What is Sensory Play During Sex?

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Sensuality can be a huge part of satisfying sex. Appealing to the five senses (taste, touch, smell, hearing, and vision) with smells, textures, visuals, sexy music, and more can be the key to a truly explosive sexual experience. 

Domination and submission can, for many people -- even those who consider themselves to be on the more “vanilla” end of the kinky spectrum-- add an exciting element to sexual encounters.

So what happens when you bring sensuality and domination together? You get sensory play (aka sensation play). Today we’re going to take a look at sensory play and learn a bit about what it is, how it can be used sexually, and how you can try it yourself. Read on to see what sensory play can do for your sex life!

What is Sensory Play?

Sensory play (or sensation play) is an umbrella term that applies to a wide range of activities-- both kinky and super tame --  that use physical sensation to spark sexual pleasure. Are you familiar with orgasm denial or even a forced orgasm? Sensory play can also be one of the ways to control orgasm of your partner.  That may sound funny because isn’t all sex about physical sensations that create pleasure? The difference here is that sensory play has more of a focus on individual senses and can be helpful in building up pleasurable tension and sexy anticipation.

Sensory play can involve subtle or gentle things that appeal to one’s sensuality, like candles, rose petals, silk scarf, feathers, or ice. It can also tip toward the kinkier side with whips, floggers, Wartenberg pinwheels, electrostimulation, and more to trigger sexual arousal.

The main difference between sensory play in a BDSM context is that it might involve some role-playing or restraints as well as sensations being used by a dominant partner as a punishment or reward.

What your sensory play involves is entirely up to you but know that wherever you land on the scale from “super vanilla to BDSM aficionado,” there is something (and probably several things) you can do to experiment with sensory play. 

How Is Sensory Deprivation Used During Sex?

So sensory or sensation play can definitely involve adding sensations that appeal to the senses but what about sensory deprivation play where you take one (or more) of the senses out of the equation?

That might sound daunting, but if you’ve ever used a blindfold when getting busy, you have already engaged in sensory deprivation during sex! Sight is an incredibly popular choice when it comes to sensory deprivation play because it’s both easy to disable and allows for the partner on the receiving end to let their imagination run wild while they can’t actually see what’s going on.

It can be fun to blindfold a partner and use implements of different shapes and textures to stroke your partners body. Additionally, feeding a blindfolded partner an assortment of different flavored items is a classic form of sensory play that includes sensory deprivation. Some believe that when you remove someone’s ability to see, their other senses are “heightened.” While the jury is still out on that, many reports that flavors are more intense and sensations shaper when they are blindfolded.

If you and your partner enjoy sensory deprivation, you can play with depriving each other of multiple senses -- perhaps use a blindfold while they are restrained so they can neither see nor touch-- and explore how the remaining senses change. 


How Do You Have Sensory Sex?

Employing different means to appeal to the different senses can make for awesome foreplay but it can also serve to create a richer, deeper, enhanced sexual experience. That’ sright, sensory play can make your sex even better! So, how do you do it? Great question! Let’s look at some different sensory sex techniques. I’ve broken them down based on which sense they appeal to. Check it out!


Food and sex have a relationship that goes way, way back. How far back? Well, the ancient kama sutra includes offering food to one’s partner as part of the seduction ritual! You can feed them with your fingers or present some edible delights to be eaten off the body. Chocolate and fruits are classics, but if you want to appeal to taste and not risk getting food everywhere, check out flavored lubricants. There are so many different kinds available today that you can make a veritable buffet of the slippery stuff!


Much of sex is rooted in touch anyway, so why not play with making the touch sensation a bit richer? Massage is a great place to start, and, frankly, massage often gets short-changed in our race to sex, so instead of jumping right to genitals, experiment with a gentle scalp massage or running your nails along their skin. If you want your sensations to be a bit more intense, try some impact play or electrostimulation. If you want to keep it super gentle, try using a silk scarf to gently caress your partner’s body. You can even use bedding with a variety of textures--satin and velvet can be a fun combo-- to play to the sense of touch. 


