Too often, when we think of sex, we think of penetration. But sex doesn’t have to include penetration — plenty of people prefer sex without it! And even if you do enjoy penetration during sex, spending some time and energy on relishing the non-penetrative parts of sex can make the whole sexual experience more enjoyable for you and your partner (or partners).
“When we hyper-focus on the penetrative act, we’re leaving so many people behind, and we’re also leaving out so much room for what pleasure can look like during the experience as well,” says Cameron Glover, sex educator and host of the podcast Sex Ed In Color. “I think it’s super important that more people talk about sex as an all-encompassing experience and not just hyperfocus on penis-in-an-orifice.”
We talked to sex educators about some non-penetrative sex moves you can try, and added a few of our own.
Give your partner a sensual massage — feel free to add massage oils, special massage candles (or just normal candles), and the type of sexy touches they wouldn't get at a spa.
“I think mutual masturbation gets a really bad rap, but it can be so hot,” Glover says. “It can be really pleasurable and a fun experience to try.” She adds that, for folks who are in a relationship and want to try something new, this can be a fun way to try to experiment without going outside of their comfort zone.
Bonus: Mutual masturbation reduces STI transmission, and it’s totally free. “You can do it with your hands, which I think are an underutilized sex toy and tool,” Glover says. You can, of course, use a sex toy if you want to, and lube is always a good idea. “I always advocate for more lube for everything,” she adds.
Using Your Hands
“A lot of really pleasurable non-penetrative sex moves are just good old fashioned things like kissing or hand jobs,” wellness and culture writer Tiffany Lashai Curtis says. Along with hand jobs, clitoral stimulation (aka fingering without vaginal penetration) falls under this category, too.
The “long lost art” of dry humping can be really hot. Begin with making out, and then rub your genitals against your partner’s body in any way that feels good.
Using A Vibrator
Yes, you can use a vibrator without penetration. “Two must-haves that I'd recommend are lube and a vibrator,” Curtis says. “Lube is always a good idea, but it can provide more slip for a partner to run their fingers or a sex toy across a clitoris. If the sex you're having is with a penis, lube can make it easier to do something like stimulate a penis by rubbing it in-between breasts.”
She adds, “A vibrator is perfect for providing non-penetrative pleasure by running it all along the body, but a recent favorite of mine has been to take a powerful vibrator like a wand massager and place it in between a partner's genitals and mine (it can be done through underwear if a clitoris or penis is sensitive to vibration). It makes a classic activity like dry humping a lot more interesting if penetration isn't on the menu.”
“Technically, oral sex, either cunnilingus or fellatio, does not have to be penetrative,” says sexologist Tanya M. Bass, MS, MEd, CSE, CHES. “Licking, touching, and using genital-safe items on the shaft, corona (head), or frenulum of the penis can be as satisfying as placing the penis in the mouth. Additionally, touching, licking, and using genital-safe items on the labia, clitoris, and around the vaginal opening can also be pleasurable and would not require vaginal penetration."
A lot of people love having their nipples stimulated. You can lick, suck, or gently bite your partner's nipples, touch or pinch them, or even use a sex toy on them. There are nipple-specific sex toys out there, like nipple clamps, but you can also use a vibrator on the nipples. Some people can even have a "nipplegasm" from nipple stimulation alone.
Bass adds that playing with the senses can be a very sexy activity, especially if you add a blindfold. “Blindfolded (with consent) massage, wax/candle play, or use of scented oils and creams on the skin while music plays can all be intimate and sensual,” she says. “Eating, sharing food, and feeding another person can also become erotic when the intention is to connect.” You can also try temperature play, or experiment with feathers or floggers.
Along with sensory play, there are many kinds of kinky activities that don’t involve penetration — spanking, bondage or rope play, humiliation play, role play, or any kind of exchange of power dynamics. These activities don’t need to involve penetration. As always, you’ll want to discuss the scene and choose a safe word with your partner before beginning.
Non-penetrative sex doesn't have to fit neatly into one of these categories to feel good. "It's really about getting creative," Glover says, suggesting that you sit down by yourself or with a partner and think about all the sexual things you'd like to try that don't involve penetration. You be surprised with how many sexual experiences non-penetrative sex can encompass — and how good it can feel.