10 sexual Senses

B ECAUSE they so keenly want to share everything, lovers imagine that their senses are identical—that they feel the same silk, see the same rainbow, smell the same rose, taste the same wine, hear the same tango. But even though the senses of men and women work in similar ways, there are differences in how the sexes interpret what they feel, see, smell, taste and hear. This may be very significant when it comes to lovemaking.

What we find erotic varies widely among individuals. It can take some exploration to find out what truly excites you and your partner, because during sex there are not five senses at work, but ten. “When people are “making love” , there are two minds in the bed,” says David A. Schnarch, a psychologist and sex and marital therapist in New Orleans. “A sensation has to work for both.”

Exploring what truly delights your senses and your partner’s can greatly enhance pleasure. “Most people think sex equals intercourse and don’t have a concept of sensuality at all,” says Faye Heller, a certified sex therapist at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan. “If you don’t know your own body, you can’t communicate to someone else what you like and don’t like.”

Here, then, is a guide to the ten sexual senses—both yours and your mate’s.


The more nerve endings and blood vessels in an area of the body, the greater its potential for sexual stimulation. “Feeling does not take place in the topmost layer of the skin but in the second layer,” says Diane Ackerman in A History of the Senses. “This is why safe-crackers are sometimes shown sanding their fingertips.”

The genitals, ear lobes, mouth, breasts, buttocks and inner thighs are obviously erotic areas for most people. But the neck, palms, feet and stomach are also hot spots for many. More men than women consider their thighs an erogenous zone, according to Richard A. Maier, author of Human Sexuality in Perspective. Thehe sequence of touch can also have a powerful erotic effect. Generally it’s most erotic to start by caressing the least sensitive places on the body, working toward the most sensitive. Starting immediately with the most sensitive areas may be a turnoff.

There are differences in the way men and women like to be touched, report Anne Moir and David Jessel in their book Brain Sex. Women seem far more sensitive to pressure on the skin. Although they don’t take longer than men to become very aroused, as is widely believed, many prefer a gentler touch at first because of this greater sensitivity. But since people usually touch their lover the way they like to be touched, you may need to show your partner exactly how much pressure you want.

The intention behind a touch may be the most important element of all, experts say. “When we feel aroused by touch, it’s because we’re able to read our lover’s desire,” says Schnarch. “Our ability to read another person’s erotic message is so powerful that if a man simply looks at a woman with clear sexual intent, she can feel touched by him. But empty touch doesn’t arouse anyone. You can’t simply stroke a man or woman on the inner thigh and expect fireworks.”


 According to conventional wisdom, men are more aroused by visual stimulation than women are. This may explain why a man might prefer to have the lights on during sex-so he can see his mate better—-while a woman may like dim light or none at all. Women can be just as responsive to erotic images, however, when they permit themselves to be. “Women have the same kind of arousal from looking at an attractive man as males do from looking at women, but they’re conditioned not to admit it,” says Heller. “That’s changing, though. Women are now getting much freer about it.”

Even the color of your bedroom or nightclothes can affect pleasure. On this, men and women agree. In a study at Loyola University in New Orleans, both sexes thought that the most erotic colors (from most to least) were red-orange, dark blue, violet, black, yellow, green, brown and gray. The only color rated differently was green, which women found sexier than men did. As powerful an erotic stimulant as vision is, though, we often make the mistake of not using our eyes when we make love. Many people are inhibited by their dissatisfaction with their bodies. Women may think their breasts are too small, their thighs too big. Men have similar fears about their penis or the thickness of their hair. We’re so self-conscious that it’s hard for us to believe someone could be turned on by us. “A lot of people miss out on pleasure by avoiding eye contact during sex,” says Schnarch. “It’s one thing to watch your partner during sex and another to see your partner watching you back. When that happens, the connection is much more intense.”


 Each of us has an odor, formed by the combination of bacteria on our skin, that’s as unique as our fingerprints. The way someone smells has a lot to do with how attractive we find that person. In one survey, 71 percent of men and women rated smell as a very big turn-on. Nearly a third of the women believed that sexy men had a stronger smell than other men. More than half associated sexiness with a musky scent, which is used as the foundation of many perfumes and colognes . One in four thought spicy odors were titillating.

