Outercourse is a word used to describe sexual activities that do not involve penile-vaginal intercourse. It is a highly subjective term that is open to interpretation, so couples who choose to engage in outercourse should make sure that they are on the same page about which activities they want to include in (or exclude from) their sexual experiences. The following guide on outercourse can help you wrap your head around the concept.

How is outercourse defined by different people?

For some people, the word outercourse encompasses all sexual activities that are not penile-vaginal penetration. This definition of outercourse would include oral and anal sex, as well as using fingers or sex toys for vaginal penetration.

Other people define outercourse as sexual activities that do not involve any penetration of the vagina, mouth, or anus. These individuals would limit outercourse to such activities as kissing or sexual rubbing, known colloquially as “dry humping.”

Is outercourse the same as abstinence?

It can be. Much like outercourse, the definition of abstinence can vary greatly depending on who you ask. Simply put, abstinence is the practice of refraining from sex. However, for some, abstinence means forgoing all sexual activities with another person (including sexual touching or rubbing), while for others it means simply omitting penis-in-vagina penetration from their sexual experiences. Many people fall between these two definitions of abstinence and interpret it as excluding all vaginal, oral, and anal sex, but allowing for non-penetrative sexual activities like kissing, touching, massage, and sexual rubbing.

Due to the wide range of ways people understand abstinence and outercourse, the definitions of these two terms may sometimes overlap.

Which sexual activities might be included in outercourse?

The following is a list of sexual activities that might be considered outercourse, depending on your definition.

  • Kissing
  • Cuddling
  • Massage
  • Talking about sexual fantasies
  • Sexual rubbing (with clothes on)
  • Rubbing the genitals together with clothes off
  • Mutual masturbation with fingers or sex toys
  • Simulating sex with the penis between a partner’s thighs, buttocks, or breasts
  • Oral sex
  • Anal sex

Why do people practice outercourse?

People choose to practice outercourse for a variety of reasons. Some individuals find that it provides an effective way to put boundaries around sexual activities that they are not comfortable doing with their current sexual partner(s). These boundaries could be temporary or last for the entirety of the sexual relationship. Others may practice outercourse for reasons related to their religious or cultural beliefs about sex.

From a medical standpoint, outercourse is a practice that can address many issues: intimacy consistent with the duration of a relationship, intimacy that minimizes the risk of pregnancy or transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and/or intimacy that acknowledges the physical limitations of one or both partners such as sexual dysfunctions related to aging, injury, neurologic function, or cancer survivorship.

What are the benefits of outercourse?

Outercourse provides enjoyable options for couples who want to be sexually intimate, but do not wish to engage in intercourse for personal, religious, cultural, or other reasons.

Although not one hundred percent foolproof, outercourse is very effective when it comes to preventing pregnancy. By avoiding penile-vaginal penetration, couples keep the sperm contained in semen from meeting and fertilizing the egg in the female reproductive system, which is how pregnancy occurs. In some rare instances, however, pregnancy can still occur during outercourse if the male partner ejaculates near the vaginal opening and fluids accidentally enter the vagina, or if a finger or sex toy with semen on it is inserted into the vagina.

Finally, some forms of outercourse such as cuddling or sexual rubbing with clothes on can reduce the risk of spreading STIs, but it is important to note that couples still risk transmitting STIs during many outercourse activities.    

What are the drawbacks or limitations of outercourse?

The main limitation of outercourse is that its participants are not always protected from STIs and, in some cases (such as having unprotected anal sex), may even be at high risk for STIs.

STI transmission can be divided into two types: 1) transmission through bodily fluids like blood, semen, and vaginal secretions, or 2) transmission through skin-to-skin contact. Some STIs like HIV, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are only spread through bodily fluids, but people who are practicing outercourse still risk spreading these STIs when engaging in any of the sexual activities that involve coming in contact with their partner’s semen or vaginal secretions. Herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and syphilis are all spread by skin-to-skin contact, so couples risk spreading these STIs with genital-to-genital rubbing, mutual masturbation, and other outercourse activities that involve skin-to-skin contact.

To limit the risk of spreading STIs during outercourse (or intercourse), couples should use condoms and dental dams.

Is outercourse right for me?

Only you and your partner can decide what is right for your sex life together. Keeping in mind the variable definitions of abstinence and outercourse, it is a good idea to be direct about which sexual activities you would like to include in your interactions and which activities you would like to omit. Talk to your partner about your preferences for intimacy. Whether abstinence, outercourse, or penetrative sex, make sure you both respect each other’s sexual boundaries.


Boskey, E. Medically reviewed by Anita Sadaty, MD. (2020, April 13). Outercourse Sexual Activity Overview. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-outercourse-3132810.

Johnson, M.Z. Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST. (2019, March 8). Is Outercourse the Same Thing as Abstinence? And 5 Other Questions, Answered. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/outercourse.

Planned Parenthood. (2021). Abstinence and Outercourse. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/abstinence-and-outercourse.

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