Outercourse Sexual Activity Overview

Outercourse is fun, but it's not entirely safe sex

Outercourse is a term that can be used to encompass a wide variety of sexual behaviors. It is often used to describe frottage, tribadism, or other types of sexual body rubbing that do not involve penetration. It can also include kissing, mutual masturbation, talking about sexual fantasies, and similar activities.

Young couple snuggling on couch
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In addition to sexual body rubbing, outercourse may also be used to describe the act of a male partner thrusting his penis to orgasm between his partner's thighs, breasts, butt cheeks, or other body parts as a simulation of intercourse. Once again, the defining factor is the lack of penetration of the vagina, mouth, or anus. This type of behavior is sometimes referred to as "dry humping."

Outercourse vs Abstinence

In some communities, outercourse can be used to describe any type of sexual act that does not involve vaginal penetration and thus carries little risk of pregnancy. In this way, outercourse is similar to abstinence. Abstinence also has variable definitions. For some people, abstinence is no sexual interaction at all. For others, it's anything that can't get you pregnant. As such, outercourse and abstinence are sometimes considered to be the same thing.

For people who define the act of outercourse solely in terms of pregnancy risk, outercourse may include the possibility of oral and/or anal sex. Most sex educators and sexuality professionals do not use the term in this manner. Similarly, most sex educators wouldn't consider abstinence to include oral and anal sex. However, some people disagree.

Benefits of Outercourse

Some people use outercourse as a way to interact sexually with someone without a risk of pregnancy. It is, indeed a very good way to do that. At least, the pregnancy risk is low as long as heterosexual couples are careful about the male partner ejaculating near the vagina. (Non-male/female couples practicing outercourse aren't at risk for pregnancy, regardless.) Indeed, for some couples who practice abstinence (until marriage or just at some stage of their relationship), outercourse is sometimes a good sexual option. Body rubbing can potentially be fun and even lead to orgasm, without violating any religious strictures. That depends on the beliefs and practices in question, of course, but it can be a pleasurable activity for people whose sexual activities are restricted for religious or other reasons.

Outercourse can also be an enjoyable activity for people who aren't worried about pregnancy or abstinent. People may enjoy body rubbing and other outercourse activities as either foreplay or the main event. Some people are not particularly interested in penetrative sex. Others enjoy outercourse for variety. It can be a fun way to interact with a partner who is new or old. Outercourse can also be a relatively safe form of sex for people who don't want to engage in a long safe-sex negotiation.

Drawbacks of Outercourse

Although body rubbing is a relatively low-risk activity, it's not completely safe sex. Outercourse can still put you at risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases that spread from skin to skin.

Outercourse can be made safer with the use of condoms or other barriers. In addition, many of the activities that fall into the category of outercourse can be done with clothing on. Even naked, however, outercourse is a relatively safe activity. Skin infections can be transmitted, but compared to vaginal, oral, or anal sex, it's pretty low risk. It's even used as a risk-reduction technique for individuals with HIV.

That said, before engaging in outercourse with a new partner, it's a good idea to negotiate your preferences and boundaries. Not everyone agrees on what outercourse is, so it's a good idea to be sure what both of you are interested in and agreeing to. Fully clothed frottage is a very different level of intimacy from simulated intercourse between the thighs, buttocks, or other body parts.

Can Outercourse Lead to Intercourse?

Some people claim that one of the drawbacks of outercourse is that it can lead to intercourse. It's true that some sexual enjoyment may lead to people wanting more. However, the idea that one activity automatically leads to another is highly problematic. It makes it seem as though people don't have any sexual agency. The truth is, even if outercourse leads you to wanting intercourse, you can choose whether or not you want to have intercourse. (That's also true if you're not having outercourse!) The idea that intercourse is a risk of outercourse also implies that outercourse can't be sexually satisfying in and of itself. It certainly can. Penetration isn't the be all end all of sexual activity. People can have fulfilling sex lives without penetration, sometimes without even taking their clothes off!

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Byers ES, Henderson J, Hobson KM. University students' definitions of sexual abstinence and having sex. Arch Sex Behav. 2009;38(5):665-74.

  2. Butler RB, Schultz JR, Forsberg AD, et al. Promoting safer sex among HIV-positive youth with haemophilia: theory, intervention, and outcome. Haemophilia. 2003;9(2):214-22.

Additional Reading

By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases.