What is outercourse?

By: Louis Catania, Patient Navigator, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

What is outercourse and does it protect me from HIV?

Dry humping, pants burning 🔥, petting, frottage—all these words describe some kind of outercourse, which is just one of many ways that people have sex!

Yes, that’s right! As you may know, intercourse, AKA penetrative sex, is a thing. This involves one body part going into something (or someone 😉) else.

However, not all sex involves penetration! ⛔🍆 🌮

Outercourse is non-penetrative sex and involves all those activities we just mentioned. While outercourse usually doesn’t describe any kind of penetration, some people do consider fingers and sex toys to be outercourse, as well.

To keep it simple, we’ll be talking about activities like:

  • Touching
  • Kissing
  • Rubbing
  • Massages
  • External toy play
  • Some BDSM activities

Now, the real question: If there’s no penetration…

Is outercourse a great way to practice safe sex if you’re living with HIV?

In short: Yes, but… 🍑

You want to avoid any accidental slip-ups or slip-ins 😉, and even then, there are still a few risks—though fewer risks than during penetrative sex.

Not to worry! Naked bodies rubbing together can be a low-risk activity. Just remember that when you introduce any form of physical contact, you open the doors to possibly getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). STIs are typically passed along through blood, semen, vaginal discharge, and anal secretions. Some STIs, like HPV, MPox and Herpes, can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact too. For the nitty-gritty details, check out our article on STIs here.

To get clinical about it 🧑‍⚕, for a potential HIV exposure during outercourse, the bodily fluids of a detectable HIV-positive partner would have to touch the mucous membranes (think the inside of the anus, vagina, nose, mouth, eye, or similar moist body parts), or open wounds of an HIV-negative partner. You’d imagine that this wouldn’t happen often, right? For sure-- it’s very unlikely that the partner would come in contact with HIV in this scenario—especially if you...

Perform outercourse safely 🦺

Let’s cut to the chase-- outercourse can be a safe way to enjoy sex! The best way to keep things safe is to keep your clothes on during outercourse. We also get that telling you to keep your clothes on isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. ☕

We want to give a special mention to HPV and Herpes, because barrier methods often don’t cover everything. These can be passed along even when using condoms. Our advice? Make sure you’re getting tested regularly, regardless of whether you’re using condoms, and regardless of what sort of sex you have—outercourse included.

Are there more benefits beyond safety?

Yes, outercourse is safer, but it can also just be… better, depending on who you are. In any case, it’s a great opportunity to explore what you like, with or without a partner!

For many people, penetration isn’t the best way to achieve orgasm (you might’ve figured that out for yourself already). By simply stimulating the clitoris, nipples, or even bringing in feathers and toys, you might find a way to achieve super super-high arousal and mind-blowing orgasms. For all you know, outercourse might bring you even more pleasure than you expect!. It all just takes some preparation, such as bringing in lube during naked dry humping to lower the risk of friction or rug burn.

If you’re exploring with a partner, make sure you’re both on the same page, and set some solid boundaries before getting started.

Want to know how to keep it fun? 🎉

All that information may seem intimidating, but this is sex—it’s supposed to be fun!

How about playing around with textures, temperatures 🥶🥵, pressure, or even a light touch? It can be super intimate to bring hot packs or ice cubes into the relationship, and just plain enjoyable, too.

Vibrating toys are perfect for outercourse as well. Finding one with different intensity settings can make a massive difference (especially if you bring a blindfold into the mix 😏). Lube, massage oil, or other changes in friction are great for exploring, too!

And for those that think outercourse is too vanilla? You might just not know about all the potential out there. The sky’s the limit-- consider bringing some restraints 🔗 into the mix. Outercourse can involve as many strokes or slaps as you both feel comfortable with. Like we said earlier, light BDSM elements are a great fit for outercourse. Just make sure everyone’s on the same page and consenting to what their limits are before getting started 📄.

In the end, by learning more about you and your partner, you might even find yourselves growing closer. Outercourse isn’t just about having safer sex, it’s also an awesome new aspect of sex you might never have thought to explore.