Sex therapists, couples therapists, and your friendly neighborhood blog writers all tout the same advice when it comes to improving your sex life. Figure out what you like. The advice is well intentioned – if you know what you like, you can more easily communicate that to a partner or engage in those things more frequently during solo play – but it is also deceptively simple. If you don’t know what you like, how do you find out? Pleasure exploration is a wonderful place to start.

Pleasure

As human beings, we experience pleasure on a physical as well as a psychological level. The word pleasure, as I am using it, means anything that feels good. That can include genital stimulation or orgasm, but it can also be anything that evokes a pleasant emotional state (e.g. joyful, relaxed, blissful). When you are tuned in to what makes you feel emotional or psychological pleasure, any accompanying sexual pleasure becomes that much more enjoyable. So how do we explore what brings us pleasure – both physical and otherwise?

Considerations

First, let’s cover some bases. Pleasure exploration is for anyone, of any gender or sexuality, looking to understand more about what brings them pleasure. Before engaging in this activity, however, there are important considerations to be aware of. Consider any physical sensations or emotional states that may feel triggering for you. As you read through the list of suggestions, take note of sensations or areas of the body that you want to avoid. Communicate this to a partner if necessary. Go at a pace that feels comfortable for you; there is no advantage to trying all of these things at once. Consider exploring solo or with a trusted partner.

Exploring solo gives you full control of the experience and may feel easier than exploring within the presence of another person, while exploring with a trusted partner can provide a comforting presence should you want/need someone there for support. There are also differences in sensations when you are creating the sensation yourself versus when someone else is creating that sensation for you. Lastly, always make sure you are considering safety when exploring. For example, make sure you are using a body-safe candle if exploring temperature or make sure you are not cutting off circulation if exploring pressure. There is not one right way to explore what evokes pleasure for you, and considering these factors beforehand will serve to make this activity that much more pleasurable.

Pleasure Exploration in Practice

Now, let’s talk about the process of the pleasure exploration activity. How do we explore what brings us pleasure? The most important part of pleasure exploration is to allow yourself to experience the different sensations and simply notice whether they evoke pleasurable feelings. Remember, the pleasure you feel may not be physical– it may be emotional or psychological. You may feel pleasant emotions or mental states, such as joyful, relaxed, meditative, silly, strong, clear-minded, blissful, or elated, that you’d like to incorporate into future sexual experiences. You may even find that sensations such as pain, submission, or embarrassment evoke pleasure for you, despite their negative social connotations. The beauty of an activity like this is that you get to choose what to explore. And importantly, if you don’t find pleasure in what you do decide to explore, that’s okay! The purpose of the activity is not to have a mind-blowing sexual experience, but rather to explore what elements you may (or may not) want to include in future mind-blowing sexual experiences.

And finally, let’s get into the nuts and bolts. What does pleasure exploration actually look like? The first thing to do is decide what sensations you want to explore. For brevity’s sake, we will only look at exploring our sense of touch (see the list of ideas following this paragraph), though you could easily integrate sensations of sight, smell, sound, or taste with a little bit of creativity. Next, pick a time and setting where you feel comfortable, and add elements that evoke pleasurable sensations.

Perhaps this is your bedroom or living room; perhaps there are candles lit (sight, smell) or music playing (sound); or perhaps the lights are dim (sight). And finally, let yourself explore. You can explore the sensations listed below or any other sensations you’re curious to try. Tip: It may help to rank the sensations on a 1-10 scale, where 10 is “I loved how that felt”, and 1 is “I hate how that felt”, so you can more easily remember later what things you liked best.

List of Sensations to Explore

Note: These suggestions are given assuming that there is no access to sex toys that are designed to create these sensations and are simply a means to explore.

Body Parts. Explore the below sensations on different body parts. You may explore how things feel on your back, chest, arms, legs, buttocks, neck, ears, feet, hands, face, or genitals.

Texture. Explore things that create different textures (soft, scratchy, pokey, silky) on your skin. Wrap yourself in something fuzzy or silky. Use a fork or paperclip to poke different body parts. Run a feather, a soft-bristled brush, a silk belt, and/or a scratchy rope over different body parts.

Pain. Explore things that evoke a painful sensation. Squeeze different parts of your body. Create a sharp or stingy pain by smacking different parts of your body with a paint stir stick. Create a dull or thuddy pain by thumping different parts of your body with the spine of a book. Have a partner pinch you, or pinch yourself on different areas of your body. Put a band-aid on, and rip it off slowly and/or quickly. Have your hair pulled. Tip: If you decide to explore pain, start with the lightest possible pressure or force, and if it is pleasurable for you, increase the pressure or force slowly, and only with your consent if exploring with a partner. It is always important to consider safety when playing with pain sensations.

Temperature. Explore how different temperatures make you feel. You can use an ice cube, heating pad, and/or a massage candle to play with hot and cold.

Pressure. Explore different pressure sensations (light, firm, tickly, restrained). Barely graze fingertips over different areas of your body. Explore focalized pressure by using a hand or a finger to push into different body parts. Use a feather or fingers to be tickled. Wrap rope or a soft belt around your wrists or ankles to explore the feeling of being restrained.

As a note, if you are experiencing shame at finding pleasure in certain sensations, know that you are not alone. It can be helpful to reach out to a therapist if you find these shameful feelings inhibiting you to fully experience pleasure in all its forms.

Final Thoughts

As you read over the list of suggestions, you may have noticed different feelings arise. You may have felt your cheeks blush, laughed out loud at an idea you found ridiculous, or sensed a spark of excitement. Take special notice of suggestions you felt open to or curious about. You are a complex human being, and you might find pleasure in sensations you never would have imagined. Now go play, explore, and find out what you like!

Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.