Sex & Relationships

How To Have Sex Without "Having Sex"

Get ready to learn lots of new things about your body.

by Emma McGowan and Griffin Wynne
Originally Published: 
Romantic couple in bed
Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

Let’s talk about sex, shall we? Specifically, let’s talk about our definitions of “sex.” For most heterosexual people, “sex” means “penis in vagina.” Everything else — oral, anal, making out, whatever — is considered supplemental to “real” sex. Popular culture has us all brainwashed into believing not only that penis-in-vagina is the only “real” sex, but also that it’s the best sex. But there are all kinds of ways to have sex and be sexual that are just as fulfilling as p-in-v intercourse. Which is why you might want to give sex without intercourse a shot.

“People experience sex all sorts of ways: physically, emotionally and energetically, sensually or via some form of BDSM,” Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, and sex and intimacy coach tells Bustle. “The underlying commonality is that the act activates and engages (plays with) a person’s sexuality. It’s an engagement of sexual energy and a sharing of mutual sexual desire.”

As Fehr shares, “sex” can be anything that engages your *sexy feelings* like dirty talk, kissing, or even giving someone a massage. When you take into consideration the fact that so many people with vaginas have trouble orgasming, and that most of us require a lot of foreplay and stimulation in order to really get into any kind of sex, being open minded could certainly pay off. Plus, for the times when you want to have sex without a partner, learning these new masturbation techniques will help you know your body even better which will come in handy.

Kit Stubbs, Ph.D. the founder and executive director of The Effing Foundation for Sex-Positivity adds that widening your definition of what “counts” as sex makes room for more people to experience pleasure in ways that feel good for them.

“If we're not just focused on penetrative sex as The Only Real Sex, we're making space for people who are queer and/or who have disabilities,” Dr. Stubbs tells Bustle. “And we're also reducing the pressure on everyone to focus on just a few specific sex acts.”

Not only is having sex without intercourse fun, but you’ll also find that you learn a load of new things, both about yourself and your partner. For example, once you’re not so focused on putting your genitals together, you’ll discover new erotic zones on both of your bodies. Like, did you have any idea that a finger brushing the back of your partner's knee could do that before? Didn’t think so.

Now that I have you convinced that having sex without “having sex” is not only worth it but is actually going to blow your mind — here are nine ways you can do it without "doing it."

Now that I have you convinced that having sex without “having sex” is not only worth it but is actually going to blow your mind — here are nine ways you can do it without "doing it."

1. Make Out, Seriously.

Remember when you were a teenager and you could kiss for hours without ever “going to third base?” Remember how hot that was? There's just something about the build-up of making out without orgasm (or with a delayed orgasm) that's just unbeatable.

You can totally recapture some of that sexy energy as an adult by committing to just making out. Start with a "no below the waist" rule, and hold out for as long as you can. The longer you resist, the hotter it will be when you both give in.

"People sometimes forget how hot making out can be, especially if they've been in a relationship for a while," sex coach Myisha Battle tells Bustle. "Restricting sexual activity to kissing can be a fun way to pretend that you're still in that new relationship phase where you don't know exactly what's going to happen."

Battle says the best way to go about it is to be intentional AF. "Prolong the make out sesh for longer than feels normal. Extend the kissing to other parts of the face, neck and shoulders but stop there. The anticipation build-up can be incredibly fun to play with!"

2. Get Seductive

Dr. Jess O’Reilly, sexologist and host of the Mind-Blowing Oral video courses, tells Bustle that seduction can be the hottest part of sex. “As you build anticipation, pleasure heightens,” Dr. O’Reilly says. “Consider what you can do to surprise your lover.”

As Dr. O’Reilly shares, switching up your approach, location, or timing around sexy time can fill your boo with sensual feelings. “The element of surprise and unpredictability is essential to pleasure,” Dr. O’Reilly says. Maybe your surprise your partner with a massage or jump in the shower with them. Because consent is imperative, try talking to your partner beforehand about their boundaries and comfort levels.

3. Get Handsy

If the hand jobs of your teen years were dry, awkward, and under some sort of bleacher, you may feel a little resistant to bringing them back. Yet, getting intimate with your hands (and lots of lube!) can be a super sexy way to connect sexually.

Per Fehr, focusing on what you can do with your hands can send your partner into a wave-pool of pleasure

“A variety of kinds of touch acts such as: hand stimulation of genitals, genital massage, nipple play, can involve orgasm or heightened levels of arousal that create a feeling of basking in orgasmic energy,” Fehr says.

Regardless of your partner’s anatomy, it can also help to ask them to show you how they masturbate so you can understand what works for them — and what doesn’t. Finally, if you’re the one getting the hand job instead of giving it, don’t be scared to give directions! You are the focus of the show here, and it’s up to both of you to make sure that the hand job is the best it can be.

4. Go All-In For Oral

Don’t be fooled by the term “oral sex” — pleasing your partner with your mouth can certainly include your hands as well.

“For many folks, oral sex is more likely to lead to an orgasm than penetration alone,” Dr. O’Reilly. “As you explore your options, you’ll discover new experiences of pleasure for yourself and your partner.”

If your partner has a penis, you can hold the base of the shaft with your hand and stroke up and down in time with your mouth, which can move on the head and upper shaft. Don’t be shy to really get a lot of spit between your hand and the shaft, because that will make for a great lubricant.

