inches and 5.3 inches). Since the vagina is elastic, it can easily expand to receive a penis larger than the vagina’s original size, BUT, for that, it needs to be ready, activated, and properly engorged. Which means a couple of things: 

  • Lubrication. Necessary for not hurting the surface tissue of the mucosa (the sensation for her if there is not enough lubrication will be akin to rubbing your penis with emery paper), it is produced naturally by most women. Given enough time, the body will usually produce more than enough. Usually, if the vagina is not lubricated on its full length, it means it is too soon! I have never needed artificial lubricant for my partners. And I can tell you, the sensation of being inside a very, very lubricated conduct is amazing! 
  • Tissue expansion: just like a penis, a vagina needs blood flow to be fully activated. When aroused, the body fluids that irrigate the inner membrane make it thicker, smoothelastic, and receptive to pleasure. They are responsible for making the vagina able to expand to receive your magic wand. It will also activate the muscles around the conduct, make them suppler. If the inner tissues are not irrigated enough, penetration may tear at the sensitive mucosa, strain the muscles. Just imagine opening your mouth wide with chapped lips, or stretching brutally (like in intense sports) a tightly clenched muscle… only many times more sensitive. 
  • Naomi Wolf talks about the need for women’s autonomous nervous system needing to be calm for a woman to be fully responsive. Which means that, in order to be able to enjoy penetration, a woman needs to trust that her partner will never hurt her, will listen to her, and she also needs to trust that this person is able to give her pleasure. And the intimacy of kissing, caressing, and cuddling, builds trust on those levels. 

This is why artificial lubricant will not be a good answer to a difference in arousal: it will solve the surface friction problem, but NOT enable the vagina to be elastic enough for a fully erect penis (unless yours is really tiny, and hers is way above average), nor the nervous system to be receptive. So, if you use artificial lubricant in the vagina before 45 minutes of foreplay, you are probably using a crutch and forcing entry - and damaging your ability for pleasure. And this will prevent you from reaching true mutual orgasm. 

So the proper solution is… long “foreplay”. 

2. But… some women are ready much faster, right?

Movies, both regular and porn, show sex happening without “foreplay”.  For many reasons. First, foreplay is somewhat boring to watch – too anti-dramatic for regular movies, and not very arousing for a viewer (when I watched porn, I would skip the little foreplay there was and go straight to the “juicy” parts). Second, porn is made by men who, for most, have a misogynistic and violent view of sexuality. Third, “foreplay” (kissing, caressing, cuddling…) is very intimate, and what you do with each other’s body is very “private" (tightly bound to your feelings, and the actual experiences you shared)… so it is kind of awkward to act and show. 

In short, the things we call “foreplay” will be too specific to be relatable if shown on film. 

However, yes, women who have a strong experience with pleasure will be able, in the right circumstances, to build self-arousal, in such a way that their vagina is ready faster than average. It all depends of their previous experiences. As a rule of thumb, the more she had true (physical) orgasms associated with sexual intercourse, the faster her body will be ready - and on the flip side, the more painful sexual experiences, the slower (and more difficult) it will be. It will also vary with her mental state, her trust in her partner and many other factors. When those confidence levels rise, the ability to be aroused quickly rises at the same rate. 

As a matter of fact, once my girlfriends had a solid grasp on their own sexual pleasure, they would be ready much faster than at the beginning, and indeed, sometimes faster than me! And sometimes we could jump right into sexual interaction with very little physical preparation. And, other times we would spend hours building tender intimacy for its own sake. However, this possibility of fast sexual disposition was built, both inside their own sexuality, and within our relationship. Once the body has experienced enough orgasms, it knows that it wants to go for it, and it knows how to build itself for it - though it is still a physiological process, never instantaneous. But like everything physical, this takes practice. 

Also, the power of the mind over arousal is more efficient when the body has experience with pleasure. Once, my lover in a romantic relationship, was coming back from travelling - we had not seen each other for a month. I went to get her at the airport. During our trip from the airport to my place, we touched only with our hands, while looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. When the door to my apartment closed, her vagina was fully prepared. She had built mental anticipation during her trip, and her body, through our hand-touching, had had the information that “it was on”… So she was ready. If we had not been in a relationship, or if she had not had a long history of pleasant sex, that would never have been enough. 

3. The most standard exception… and the unfortunately most usual case

There is another (apparent) exception, though, to Beauvoir's statistic... and it is kind of the reason why so many women are in the high areas of her figures (more are close to 45, and few are close to 20). Many women will go into sexual intercourse with very little time for "foreplay"... out of ignorance (or submission to social norm or pressure). Those women will ignore the signals (or absence thereof) from their own body, and just follow the script that they know (either from porn or from previous experiences). 

