Pretty much everything psychotherapist Esther Perel says about sex, relationships, and friendships reads like gospel to me. So, when she recently shared tips for better sex with The Syndey Morning Post, I took a moment to let her comments wash over me—especially this one: “Understand: Which is the sense with which you make love the most? Is it touch? Is it sound? Is it smell? Every one of us works with multiple senses, but some of us have one we favor more than others. Sharpen it, trust it.”
This notion is revelatory to me, because I’ve never considered that a sense other than touch could take center stage in a partnered sexual experience. My surprise is exactly why sexologist and The Game of Desire author Shan Boodram says Perel’s recommendation is helpful because it provides people with creative new takes on existing language they can use to have open conversations about sex. “I think people always say ‘talk more about sex with your partner’, but it’s such a vague piece of advice,” Boodram says. “This gives people a jumping off point.”
To Boodram’s point, when looking for tips for better sex, there’s value in exploring what pleasure might mean according to all five senses—and that’s exactly what you’ll find below.
“We think of touch in a really straightforward way, and people’s goals tend to be the main erogenous zones,” Boodram says. “The joy of touch, however, is the entire experience, and so not only should you play with different body parts, you can also play with different materials (feathers, coconut oil, etc.).” Our nerve endings, she says, like to be surprised, which is why it’s great to keep them guessing by making sure to explore unexpected spots in unexpected ways.
“We think of touch in a really straightforward way. The joy of touch, however, is the entire experience, and so not only should you play with different body parts, you can also play with different materials.” —Shan Boodram, sexologist
Andrea Barrica, sex educator and founder of online sex-education platform O.School, recommends setting a timer for 10 minutes and to try new things during that time. This, she says, creates a “safe container” for exploration. “At the end of the timer, just have a little feedback session.’” she advises. “So often people are scared to try new things…so setting a timer to experiment with things is really helpful.”
You can also create a list of nonsexual things that bring you pleasure to use for inspiration in the bedroom, says Barrica. “For example, I love getting my hair blown dry. It’s a sensation that I feel is really pleasurable, and maybe for someone else it’s listening to music or touching a fabric like velvet or silk.” Knowing she gets pleasure from the blow-dry experience can spark ideas for new experiences to try in the bedroom.
The first and perhaps most obvious strategy Boodram suggests regarding tips for better sex and pleasure via sight is watching porn. “It’s this unlimited library of different representations of sexuality and sexual expression, and if you get turned on by certain kinds of images you see there, you can weave them into the bedroom,” she says. “You can also use it to talk about what you want to see your partner do.”
Boodram also recommends playing with a projector in the bedroom, noting that projected images don’t need to be pornographic. Not your thing, or you simply don’t have a projector? Try playing around with lighting instead. “One of the great inventions of our times is the Philips Hue lights bulb, because you can change the color of the bulb,” she says. “Color psychology says that colors bring out certain emotions in us, so you can really play with that in the bedroom at a really low cost.”
Costuming may also be a visual turn on, says Barrica, and invoking this notion may simply involve asking your partner to grow out their hair or wear a certain flannel shirt you like. But if you’ll feel turned on by seeing your partner dressed up a certain way for a sexual situation, she says to communicate that. “Just verbally sharing that is the first step, because it might be enough to get both people turned on. Or the information might stir in the other person a feeling of, ‘I would actually enjoy doing that,’” she says.
“Our olfactory system holds more ability to reference memories than anything else, so smells can bring us to a safe space, or they could bring us to a primal space—smells are just a really strong communicator,” Boodram says.
“Our olfactory system holds more ability to reference memories than anything else, so smells can bring us to a safe space, or they could bring us to a primal space—smells are just a really strong communicator.” —Boodram
For example, Boodram says men often tell her that they like the smell of armpits. She, meanwhile, is into “the smell of someone’s day on their genitals.” Perhaps these primal-leaning scents don’t do it for you, and you prefer the smell of fresh laundry—not because it’s inherently sexual but because it makes you feel safe. As another example, sugary sweets may bring someone back to a joyful place in life and therefore may enhance joy in a sexual experience. “It’s kind of a mix of what turns you on, what makes you just feel safe, relaxed, and stress-free, and also what takes your mind to a place of joy and comfort,” she says. And, as Barrica points out, scents tied to memories can be a powerful supplement to any costuming initiatives.
“You might want to have a conversation with your partner about what [hygiene] things they do that turn you on (or, don’t),” Boodram says, noting that some people like what Samantha Jones famously coined as “funky spunk,” and others might be into the taste of sweaty, salty skin.
Then there’s the option to incorporate sweet substances into the bedroom, like whipped cream, syrups, and cornstarch (which Boodram says is less sticky on the sheets). Others might be interested in experimenting with certain foods they find to be erotic.
Sounds in the bedroom can include everything from moans and dirty talk to music and beyond. Since options abound with this sense (as well as all the others), as always, communicating boundaries is key. Neither you nor your partner should feel obligated to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable just because it turns the other person on.
Ultimately, the key to discovery around what you authentically enjoy for each of your five senses is mindfulness and being aware in the moment of your response to stimuli. “When you are in authentic expression of yourself and in celebration of your senses based on what you want in that moment, sex never gets boring,” Boodram says.
Want more tips for better sex? Sexpert Lila Darville shares five ways to try something new in bed. Plus, find answers here to the dirtiest dozen sex questions you’ve been too shy to ask.