Foreplay. That little word in sex has to be one of the biggest misnomers. It suggests that what comes before penetrative intercourse is not the real deal. For women, it's the main course.

Sure, intercourse is fun for people of the feminine persuasion. It feels great and it fulfils a primal urge. But it's a trick of nature that the clitoris, women's Ground Zero of orgasmic activity, has been placed outside the vagina and out of direct contact with most of the action. And therein lies the rub…(if you'll excuse the pun).

Why women need foreplay

Men need an erection to have intercourse and similarly, women's bodies need to prepare for penetration. Sufficient foreplay ensures a woman is aroused and ready for sex - the vagina balloons upwards and outwards, and it produces lubrication to reduce friction and ensure that sex is pleasurable. If she's not ready, sex may hurt - and the friction may cause tiny tears in the walls of her vagina, causing bleeding and leaving her vulnerable to infection.

Why women love foreplay

Sex for women equates with stimulation of the clitoris, whether by a tongue, finger, handy objects like vibrators, or all of these simultaneously - or by her partner's pubic bone in clitoris-friendly sex positions like The Grind. Yet just as a car engine needs to be warmed up properly in cold weather, it's best not to head straight for this little bud. The more loving attention she receives elsewhere, the more receptive she will be when the focus finally shifts to her genitals.

Early on, women tend to discover that the more foreplay they engage in, the greater the build up of sexual tension, leading to more intense orgasms. The same often applies to men - the longer he delays climaxing after repeatedly nearing the point of no return, the more explosive his release when he finally lets go. The longer foreplay lasts, the more likely women are to enjoy multiple orgasms - as can men, when using techniques to orgasm without ejaculation.

Here is a guide to great foreplay:

1. Take your time

On average, women need about 20 minutes of foreplay to go from aroused to orgasmic, whereas most guys take about three minutes. Yet this is no set rule as women's arousal levels vary on a day-to-day basis - she may take an hour to climax today after a hectic day at work, and just one minute tomorrow after a dinner and erotic movie - and how couples interact also varies greatly.

2. Start off slowly

The areas furthest away from her genitals should be focused on first. Variation in the types of stimulation keeps her interest piqued - from kisses and hot breaths, to light touching, licking and stroking. Vary sensations like temperature with an ice cube on her skin or warm tea in your mouth.

3. Caress her skin

Women love more than just hands for erotic touching, like body-to-body caresses, the mouth and tongue, or stroking and massaging with the tip of the penis. As with any type of stimulation, a general rule is to do it symmetrically - what you do to one side should more or less also be done to the other side to create a balance in stimulation.

4. Focus on less obvious spots

Paying attention to other erogenous zones like her neck, toes, inner thighs, buttocks and spine while avoiding the hot spots of breasts and genitals will have the desired effect of increasing sensitivity in and blood flow to her genitals.

5. Start outwards and work inwards

Her more obvious erogenous zones like her breasts, clitoris and vulva should be approached teasingly for greater effect. Start by stimulating the outer areas of her breasts - the underside of the breasts or her collarbone - and gently ease your way towards the peak with licks and strokes. Delight the nipples with light, feathery touches or warm lips contrasted with an ice cube. Similarly, approach her genitals from the outskirts, gradually working your way in.

6. Vary the stimulation

As the nerve endings become less sensitive with ongoing touch, variation from light to firm strokes and moving from one spot to another ensures the stimulation stays arousing.

7. Ask for feedback

Women tend to know what they love in foreplay but may be shy in asking for what they want. What they really appreciate is a lover who asks if they're enjoying the action as it progresses, with questions like “How does it feel if I do this..?” or “Would you like me to do this a little harder or softer?” Good communication and a willingness to please in bed ensures a happy lover and ultimately, great sex.

8. Practice makes orgasmic

Probably the most sure-fire way to get to know a woman sexually and lead her to repeat orgasms is to indulge in sex play without any form of penetration. Consider banishing intercourse for a week or two and engaging purely in other forms of sexual interaction (mutual oral sex, for instance) for a eye-opening experience guaranteed to broaden both your sexual horizons. And when you do resume intercourse, you'll have a renewed appreciation for the pleasures of the journey there.