When you think of kink and BDSM, what do you imagine? We’re guessing dark dungeons, paddles, crops, black leather, and pain-play. Scenes of spanking and paddling tend to come to mind.
But this perception is rather limiting. It doesn’t take the whole breadth of kink activities into consideration, which can leave a lot of curious would-be kinksters high and dry.
Well, guess what, sexy pals! For those who aren’t into pain-play, kink is still accessible. This is where the glorious art of sensory play — aka sensation play — comes in. “Pain never needs to be involved in sensual sensory play,” explains Dr. Celina Criss, a certified sex coach who specializes in BDSM and GSRD, or gender, sexual, and romantic diversity. “Think gentle touches, delicious flavors, delightful scents, different kinds of light, and beautiful soundtracks. The clothes we wear and the settings we create can be a big part of this sort of play.”
Kink is all about playing with power dynamics. At its core, it is when a submissive partner enthusiastically gives power to the Dominant partner. The give and take is the crux, not the whips and spankings. If we’ve whetted your appetite, keep reading.
With kink misinformation rife on the internet amid the online sexual misinformation crisis, Mashable spoke to reputable kink experts to break down the nuts and bolts of sensory play, what makes it so appealing, and how you can try it for yourself.
What is sensory play?
Sensory play = play that engages the senses.
Meaning, play involving touch, smell, taste, sound, and vision. If this sounds expansive, well, that’s because it is. “Sensory play is deliberately engaging the senses to explore pleasure. This is where we get the word sensual, it can mean nearly anything in a play context,” Criss says.
The appeal of this kind of play is that when we take away a sense — or experience intense stimulation, our brain-body connection gets stronger. It brings heightened awareness. When we experience this kind of hyper-focus, we’re flooded with positive brain chemicals like oxytocin and endorphins. When this play is sexual, it can lead to deep erotic feelings.
How sensory play can be enjoyed without pain
OK, so let’s break down where sensory play and pain play intersect. Pain-play is sensory play — because you are experiencing the pain through tactile sensation. BUT, not all sensory play is pain play. You can think of sensory play as the big umbrella term, with pain play as a subset. People can enjoy both general sensory play and pain play, or they can prefer one or the other. Sensory play goes beyond the tactile and branches into all five senses.
Don’t yuck anyone else’s yum. We’re all just trying to get nasty and enjoy ourselves.
Kink instructor Julieta Chiaramonte, tells us that, “You can enjoy pain-free sensory play with things like massaging, tickling, feeding each other fruit, blindfolding, erotic music, etc. They all play a part in[to] a larger, more sensory experience.”
It’s about curiosity and all of that delicious power play, experienced in a way that brings in sensuality. Kink and pain can work together, but it doesn’t mean they need to go together to be valid. Don’t yuck anyone else’s yum. We’re all just trying to get nasty and enjoy ourselves.
How sensory play is enjoyed
The way your sensory play scene is played out is going to depend entirely on the activities you and your partner want to try, what feels good for you, and your boundaries. Each scene is a highly negotiated, co-constructed experience. No two are perfectly alike because they are as unique as the people engaging in them.
Some examples include:
Using a blindfold to remove sight.
Covering bodies in whipped cream to be licked off.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, but it does give you a good picture of what this can look like for those who love it. It’s important to note that play such as spanking and paddling can still be done in a pain-free way. “I can’t emphasize enough that you don’t need to go hard. Light paddling and spanking can go a long way,” Zane tells us. “You really, really do not need to wallop your partner for an enhanced sexual experience.”
If you’re brand new to this play, Chiaramonte suggests creating a “storyline” for the scene. It could look something like this, for example: “Putting on a good playlist and giving your partner a massage. When done and relaxed, blindfold your partner and trail a feather across their body, feed them fruit/chocolate, and maybe run a vibrator around their body (having them tell you which spots feel best). When done with your sensory tools, you can scoop up your partner and hold them to slowly bring them back to reality.”
Are you turned on yet? We are.
Four expert-approved tips for getting started
Get started on your own.
When you’re new to any kind of play, trying it on your own can be a good way to figure out what you like (and what you don’t). Chiaramonte suggests getting a bunch of sensory tools together and experimenting. “A lot like masturbation, we can fine tune our intimate tools if we’ve already explored what we like/don’t like,” she says. Try using each one for ~10 minutes and think about what you did/did not like.
Kink needs to be fully negotiated so that each person has their desires and boundaries respected.
Discuss your desires and boundaries openly.
Once you have a clear idea of what you enjoy and don’t enjoy, you’ll be equipped to have an open and honest discussion with your partner. Kink needs to be fully negotiated so that each person has their desires and boundaries respected. Don’t forget to pick a non-sexual safe word (a word that lets your partner know you’re at a boundary). Check in with your partner occasionally to make sure everyone is enjoying themselves.
What to play with, when there are infinite choices?! Criss suggests playing with sound and sight to start. Try making a sexy playlist and using a simple blindfold. Staying simple when you’re starting out can make the play feel less overwhelming.
You can also get a massage candle, which heats up to the perfect temperature and then creates a warm, delicious oil you can pour all over your partner for a massage.
Disclaimer: This play needs to be done with care and safety. Learn how to use restraints before going wild with them. The best place to go? Chiaramonte’s rope tying and kink classes. Check them out here.
And lastly, and possibly most important: Stay curious. This play should be fun and explorative. It can be silly, hot, funny, awkward, and amazing. Be willing to lean into all the emotions it brings and enjoy yourself.