There’s no arguing that sex can be magical, euphoric, and oh-some (see what we did there). Not to mention that it’s been scientifically proven to be beneficial for your health. But the downside is when “I’m not in the mood” is added to the equation. That’s where foreplay comes in. And it’s your brain that’s the main player in the game.
What Is Foreplay?
While there’s no instruction manual for great, unforgettable sex, there are intimate activities you can do to stimulate and increase your psychological and physical sexual arousal. Our friends at Merriam-Webster defines it as, “erotic stimulation preceding sexual intercourse.”
This is foreplay.
If you’ve ever watched the TV show Friends, you might be familiar with the episode where Monica explains the erogenous zones to Chandler. As she explains, there’s a bit more to sex than making a beeline to the sweet spot. There are seven main zones, in fact, that can help get you to Pleasure Town.
The important thing is to take your time. You want to hit them all, and you want to mix them up. You gotta keep them on their toes.— Monica Geller in Friends, “The One With Phoebe’s Uterus”
Foreplay for men
Sexual excitement is less about flipping through a nude magazine or downloading porn. It’s more about building up the arousal for a longer, more pleasurable sexual experience. Here are some foreplay tips to get men ready for coitus:
- Talk dirty to him
- Tease him throughout the day
- Make a list of things you want him to do
- Surprise him with a sexy selfie
- Give him a sensual massage
Foreplay for women
There’s a reason why bookstores have a whole section dedicated to romance novels — women get turned on through mental stimulation. Here are some foreplay tips to get women ready for coitus:
- Read an erotic novel
- Take a warm, romantic bath
- Set the mood with some aromatic candles and romantic music
- Tell her your sexual fantasies (involving her!)
- Give her a sensual massage
The great thing about foreplay — emphasis on “play” — is that when you romp before you wrestle, you’ll not only discover what turns your partner on, but what gets you excited as well.
What Happens to Your Brain During Foreplay?
Foreplay has tons of benefits. Physically, it awakens your body by increasing your heart rate, dilating your blood vessels, increasing blood flow to the genital area, lubricating the vagina, and swelling up the breasts, clitoris, and penis. Emotionally, it sets your mood and boosts your pleasure.
But what goes on in your brain during foreplay?
It gets lit up like the fourth of July. Dr. Clara Clark, co-author of Mind Your Head and psychology and psychiatry editor of BrainBlogger, breaks the journey from arousal to sex down like this:
Perception and appraisal
Arousal starts with a visual stimulus — for instance, a provocative campaign ad or erotic imagery from a romance novel.
This creates high activity in the lobes of your brain, specifically the temporal (where you learn, feel and remember) and occipital (decode the visual information).
Parts of your ventromedial prefrontal cortex (the middle part of your prefrontal cortex) help judge the sexual nature of the situation and focus your brain’s attention accordingly. And because this part of your brain is also well-connected to your senses, it not only influences your sight, but also taste, smell, touch, and hearing.
The amygdala is a group of cells near the base of your brain. In a sexual situation, it helps evaluate the emotional content and since it’s associated with the motivational areas of your brain, it helps guide your sexual behavior.
Even though this component of the sexual journey is based on emotions, “it also involves the more physical feelings of pleasure that one experiences, the more turned on one becomes,” explains Dr. Clark. “This includes activations in the left somatosensory cortex that are neurally connected to the genitalia.”
Your motivation is associated with your limbic system — the part of your brain responsible for behavioral and emotional responses.
It heavily involves dopamine, a neurotransmitter more commonly known as the “happy hormone” because it — what else — makes people happy. In addition to motivation, dopamine also contributes to your alertness and focus. So you may start having thoughts, like “I wonder what they look like naked.”
This hormone plays a role in how you feel pleasure and a flood of dopamine can produce temporary feelings of euphoria.
As mentioned earlier, when it comes to sexual arousal, your emotions are correlated with your motivations. And “processing of these limbic areas is what directs behavior towards a sexual goal, which includes sexual urges, desires, and feelings of reward,” adds Dr. Clark.
What happens to your body during sexual arousal? Your heart races, your blood pressure soars, your hormones rage, and your genitals respond. These are all physiological changes when you’re feeling randy.