You can also remove your hand to play with your partner’s testicles or behind. If you’re focusing primarily on the head and shaft of the penis, experiment with different pressures when you’re sucking and with flicking your tongue around the head and frenulum, which is the little divot on the underside of the head. Everyone is different, but as you get to know your partner, you’ll get to know what they like.

If your partner has a vulva and vagina, you’re also going to need to do some experimenting! Start by asking what they like or, if they’re not comfortable talking about it, apply a flicking motion to their clitoral hood. As things heat up, it can feel nice for some people if you put a finger or two inside their vagina and bend them back toward your face.

On the flip side, receiving oral gives you each the chance to be the star of the show, something that can get lost when you’re having intercourse. Don’t be afraid to give instructions — and don’t be offended when your partner instructs you.

Jerome Tisne/The Image Bank/Getty Images

5. Set A Kiss Goal

Setting a kiss goal is similar to the making-out suggestion, but instead of general making out, we’re talking only about kissing here.

Maybe it’s something like “I’m going to kiss you 200 times” or, “I’m going to kiss every inch of your body.” The goal itself is kind of arbitrary because the point is really to build up tension and explore each other’s bodies. Once that goal is set, go for it! Kiss ‘em all over! You might find you’re giggling at first, but the sexual tension will almost inevitably build as you keep going.

In addition to the build-up of sexual tension, setting a kiss goal can be a fun, light way to explore a dominant/submission dynamic. You can order your partner (or they can order you) to stay absolutely still, not touch their genitals, not touch you… You get the idea. It’s a sweet, fun way to play with that power exchange, without getting into pain, bondage, or some of the other elements that are more commonly associated with dom/sub situations. (If those elements feel good for you and your partner, go for it — just make sure to have a strong conversation to set boundaries first.)

6. Bring Sex Toys Into Play

Oh, the possibilities! Bringing toys into the bedroom is a great way to explore each other’s bodies and turn-ons without penis-in-vagina sex. And while you might just think “dildos” or “vibrators” when you hear the word “sex toys,” there are so many more options out there these days.

For example, there are toys like OhNut that help prevent pain during penetration, sex toys that can be worn as jewelry, amazing lubes, a smart vibrator that lets you track your orgasms with a graph, a range of butt plugs, and innovative vibrators that look nothing like that Rabbit you bought in college. All that to say: You got options, kid. Don’t let any preconceived notions about sex toys get in the way of your sexual pleasure and exploration.

Regardless of your anatomy, make sure the toys you’re buying are made from body-safe materials. And because there are no government regulations on what sex toys are made of a good way to do that is to shop at stores that you trust. I recommend Unbound for toys in general and Dame for cool (and cool-looking) vibrators. But definitely do your own research and go with companies that match with your own personal vibe. (Pun intended.)

7. Explore Each Other’s Whole Bodies

“Our genitals are not the only sexually-sensitive parts of our bodies,” Carol Queen, Ph.D. and staff sexologist at Good Vibrations tells Bustle. “Some people orgasm from kissing. For some, nipples are highly erotic. The entire skin is a sense organ with much erotic potential.”

As Dr. Queen shares, your entire body is capable of feeling sexy. After talking about consent and boundaries, (read: asking your partner where they don’t want to be touched), try exploring what different sensations feel like on different parts of the body. One way to really tease your partner and work up some sexual tension is by picking a body part and commit to focusing only on that, for a set amount of time. Figure out how to stimulate that body part in as many different ways as you can. You’ll be amazed at how turned on you (or your partner) can get from a place that you never thought of as erotic before.

Ultimately, the thing that makes any of these options awesome is the tease factor. When you rush right to intercourse, you leave out the one thing that makes sex extra fun: buildup! All of these awesome ways to play will without a doubt result in serious buildup of sexual tension, which you can choose to release however you see fit — intercourse or no intercourse.

8. Experiment With New Sensations

Remember the old sleepover prank of putting someone’s bra in the freezer? They were kind of on to something. Trying different sensations — hot, cold, metal, feathers, etc. — can be a super-steamy way to sexually connect without penetration.

Try rubbing an ice cube on your partner's neck or playing with some heated massage oils. See if they like feeling a feather on them or make out on satin sheets. Incorporating their whole body into the experiences makes it more immersive, and trying new sensations let you both safely explore together.

9. Dirty Talk

Sometimes you do just want to talk the talk. Dirty talk that is.

"Oftentimes, it’s not what you say but how you say it and, more importantly, how your words make your partner feel," Dr. O’Reilly previously told Bustle in 2019.

Whether you and your partner are long-distance or if you’re trying to switch things up, upping your dirty talk can be totally hot. Tell them what you want to do with them or what parts of their body you like. Create a steamy story together. Take turns listing something dirty. Whatever it is, dirty talk can bring you on the same page sexually.

And remember, as sex educator, Lola Jean, told Bustle: “Dirty talk is all about the details."


Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, and sex and intimacy coach

Kit Stubbs, Ph.D., founder and executive director of The Effing Foundation for Sex-Positivity

Myisha Battle, sex coach

Dr. Jess O’Reilly, sexologist and host of the Mind-Blowing Oral video courses

Carol Queen, Ph.D., and staff sexologist at Good Vibrations

Lola Jean, sex educator

This article was originally published on