Many women do experience desire, but have never experienced pleasure. Many have never even been fully aroused (their bodies have never reached the point of being actually ready for sex, as described above).  Most times they do not know why (they blame themselves for “being frigid”). Oftentimes, they assume sex is always the same script, and they have no clue as to what would give them actual pleasure. 

Some women will even go all the way to fake pleasure in an attempt to “fake it until you make it”: either as a sort of self-hypnosis to persuade themselves, or the mental pleasure of doing something that is supposed to be pleasurable. And indeed, there is some pleasure in acting upon desire. If they know nothing else, if they have no clue as to the possibility of sexual orgasm, they may deem the encounter “satisfying”. 

Unfortunately, this is the case of a majority of women. Since there is so little sexual information about female sexuality, most don’t know the 20-45 minutes need for physically arousing activity. A woman who does not know her needs may have sexual desires, and a beginning of arousal. But when she feels that her body should be ready (according to what information she has), she will jump into sex. She will experience intense vaginal pain the first few times, then nothing (her nervous system will sever the link). Then, during sexual intercourse, she will either experience mental pleasure, and think it is the best she can have, or think that she is frigid. Anyway, she will continue to accept sex with only a little “foreplay”, and submit to the man’s wants (or what she thinks he wants) because she has nothing else to offer. 

And YES, I said “nothing else to offer”. Because a woman in that position cannot give her partner the satisfaction of giving HER pleasure. Which is invaluable. Plus, mutual pleasure elicits creativity, and someone who enjoys intense pleasure will certainly offer much more possibilities than someone who just follows… Not to mention the will to do it more often! Plus, reciprocity: my partners have made me discover unimaginable pleasures, just because they were looking for ways to give to me as much as I gave them. 

Anyway, if the only pleasure a woman has comes from pleasing her partner, or feeling the self-induced trance of faking, those are pleasures that grow old very fast. 

Studies show that women get bored of sex on average in one year after the beginning of a relationship, much faster than men. 

Esther Perel clarifies that women do not get bored of sex, but they get bored of boring sex. Unfortunately, most men have no clue about female sexuality – according to my studies, less than 9% know how to give an orgasm. So, even if their female partners do get some pleasure, it gets boring quite fast. Eventually, the pleasure of doing her duty (or something that falls short of fulfilling the desire she feels) wears off. After a while, sex gets boring for both: the woman does not like what she does, so she tries to make it shorter (even less chance of making it pleasant for her), and she makes less and less efforts to make it pleasant for the man… both end up in a sexless relationship, and more often than not, resentment replaces love. 

So, even if it may seem like a good deal to have a woman who just “goes with whatever you propose”, in fact it will result in a dwindling sexuality, and eventually a failed relationship. 

I would much rather invest in “foreplay”, in discovering each other, in creating our own eroticism. Which brings to ever more enjoyable sexual interactions, that are not only guaranteed to stand the test of time, but will also grow in intensity, for both! 


4. Different psychological effects between men and women – and concrete advice.

Men are taught that a big part of their identity is in their penis. In fact, a lot of the pressure they have and that has detrimental effect on their self-esteem or their ability to feel loved is concentrated on this injunction to “be a penis”.

Whether we are aware or not, emotions and feelings are sensations, and therefore linked to a place  in the body. In an intimate interaction, a man will often feel his desire for connection and intimacy located in his penis – the same where his sexual desire is. (Which makes even more sense when you use Verlaine’s phrase of “the heart” to talk of your organs of love).

Acknowledging his feelings and emotions will therefore mean... appreciating his penis! A man will feel more recognized, taken into account, when his partner has greeted his best friend. The earlier the better, because as long as the penis is not touched, or shown a warm welcome in some way, the man will not feel entirely validated in his emotions and desires.

So, ladies, and that is a piece of advice I received from a woman who loved men: touching the penis very early in the sensual interaction (“foreplay”)  is a great way to increase connexion and intimacy with a man. This will manifest that he is acknowledged, as well as his desires, and his needs in terms of pleasure and sexuality. This is why patriarchy calls it “foreplay”: as long as the penis is not acknowledged, a man will not feel that he is fully taken into account.

On the other hand, a woman’s arousal is gradual, with an “outside-in” movement. And that also goes with the fact that women are taught to not feel treated with human dignity if they are only an object of sexual desire. So if your partner is a woman, the "yoni" should be touched last, only when the rest of the body has been addressed. Start with the hands and arms, then face, eyes, mouth, then the back, the neck, hips, legs, and only then you can go to buttocks or breasts, and then only approach the vulva - and then, with as much delicacy as possible. And never focus all your attention on the genitals only, neglecting the rest of the body.


Your comments :

  • Had you ever had information about those statistics on arousal and desire?
  • About the reasons why and the how to?
  • Had you ever thought about the physiological reasons for differences? And the social and psychological differences?
  • Have you ever had issues with those "warm-up" times and interactions?
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