Parts of your brain — including the anterior cingulate cortex (has connections to both the “emotional” limbic system and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex) and hypothalamus (produces oxytocin) — are activated “to generate autonomic and hormonal responses to sexual arousal.”
Now, oxytocin is a neurotransmitter, like dopamine, and has the reputation of being the “cuddle hormone.” It makes you feel the attraction with your partner. Research has shown it plays a role in erections during sexual arousal for men as well as increasing sexual receptivity in both men and women.
So when these parts of your brain are activated during a sexual encounter, your body begins to prepare for sex. And yes, your body is controlled by your brain.
This component involves the temporal lobes, anterior cingulate cortex (which has connections to both the “emotional” limbic system and the “cognitive” prefrontal cortex), and ventromedial prefrontal cortex.
“Inhibitory processes are thought to keep us behaving appropriately and not succumbing to urges that may be unacceptable to a potential partner,” says Dr. Clark.
How Can You Unlock Your Erotic Mind?
Foreplay definitely gives your brain a warm-up before the main event, so here are some ways to help you unlock your erotic mind:
Communication — both verbal and physical — is key in every relationship, even sexual ones.
When you express your message, it can have a different meaning to different people. Lisa Nichols, author of Mindvalley’s Speak & Inspire Quest, explains that the way you deliver your message is important.
“Content and intellectual presentations are necessary,” says Lisa. “They provide information, they provide clarity, they provide direction, they provide skillset to the listener.”
So whether you’re talking dirty, sending naughty text messages, batting your eyes, or running your fingers flirtatiously through your hair, communication allows you to express what you want and need in a clear, succinct, and direct way. Plus, it eliminates the chance for miscommunication and misunderstandings.
Many of us don’t associate sex with meditation. “We sort have deified this meditation practice. We think that it should be like holy and if I’m meditating, I’m just thinking about, like monks or enlightenment or robes or caves or something,” says Emily Fletcher, author of Mindvalley’s The M Word Quest.
She explains meditation, however, gives you access to the limitless source of bliss, fulfillment, and adaptation energy to make all aspects of your life better, even your sex life.
With meditation, a few things start to happen:
- Your stress level decreases and allows you to be fully present when you go into your sexual encounters.
- You’ll be more awake and have more energy to get it on.
- You start to “access the bliss inside of you and you have more of it to give to your partner.”
- There’s an increase in your mirror neurons — neurons that respond to actions we observe in others — and so when you watch your partner having pleasure, it gives you pleasure.
We’re not talking about eggplant or cherry emojis here. But more of food innuendos, like whip cream bikini, tying a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or licking a popsicle. Plus, our brain closely relates food with sex because they both release the “happy hormone,” dopamine.
But that’s not all food does. The type of food you eat also affects your sex life.
In an interview with Vishen, John Robbins discusses the effects of plant-based foods on erections in a study done with three collegiate athletes as the test subjects.
“In all three cases, each of the three athletes, they found that they had longer erections — longer-lasting, firmer, and more frequent erections during the night [when] they ate the plant-based meal than when they ate the meat-based meal,” says the American author, who popularized the links among nutrition, environmentalism, and animal rights.
Furthermore, at the A-Fest 2018 in Sardinia, Dr. Amy Killen, anti-aging and regenerative medicine physician who specializes in sexual medicine, talks about how nitric oxide is important to your sexual health because it helps your blood vessels vasodilate, helping to increase circulation.
She says, “your sexual organs are just like any other organs in your body and they really appreciate good blood flow.” So eating foods that are high in nitrates (e.g., celery, lettuce, beetroots, etc.) can really help to get your juices flowing.
Awaken Your Power
Oh yes, foreplay can be quite rewarding. And when all the chemicals in your brain team up pre-coitus, the arousal is shakingly explosive… like when Austin Powers blew up the fembots with his striptease in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Oh, behave.
But foreplay isn’t just about the meals leading up to the main course. It’s about the experience, the journey, and how it benefits you physically, mentally, and emotionally.
So if you’re looking to find ways to be a better version of yourself so that you can be better in bed, look no further than Mindvalley. Our Quests are set up to help you — from nutrition to fitness to your mind and so much more. They are not only going to help with your well-being but with your sex life too.