Sex Without Penetration, Is It Possible?

May people aren't clear about the limits when talking about if they had sex or not. Is it possible to have sex without penetration? Find out!
Sex Without Penetration, Is It Possible?
Isbelia Esther Farías López

Written and verified by the philosopher Isbelia Esther Farías López.

Last update: 26 May, 2022

Have you heard your friend tell you that she went out with a guy, they touched each other’s intimate parts, maybe even indulged in oral sex, but there was no “real” sex? It’s common for people, especially women, to think that there’s no such thing as sex without penetration.

However, it’s important to put these beliefs aside. In fact, in any type of encounter where there was oral sex, mutual masturbation, or rubbing, even if there’s no penetration, you could say that there was sex.

The belief has spread that these sexual practices are separate from the act of sex itself. In addition, some people think that it’s just foreplay.

However, these thoughts only make women attach more importance to having a penis inside their vagina, instead of the need for pleasure.

Sex without penetration does exist

Today, experts are more focused on clarifying these doubts and misconceptions that lots of men and women alike still believe.

In fact, some stores selling erotic products have also dedicated themselves to this issue. Also, they created online questionnaires so that users can analyze their sexual behaviors. This way, they can clarify what really happens when they get intimate with someone.

A seductive couple near an elevator.

As we’ve said, it’s popular to believe that sex is only about penetration. However, this type of thinking is reductionist. When we think like this, we don’t think about people who enjoy an active sex life where there are no penises.

In fact, our western culture tends to be phallocentric, and it dismisses other types of sex. According to the sexologist, psychologist and couples therapist, Ana Lombardía, there’s pressure for both women and men to include penetration in their routine. 

Therefore, she argues that:

“We feel pressure for all sexual encounters to end with a movie penetration and orgasm, but these ideas must change. Sexuality should include what we want, and when we want it, without having to adjust to specific norms.”

Clearly, these ideas come from not having a more thorough sexual education. In these cases, sex education hasn’t always prioritized women’s pleasure.

Sex is much more complex

Another ingrained idea that adds to the previous idea that you can’t have sex without penetration, is that many people still believe that we should all be heterosexual and cisgender. Of course, this is very prejudiced.

For this reason, some sexologists go against the concept of sexual foreplay since they ignore the expressiveness of true sexuality. This is because it furthers the idea that everything other than penetration is less important during intimacy. However, there are also other ways of having sex without penetration.

Lots of people think foreplay is just the initial preliminaries before you go to what’s really important, that is, penetration. For this reason, Dr. Lombardía emphasizes that:

“The only truth is that all sexual practices are complete and fulfilling on their own, whether or not there’s penetration, or whether or not it ends with an orgasm.”

Indeed, after talking to many women, some studies show that penetration isn’t their preferred activity. They think other sexual expressions are more exciting.

In addition to this, other research also confirms that not all women can have an orgasm from penetration alone. However, this is something that women don’t talk about.

You might also be interested: Low Sex Drive and Its Impact on Relationships

A woman and a man being intimate with each other.

Women can rethink

It’s worth wondering who the women are who are willing to rethink and fight for a more inclusive sexuality. It’s quite possible to recognize all of the sexual potential that our bodies hide.

This new way of looking at sexuality allows us to release all the misconceptions that make us feel like there needs to be penetration during sex.

In the same way, attending to sexuality as the complex dimension that it really is helps us to understand that communication with our partner is what matters most. Neither should we forget what we like them to do to us and what we like to do to them.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Hite, S. The Hite Report: A Nationwide Study of Female Sexuality. Canadá. 2004
  • Quilliam, S. Women on sex. 1995
  • Rutter, V. Schwartz, P: The gender of sexuality: exploring sexual possibilities. USA. 2012
  • Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C. (Jane), Arter, J., Sanders, S. A., & Dodge, B. (2018). Women’s Experiences With Genital Touching, Sexual Pleasure, and Orgasm: Results From a U.S. Probability Sample of Women Ages 18 to 94. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy44(2), 201–212.
  • Kontula O, Miettinen A. Determinants of female sexual orgasms. Socioaffect Neurosci Psychol. 2016;6:31624. Published 2016 Oct 25. doi:10.3402/snp.v6.31624

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.