Women seem to have a much better sense of smell than men do. “They can smell a mild sweat from three feet, and are more sensitive to exaltolide, a compound like men’s sexual musk,” writes Helen Fisher, an anthropologist and the author ofAnatomy of Love. “During ovulation they can smell even more acutely.”      Musk-like odors arc produced in humans by glands around the genitalia and under the arms. In the animal kingdom, scented compounds called pheromones play a crucial role in mating—-they attract males to fertile females.

it’s not the same with humans. Catching a whiff of your partner may not plunge you into full lust. But your partner’s scent is a critical part of the sexual experience. We’re such an antiseptic society that we try to wash away all body odors,’ says Schnarch. “But then you don’t give the natural scent a chance to work.” Bad smells, of course, can be a powerful turnoff, especially for women’s more sensitive noses. The trick is to combine cleanliness with an appreciation of the natural scents of your lover’s body.


 Our taste buds, about 10,000 in all, are grouped on our tongues by the kind of taste

they are able to sense; bitter at the back, sweet at the tip, sour on the sides. The only taste we can perceive from almost any part of the tongue is salt. This may be a good thing, too, since the human skin, even when squeaky clean, tastes mildly salty. There appears to be a slight difference between men and women in their preference for salt. Men seem to enjoy salty flavors more. According to Moir and Jessel in Brain Sex, “Women are more sensitive to bitter flavors and also like higher concentrations of sweetness. But despite the apparent differences between men’s and women’s ability to taste certain flavors, what’s important to almost everyone during sex is the absence of unpleasant tastes. Most of us have a strong preference for a freshly bathed partner. And even though sweat in movies and advertising is thought to communicate sexiness, not many people would choose to make love right after a set of tennis or a morning spent mowing the lawn.

Instead, it is a clean taste in the mouth and elsewhere that is erotic for most of us. Heavy deodorants and perfumes can sometimes be sexual turnoffs. You may need them when you go out to a romantic sup per, but not in bed. Probably the best, most erotic way to sweeten your mouth is to suck on a clove or a mint leaf. Either will freshen your mouth almost immediately and give it a wonderfully clean, natural taste.


 The first sound you hear is your mother’s heartbeat, and for the rest of your life you feel loved when you hear that steady rhythm. Lovers often listen to each other’s hearts. Much of Shakespeare’s romantic poetry is written in iambic pentameter, which, literary critics have pointed out, echoes that wonderful da-dum beat.

But whether we find other sounds sexy varies widely. Some people like romantic ballads; for others, a tango fires the blood. As with smell, women seem to have a keener sense of hearing than men do, particularly with respect to noticing slight changes in volume, so they may prefer softer music, while their partner may like something with a hard, driving beat. “Some couples find that putting on music and having sex in tempo with it gives them the same sense of roticconnection that dancing does. Others find it a tremendous distraction,” says Schnarch. Sounds of pleasure during sex can also be very erotic---if we let them. “But many people are inhibited about making noise in bed, and as a result miss out on some-thing that can really enhance their pleasure and their partner’s,” says Schnarch. Keep in mind, though, that circumstances also have an effect on what we find erotic. If you want your partner to say “I love you” in bed, and instead he’s being more graphic, you’re more likely to get angry than turned on.

EVEN AFTER YOU LEARN to tune in to your sexual senses and those of your partner, it’s essential not to become too great a creature of habit. The most import-ant aspect of lovemaking is that we’re all different in our responses, and even the same person’s sensations can vary from day to day. “One cannot approach another person in a mechanical, push-button manner and expect to elicit automatic arousal,” writes Dr. Herant Katchadourian in Fundamentals of Human Sexuality. As he points out, good lovers explore the unique erogenous responses of their partners each and every time they make love.


                                                               REDBOOK Magazine, March ‘94

                                                                        Copyright @ 1994 by: W. W. Meade

                                                                                            224 West 57th Street,

                                                                                            New York, N. Y. 10019

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