7 Ways to Get Sexy—Without Penetration

7 Ways to Get Sexy—Without Penetration

7 Ways to Get Sexy—Without Penetration

by Allison Danish, MPH

Penetrative sex isn’t always on the table. Be it because of pain, stress, chronic illness, you name it—it’s okay if your play doesn’t include penetration. In fact, there might even be some benefits to taking penetration off the menu for a bit. We talked to sex therapist extraordinaire Heather Davidson, Ed.M., M.A. of Better Being Main Line to get the scoop. 

Why Taking Penetration Off the Sexual Menu Can Be a Good Thing

As I’m sure most of us know by now, sex isn’t always a fiery, spontaneous explosion like it is on TV. It takes planning, time, and effort that starts outside of the bedroom. Even at the most exciting points in our relationships, we’re still planning what underwear we’ll wear and whether we should eat that thing with garlic in it. Plus, a lot of us feel pressure to perform—to look a certain way, sound a certain way, to last 20+ minutes, to have multiple orgasms (or orgasm at all). 

The reality is that in any long-term relationship there will be points where penetrative sex is not available.

In heterosexual relationships in particular, sex is so often seen as an inevitable tumbling towards “Penetration: The Main Event.” I remember in high school health class, I was required to rank sexual activities from least to most intimate or important—and, according to the answer key, penetrative sex was at the top. Even when penetration is an activity you really like, the pressure to have penetrative sex can be a desire killer.

So what happens when we take it off the table? 

Reset + Take Stock

Sometimes taking penetrative sex off the menu can be a great reset for couples,” says Heather Davidson. “It’s a time to focus on emotional intimacy and other enjoyable sensual activities. Couples who can take penetrative sex off the menu for periods of time are also showing their partner they can be flexible and responsive to their partner’s requests and needs. It can also highlight that the couples' connection is not primarily about penetrative sex.”

Reduce Stress

“Many people can feel extremely stressed by the pressure to have penetrative sex when they are overwhelmed with other demands (having young kids, caring for a sick parent, work-related stress, etc.). Being able to officially remove this pressure can significantly reduce stress,” Davidson says.

(S)explore!

A lot of people enjoy outercourse activities more than penetrative sex (this can be anything from kissing to oral sex)! Davidson says this is because some people “feel it’s more intimate, is more arousing, have a stronger orgasm, etc.” And, even if penetrative sex is your favorite bedroom activity, you’re likely to get bored of it if it’s the only thing you ever do. 

In her experience, Davidson says, “Couples who are more exploratory and open to trying outercourse/other sensual activities are also more likely to stumble upon new things that they enjoy. Having a range of sensual/sexual activities to engage in also is protective for couples—because the reality is that in any long-term relationship there will be points where penetrative sex is not available (stress, illness, postpartum, etc.). Couples who are already comfortable engaging in other sensual/sexual activities will continue to stay connected physically & emotionally.”

The pressure to have penetrative sex can be a desire killer.

Taking penetrative sex off the menu might even make you want to have sex more often (penetrative or otherwise!), as long as you continue to connect with your partner in sensual/sexual ways. Heather says, “Stopping all physical affection and touch typically lower desire. Sometimes I then see couples get into power struggles over who will be the one to initiate sexual contact (as both usually feel the other should be the one to do so).” 

Sounds good! So, what can we do instead of having penetrative sex?

7 Sexy Things To Do When You Don’t Want Penetration

If you’re in agreeance that penetrative sex isn’t on the table, and all partners are looking to get a little saucy, Davidson encourages couples to “simply start touching again and see where things lead.” This can be done by increasing playful touch throughout the day—hugging, kissing, booty-touchin’, sending flirtatious messages (through text, on paper, via carrier pigeon). 

But if one partner is not looking to engage sexually, then Davidson does not recommend taking this approach or trying out the sexy activities below right now. 

Without further ado, here are Heather Davidson’s 7 Sexy Things to Do When You Don’t Want Penetration:

1. Share a sensual massage 

This could be naked or clothed! Feel free to add some music, candles, lotion or oils. Experiment with asking to be massaged in particular places and specific levels of pressure or frequency.

2. Take a bath or shower together 

Rub-a-dub-duuuub. Wash each others’ bodies (omg how romantic??) or soap up and rub up on each other like a sexy little slip-n-slide. You could even introduce a nice glass of wine!

3. Mutual masturbation

Don’t knock it ‘til you try it! Give yourselves a helping hand (wink wink) and masturbate side-by-side, or put those fingers to work on your partner (and theirs on you). Play around with making eye contact or talking dirty, if you feel so inclined.

4. Oral sex

Often seen as “just foreplay,” oral sex is more than capable of being the main event itself. Play with asking for more of what feels good, less of what doesn’t feel great, and be open to trying new things if it’s feeling kind of “meh.”

5. Have phone/facetime sex 

Just make sure no one is recording… unless of course that’s part of the fun, but make sure those files go somewhere safe

6. Add some toys into outercourse play

There’s sooooo much room to explore when it comes to toys—and it can be a real blast to bring them into the bedroom with a partner. If you or your partner are feeling intimidated, just know that toys are fun additions and will never take the place of either of you. Here are some toys we really like—no penetration required: LeWand (think big and rumbly a la Hitachi Magic Wand) and Dame (from suction to hands-free vibrations)

7. Kiss ... everywhere! 

Get creative! And remember: kissing isn’t just reserved for lips—even the belly, arms, and legs are fair game. Normalize kissing bellies!

How to Communicate to Your Partner You Don’t Want Penetration

Okay, it’s great there are lots of ways to connect sexually without penetration—but how do you talk to your partner about what you want/don’t want? 

Shorter Relationships

If it’s just for the night or a short period of time, Davidson recommends focusing on “why you want to engage more in these other activities. What excites/intrigues you about these other options? Share with your partner to have them join you in this excitement/intrigue. Ask them if there is anything non-penetrative they have ever wanted to try.”

Long Term Relationships and New Relationships

If you’re in the heat of the moment, Davidson suggests you “keep things positive and tell your partner why you really want a particular outercourse activity. Later, if you're feeling like you need to give more of an explanation as to why, do so.

“If you need to take penetrative sex off the menu for a longer period of time I think it’s important to explain why, what the possible benefits are, and how you can continue to stay physically/intimately connected. Without an explanation, many partners may feel upset or insecure (about their own performance, appearance, stability of the relationship, etc.).”


At the end of the day, just know it’s okay to not want penetration—and it’s okay to ask for that from your partner. There are lots of ways we can connect, sexually or otherwise.

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