Foreplay refers to a wide variety of erotic stimulation that precedes "real" sex or sexual intercourse. However, behaviors that commonly are labeled as foreplay are pleasurable sexual activities in their own right and need not be thought of only as preliminary to other activities.

In the era of AIDS, there has been growing emphasis on sexual contact that does not lead to intercourse. Some forms of this behavior, in which orgasm occurs without inserting the penis into the vagina or any other body cavity, have been referred to as outercourse.

As part of a broader sexual interaction, foreplay is considered to be an essential component that stimulates and prepares the body and the mind/emotions to move through the phases of the sexual response cycle in preparation for orgasm.