Our sense of smell is so powerful and there are so many ways you can appeal to it. From perfumes, oils, and lotions with yummy scents to scented candles or essential oil diffusers. Whether you want something sweet like vanilla, something relaxing like lavender, or something sensual like sandalwood, there are scents for just about every preference. To create your perfect vibe, experiment with different scents and different blends.


Two words: sex playlist. Make a mix that sets the mood you want. Whether it is tender and romantic, sensual with a powerful beat, or even high energy, music can go a long way to creating and maintaining your ideal mood. Apart from music, the sounds we make in bed can be hugely stimulating. Whispers, moans, sighs, and dirty talk are all part of your sensual aural tapestry so do not be afraid to make some noise.


From decor choices like using sensual colors (deep rich reds and purples are great choices) sexy low lighting, and candles to dressing up in a sexy outfit you know will drive your partner wild, there are lots of ways to create a visually stimulating atmosphere. If you really want to play with stimulating visuals, peruse some sexy images and videos together, perhaps selecting things you’d like to try together.

As you can see, you have a ton of options for incorporating sensory play into your sex life. You can mix and match and choose your favorites. Be sure to stay aware of the intensity of your sensation stimulation, though. We want to appeal to the senses, not attack them


Tools For Sensory Sex

For most sensation play, you don’t have to buy anything-- stuff ice cubes, silk scarfs, and scented candles can certainly be found in many homes. That said, there are tons of fun tools and accessories out there to choose from! Here are a couple of things you might want to consider.

  • A blindfold
  • Bondage Gear: Lightweight restraints or cuffs, possibly some rope. You have so many options
  • Texture Tools: a long feather or a bit of fur… really, anything that sounds like it would feel good against the skin.
  • Massage candles: (NOTE: massage candles melt at low temperatures making them safe for massage. Please do not try to use regular household candles for massage)
  • Lingerie or Dress Up Gear: If your visual sexual stimulation plan involves a wardrobe, there is a ton of fun stuff to choose from.
  • Bonus toys: This is where stuff like electrostimulation gear, Wartenberg wheels, floggers, whips, and more come into the picture. Look around and find the sex toy that sound good to you.


When it comes to tools and toys for sensory play, the only limits are safety and your imagination! When it’s time to play make sure you have everything you need at the ready. If you plan on using restraints or impact toys, be extra certain you have a plan for if your partner wishes to end the scene (a safeword is always a good idea) or if you need to quickly release them from restraints (have a good pair of safety shears on hand). 

Things to Remember About Sensory Sex

So sensory sex sounds like a good time, right? It absolutely can be, but there are a couple of things you want to keep in mind to make sure everyone stays safe and has fun.

Consent: As with any sexual activity, consent is vital to successful sensory play. This means checking in before you blindfold someone or feed them stuff. Not surprising a partner with the sudden appearance of a whip. Check in to see if the thing you want to play with sounds good to them, and accept their “no” graciously.

Overwhelm: For some folks, especially the sensitive among us, sensory stimulation can be overwhelming. If you or your partner becomes overwhelmed, it’s always okay to stop. It can also be helpful to focus on one sense at a time rather than taking a multifaceted approach.

Aftercare: Sensory play may not be as intense as most BDSM activities (though it absolutely can be!) but it can still be physically and emotionally exhausting. Even if you feel fine, it’s a good idea to check in with your partner after you play. A little aftercare can go a long way.

There are so many ways for us to deepen our sexual connections, improve intimacy, and enhance our sexual pleasure, and sensory play can be one of the most accessible. Additionally, for the curious, it can be an easy way to dip a toe in the BDSM waters. So, if it sounds appealing, give it a try! Even the most basic sensory play can add a whole lot of extra pleasure and satisfaction to your sex life.

If you want to explore sensory play, PinkCherry’s got a HUGE selection of adult sex toys, lube, props and more to help you appeal to all of your senses. 


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Written By: JoEllen Notte

JoEllen Notte is a writer, speaker, sex educator, and mental health advocate whose work explores the impact of depression on sex and relationships. Since 2012 she has written about sex, mental health, and how none of us are broken on her award-winning site The Redhead Bedhead as well as for Glamour, The BBC, Bitch, PsychCentral, and more. JoEllen is the author of The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, and the Conversations We Aren’t Having.