My first erotic memories? Getting tickled.
Knismolagnia: Why Some People Get Turned on by Tickling
At age three, I remember shimmying into a pair of mickey mouse panties post-bath, then running around the upstairs of my parents home dodging hands, squealing, and ultimately succumbing to wills and wants of The Tickle Monster.
And as I got older, as my friends started reporting their splooge-, splendor-, and sex- filled first sexual experiences, I’d retort with complete seriousness, “Dude, I refuse to believe that that feels better than getting your back tickled.”
So last year when I learned the term “knismolagnia,” I had the same moment of recognition I had the first time I ever heard the word “queer”.
What Is Knismolagnia, Exactly?
Knismolagnia is a long complicated word for tickle fetish. Also known as knismophilia or titillagnia, Daniel Saynt, Founder & Chief Conspirator of NSFW, a private members club for sex and cannabis-positive millennials explains:
Knismolagnia can refer to someone who derives (sexual) pleasure in being tickled, watching someone else being tickled, or in being The Tickle Monster (aka tickling someone else).
Among knismophiliacs, the terms “Ler” and “Lee” are also often used to label a tickler or tickle. As are the terms “tickle top” and “tickle bottom”.
It’s generally considered a type of sensation play, and there’s often some overlap between knismolagnia and foot fetishes and armpit worship—due to these two locations being especially ticklish, according to Saynt. “People who are into squirting or piss play may also explore tickling because it's almost impossible to control yourself when you're fully engaged in a tickling session,” he says.
By definition, a fetish is sexual fixation on specific act (or object) that is absolutely necessary for someone to experience sexual gratification. So, it’s very possible that a person with knismolagnia may not be able to experience sexual pleasure without the inclusion of tickling.
However, Saynt says this is rather rare. Some people, myself included, experience knismolagnia more as a preference. Meaning, that they enjoy tickling and love when it is part of a sexual encounter, but it is not a necessary ingredient for climax and pleasure.
How Many Are Into Erotic Tickling?
Considering that research on human sexuality is still pretty limited and the Census doesn’t ask people about their sexual ~proclivities~ (which to be clear, I’m not complaining about), so there’s really no way to know how common knismolagnia—or really any kink or fetish—is.
A quick scroll through Porn Hub’s “tickle fetish” search results reveals that some videos have racked up over half-a-million views, suggesting that there definitely are people (other than me!) who are into tickling.
Saynt adds: “There is a growing portion of the BDSM community that engages in bondage and tickling.” Suggesting that there’s a number of folks who don’t necessarily identify as knismophiliacs.
Where Does Knismolagnia Come From?
Nobody really knows where a fetish comes from. “Fetishes can develop through our experiences growing up, while exploring our sexuality, generally through life, and seeing bodies and sexuality portrayed in TV, movies and other media,” explains Domme Kat, a Denver-based Domme and sadistic little brat who gets what she wants at all costs. Or any combination of those three.
Personally, I’ve been drawn to, fascinated by, and interested in being tickled for as long as I can remember.
Other folks tickling fetish may have been born when tickling was somehow introduced to their Sexy Time. For instance, your partner going down on you while watching a TV show that randomly featured a tickling scene played in the background. Or, a tickling fight with your partner leading to the best sex of your life.
Many sexperts believe it can take for a partner introducing you to an object as sexual, in order to develop a fetish around it. For instance, someone’s dating someone who has a tickling fetish, and through that person learning that they prefer when their sex life involves tickling someone else.
Why Can Tickling Be Arousing?
For me it’s pretty simple: it feels good. Being tickled ignites every single nerve ending on my body. It’s a similar though way more intense sensation, than my favorite sex toy: the Wartenburg Wheel. While I personally can’t, some knimophiliacs can orgasm from the sensation of tickling alone, whether their clothes were removed or not. Fun!
For many folks it’s about the laughter tickling induces, rather than the tickling itself, according to Domme Kat. “Laughing releasing hormones and endorphins that makes us feel good,” she says.
For others it’s about the power play. As in: I am going to tickle you until you can no longer stand it. Or, I am going to tickle you until you pee. “In some ways tickling someone is very similar to holding a Magic Wand against someone’s body and forcing them to orgasm,” Domme Kat says. Orgasm control, anyone?
Because the body's natural response to tickling is to squirm and try to get away—we want to escape that feeling because it makes us uncontrollable— often times tickling is combined with bondage. “Combining tickling with rope and blindfolds can make it a very subby experience for the person getting tickled,” says Domme Kat. That’s why sometimes erotic tickling is called tickle torture.
Why would someone want to explore tickling to the point where it feels torturous? Saynt explains: “The mix of restraint and teasing can greatly increase your release of dopamine, causing your brain to release chemicals similar to its response to threat, our fight or flight reflex." Hello, pleasure hormones!
How to Explore Erotic Tickling
If you’re interested in tickling stems from the desire to lose control, self-tickling may not have appeal to you.
However, using your own nail, a feather tickler, a Wartenberg Wheel, the tale end of a flogger, or any of the gizmos and gadgets in the KinkLab Agent Noir Electro Erotic Neon Wand Kit to explore teasing and tickling sensations is good place to start if your non-partnered.
“If you enjoy the Wartenberg wheel, you can upgrade to an electric one, which combines the classic sensation with electrostimulation” adds Saynt. “Or, experiment with an electric stimulator wand.”
If you have a partner, whether you want to be the Lee or the Ler you gotta talk to them about it! Ideally, when you’re fully and completely clothed.
This may not have been the case when you were a kid, but erotica tickling requires ongoing and enthusiastic consent from all parties involved.
Some ways you might bring it up:
- “I really love the way it feels when your tickle my back, and I think it could be really sexy to be tied down while you do that. Is that something you might enjoy?”
- “I recently read an article about erotic tickling and a sex toy called the Wartenberg wheel, and I think it’s something that could be fun to experiment with together. Would do you think?”
- “You know how we’ve been playing around with bondage? Well, I think it could be really hot to combine that with some sensation play, like tickling.”
Be prepared for your partner to have questions! You should be able to answer: What is it about tickling that turns you on? For instance, is it the laughter? Is it the losing control or “taking” control? Is it the physical sensation? Is the “torture” part?
Continue educating a partner about tickling if they aren’t sure what they’re into. But know that it should never feel like you’re trying to convince them to try it.
If your partner is interested in exploring this with you, start by negotiating what the scene is going to look (yes, even if bondage isn't going to be part of it!) like and create a safe word!
Decide: Are you going to use restraints and bondage? What body parts are on or off limits? Are they going to use their hands, a tool, or a toy to tickle you?
You might hire a Dominatrix to tickle you if you don’t have a partner, or your partner isn’t interested. Or, to teach your partner how to tickle you erotically.
Is Knismolagnia Safe?
It depends what you mean by safe. “Tickling does not require nudity, genital bashing, or bodily fluids, so there is a much much much reduced risk of STIs,” says Domme Kat.
However, “being tickled can trigger your fight or flight response, so many times someone being tickled is going to react unexpectedly,” says Saynt. “It's very common to experience surprise punches or uncontrollable kicks when tickling your partner,” he says. Prepare yourself for this by incorporating bondage into your tickle-play.
Also, make sure not to restrict airways when you're tickling, he says. “You want to make sure your partner can breathe and anything that prevents this should not be incorporated into this type of play.” Makes sense!
And as with any play: “Pay attention to your partner and listen for safe words,” says Saynt. “It's important to stop once your partner says stop in this type of play.”
Gabrielle Kassel is sex writer for brands such as Cosmo, Health, Well & Good, Shape, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @gabriellekassel.