Sex sells. Sex sells vacations, music, perfume, clothing, even salad dressing with both covert and overt sexual messages. Sex also sells products that will supposedly help us become sexier, such as exercise equipment. Even the medical community tries to offer us ways to be sexier and maybe have more sex.
But what about better sex?
The word “better” is relative, of course. What is good or great sex to me isn’t necessarily good or great sex to you. Let’s keep those potential differences out of this discussion because what I want to talk about is highly individualistic, personal, and literally at your fingertips and at the end of your nose—your senses, which can play a big role in sensuality. “Sensual” is defined as relating to, devoted to, or producing physical or sexual pleasure. Even the dictionary sounds sexy with that definition!
This discussion is about the impact of our senses on sexual arousal. Accessing and becoming more attuned to our senses, and then incorporating that skill into sexual experience, either with another or on your own, is often an automatic or secondary component of sexual experiences. Still, we have an incredible opportunity to put our senses at the forefront of our sexual experiences.
What the Science Says
Our senses contribute to the sexual arousal cycle. With some intention and perhaps experimentation, we can leverage what is sensual to each of us and our partners. Rachel S. Herz and Elizabeth D. Cahill (1997) found that men reported being aroused equally by visual and olfactory stimuli, while female olfactory sense was most powerful. In another study, 54% of men reported visual stimulation to be essential to their sexual arousal, while only 14% of women reported visual stimulation to be essential.
Touch is the most frequent method used to induce sexual stimulation. Skin is the largest organ in our body and has the most effective impact on sexual response. With practice, we can quiet the mind and listen to what the body is telling us about which types of touch are most arousing. We may think we know what touch is arousing based on previous experiences, but I challenge you to find new areas and methods of touch to add to your sexual experiences. As a simple example, we may recognize that having our calves massaged is pleasurable and relaxing; could this be added to your experience by asking a lover to massage your calves for the purpose of pleasure and eroticism?
The sense of taste as it relates to sexual response is a compelling but overlooked area of study. Obviously, we taste when we kiss and perform oral sex, but are we intentionally and mindfully tuning into this sense to explore a new dimension of our sexual experience? Consider this: phenylethlamine is a chemical believed to be produced during sexual acts and also released when we consume chocolate, cheese, and even salami! No wonder chocolate is a common part of Valentine’s Day—it’s sensuality in a box!
Incorporating the Senses into Daily Practice
A component of mindfulness is noticing what you are experiencing in the moment, which, of course, requires us to notice our senses. As I write this article, I am in a bustling, metropolitan coffee shop rife with opportunity for me to practice what my senses are detecting. Take a moment to practice this yourself. You may notice the lighting, the temperature of your environment, or the humming of traffic or conversation. I encourage people in therapy to sharpen their awareness to the information their senses are receiving by tuning in and detecting, just as I am asking of you.
Another daily practice is to take a moment and notice the thoughts, images, or memories each of the following words inspires. Now, no pressure here—I’m not suggesting you have to have a sexy thought, sexual image, or memory of a sexual experience. Set sex aside. Just take a breath, relax, and focus on each of the following words. Simply notice what you notice:
Do two simple practices every day to enhance your sexual experience by tuning into your sensuality:
- In everyday life, check in with your five senses. What are they detecting?
- In sexual experiences, check in with your five senses. What are they detecting?
One final thought: As a sex therapist, I am often asked, “So, how do I spice up my sex life?” It is important to keep the first steps simple, use your senses, and remember which senses you and your partner are likely to respond to most!
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Denise C. Onofrey, MA, NCC, Sexuality / Sex Therapy Topic Expert Contributor
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