The term frottage, from the French verb frotter (to rub), refers to sex that involves rubbing the genitals on different parts of another person's body, usually with the partners situated face to face. The practice is referred to colloquially as dry-humping.
The frotteur, a figure that populates sexological literature about sexual deviance, originally was characterized as a usually male paraphiliac (a person that exclusively relies on one atypical or extreme activity for sexual arousal and gratification) who enjoys rubbing covered or bared genitals against strangers in public places. Much of the literature, including the first appearance of the term frotteurism in the German sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis (1886), places the frotteur in crowded public places where he furtively attempts to rub himself against unknowing females. Thus, the frotteur, like many sexual deviants, functions as a figure of modernity that haunts the urban landscape and, in that sense, bears a resemblance to the twentieth-century figure of the gay male cruiser who seeks anonymous sexual activity in public spaces such as parks, alleys, and subways.
However, in its more common and contemporary sense the act of frottage is articulated most deliberately in the realm of consensual male-male sex. Frottage, or frotting, can be a sex act in itself or can be a form of foreplay. To its participants this practice may represent a safe-sex alternative to anal penetration and oral sex and explicitly refers to genital-genital rubbing or the rubbing of a penis between the thighs, in the armpits, or on the chest of a partner.
Gay male slang offers a long list of synonyms for the activity that points to the range of meaning frottage can take on in a sexual encounter or in gay male sexual culture. Also known, especially in personal ads or online, as "cock2cock," "dick2dick," and "bone2bone," frottage highlights the significance of the phallus in male-male sex. The colloquial frot, a noun that refers to the act used in frottage-centered gay male scenes, is meant to celebrate frottage as a superlative form of gay male sexual activity that emphasizes mutuality, symmetry, equality, and normative masculinity. Other slang terms, such as the metaphoric "sword fighting," "penis fencing," and "cock knocking," lend a more playful edge to the act. Additional nicknames are a gesture to homosocial spaces that may hint at tongue-in-cheek speculation about the origins of the activity, such as the "Princeton rub," the "Ivy League rub," and "Oxford style." With the references to upper-class sport and the interweaving of nostalgia for an aristocratic pre-gay world, those epithets speak to the "buddy-buddy" nuances and notions of "manly" sophistication or sexual supremacy that some men who have sex with other men may employ in their understanding of gay sex. Related sexual activities include sex wrestling, in which men engage in naked wrestling and rubbing, and cock combat, in which partners "bump dicks" to see who can make the other ejaculate first.
With regard to female-female sex, frottage more frequently is called tribadism, a term appropriated from the ancient Greek world that has come to be used to describe this specific sexual practice but also refers to lesbian sexuality in general. In medieval Islam the Arabic term for rubbing became synonymous with lesbianism.
Krafft-Ebing, Richard von. 1999. Psychopathia Sexualis: A Clinical-Forensic Study, ed. and trans. Brian King. Burbank, CA: Bloat Books. (Orig. pub. 1886.)
Love, Brenda. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.
Silverstein, Charles, and Felice Picano, eds. 2004. The Joy of Gay Sex, Revised and Expanded Third Edition. New York: HarperCollins.
Stewart, William. 1995. Cassell's Queer Companion: A Dictionary of Lesbian and Gay Life and Culture. London: Cassell.