Outercourse is an option for sexual activity without intercourse. It may have different meanings depending on who you ask. For some, it’s like abstinence, while for others, it’s not.

For some people, outercourse is everything except penis-in-vagina (PIV) penetration. For others, outercourse means no penetration of any kind, including fingers, sex toys, and anal sex.

Some choose outercourse as a safe sex alternative. They put boundaries around any activity that can cause pregnancy or transmit sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Your personal definition of outercourse may depend on your reasons for trying it.

Intrigued? Read on to learn more about how it works and what this might mean for you.

It might be!

Like outercourse, being abstinent can have different meanings, depending on who you ask.

Some people practice abstinence because they’re not yet ready for sexual activity. For them, being abstinent may mean no outercourse.

For others, the definitions of abstinence and outercourse can overlap.

If you think of sex as any type of penetration, for example, then sticking to sexual acts without penetration can count as abstinence.

Since the definition of outercourse varies, the activities that count as outercourse all depend on who’s practicing it.

Outercourse might include any of the following:


Don’t underestimate the power of a kiss. Making out can be a great way to build intimacy. Kissing different parts of the body can help you and your partner discover what turns you on.


Getting your massage on can be super sexy in the right circumstances. Set the scene with some candles or mood lighting, and use lubrication like hot or scented oils. Share intimate details with your partner about where you both like to get rubbed down.

Dry humping

That’s a term you might not have heard in a while. But dry humping isn’t just for teenagers. Grinding your body against your partner’s can be pleasurable at any age. You can even see how you like different positions, clothing materials, and role play for different types of pleasure.

Mutual masturbation (in some definitions)

Who knows how you like to be touched better than yourself? Masturbation doesn’t have to be a solo activity. You and your partner can masturbate together while kissing, cuddling, and showing each other what feels good.

Sex toys (in some definitions)

There’s a whole world of sex toys out there just waiting to be explored, and there’s a good chance you can find one for the type of stimulation you’re looking for.

For example, if you want genital stimulation without penetration, vibrators can target the clitoris or the head of the penis for an arousing time.

Manual stimulation (in some definitions)

You and your partner can take turns pleasuring each other with hand jobs or fingering, or pleasure each other at the same time.

Here’s one way to keep things exciting: Try various types of lubricants, like warming and cooling lubes, to see how you like different sensations along with your hand and finger play.

Oral sex (in some definitions)

Blow jobs, cunnilingus, rimming: There are many options for using your mouth on your partner’s genitals and other pleasure zones. And when your partner’s mouth is giving you oral sex, let them know what you’d like more and less of.

Anal sex (in some definitions)

Anal sex can be enjoyable for people of all genders and can involve a penis or sex toys. Your ideal sex toys for anal penetration might be different from the ones you like for other body parts, so anal play can be a chance to try out new toys.

No intercourse, no pregnancy, right? At least, that’s usually the idea if intercourse would mean PIV penetration.

It’s true that the chances of pregnancy from outercourse are pretty slim, but it isn’t impossible.

Pregnancy can happen if fluids get in the vagina, like by accidentally dripping semen on the vulva or by fingering the vagina after touching semen.

Washing hands after handling ejaculate or pre-ejaculate can help, as well as being careful about where semen ends up anytime it’s involved in your outercourse.

Another case that could result in pregnancy? Deciding in the moment that you want to have intercourse after all.

If you’re ready for it, and both you and your partner are in agreement, there’s no reason to beat yourself up about it.

But unprotected PIV sex can get you or your partner pregnant, even if it only happens once.

Just in case this happens, it’s helpful to keep protection like condoms on hand or to be on birth control.

Contracting STIs is also possible in some cases.

Anytime your outercourse includes genital contact or sexual fluids (like semen and vaginal wetness), there’s a risk of STIs.

For example, if you dry hump naked or with only underwear, the skin-to-skin contact can transfer bodily fluids even without penetration.

Oral sex, anal sex, and sharing sex toys can also pass STIs.

To reduce your risk, use protection like dental dams and condoms. Get tested regularly if you’re doing anything that might put you at risk for STIs.

Still wondering why outercourse is worth it when you could be having “real sex” instead?

Well, don’t knock it just yet. There are many situations where outercourse might be a great option.

Anyone can practice outercourse, no matter your gender, sexual orientation, or whether or not you’ve had intercourse before.

Here are some reasons a person might be interested in outercourse:

  • You don’t have protection, like if you forgot to bring condoms or take your birth control.
  • One partner doesn’t want to be penetrated or penetrate due to not feeling ready, a painful health condition, trauma, or body dysphoria.
  • You’re tracking fertility and want to avoid the risk of pregnancy on days when one partner is more likely to get pregnant.
  • You want to avoid having sex during your period or your partner’s period.
  • One partner is having a condition flare up or not feeling up for intercourse.
  • You want to understand your own body more.
  • You want to practice and learn how to ask for what you want, or learn more about your partner’s likes and dislikes.
  • You or your partner aren’t interested or ready yet for sex.
  • You’ve tried intercourse and decided you need more time before you’re ready for more.
  • You want to mix things up and try something sexual that’s not intercourse.
  • You’d like to learn how to get the most out of your foreplay leading up to intercourse.

It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that sex means one course of action: foreplay, penetration, and orgasm.

But there are many ways to enjoy sexual pleasure. Lots of people have body types, desires, and needs that go beyond traditional ideas of intercourse.

Exploring the options outside of intercourse has proven to increase sexual pleasure, even for people who practice intercourse, too.

Regardless of your reasons for practicing it, outercourse is a fun way to try new things, focus on different pleasures, and explore what sensuality really means to you.

Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer and advocate for survivors of violence, people of color, and LGBTQ+ communities. She lives with chronic illness and believes in honoring each person’s unique path to healing. Find Maisha on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.