Does the idea of a spanking leave you cold? Are you uninterested in the latest bondage rope materials available? Given the emphasis placed on impact play and rope bondage, you might wonder if you’re all that kinky. But just because you don’t love some of the more common types of kinky play doesn’t mean there aren’t other options for you or your partner to explore.
The Ultimate Guide to Sensation Play
Kink is what you make of it. Regardless of whether you’re in a power exchange relationship, you want to feel new (and possibly extreme) sensations, or you enjoy a little fear, you’ve got more options than bondage and impact play. Welcome to the world of sensation play. Enjoy sensation play by itself or make it part of your other kinky fun. You’re only limited by your imagination - and your limits.
Sensation and Kink
Sensation by itself isn’t necessarily kinky. Think of the soft touches from your partner while you have sex. The burn of desire between your legs. Sex is inherently sensual and good sexual energy creates sensations, hopefully all positive ones. Sensation play as a kink takes what you feel to another level, whether to a painful extreme or as part of power and control. For some people, the purpose isn’t to finish with sex, it’s simply to enjoy the sensations the play causes. Like everything else in BDSM and kink, there is no single right way to play with sensation and sensory deprivation. Here we'll take a look at some of the options available.
Sometimes forgotten in the BDSM acronym is the "D" for discipline. Often seen in power exchange relationships (think top/bottom or Dominant/submissive), discipline takes a variety of forms. In sensual play, it’s most often used to see how much a bottom or submissive can handle.
- Don’t move while you’re tickled.
- Don’t twitch during this sharp, prickly sensation.
- Allow searing cold or heat to touch your skin.
- How long can you handle the sensation?
- How intense do you want it?
Of course, limits and safety should always be a priority. If a sensation hurts in a bad way or causes real fear of damage, play should stop.
Sensation play doesn't have to hurt! Try tickle-torturing your partner with feathers using the TANTRA Feather Teaser from LELO.
The other side of showing discipline is having the power over a partner to determine what they feel and when. Like other forms of kinky play, a top or Dominant controls when, how, where, what kind, and how much sensation their partner may experience. When you have this kind of power over your partner, you decide how little they feel or how much. Is this moment about stretching limits or allowing your partner to relax?
Power over another person in kink isn’t something to be taken lightly or engaged in too soon. You need to know what your partner wants, enjoys, and is interested in. Before engaging in any kinky play it’s also extremely important to know each other’s limits and if there are any health concerns or potential triggers that must be avoided.
Loss of Control
If one side of sensation play is about power, the other side is about the loss of control. Being blindfolded or tied down (or told not to move) while your body is pricked, tickled, burned, or scratched can be the ultimate loss of control for some people. While the sensations may feel good on their own, the lack of control may be what really gets a person excited.
For those who are into it, it’s the ultimate way to (attempt to) shut down your brain. All you can do is react, feel, and experience the sensation. Giving up this much control to a partner shouldn’t be done until you’ve communicated, built trust, and know each other fairly well. You don’t have to be soul mates, but you should know the other well enough to know what they like, hate, and will try at least once.
Fear can be a form of edge play - meaning there’s potential for real harm or danger - for some kinksters. Sensation play works with fear if the bottom or submissive believes that what they’re feeling is something they’re afraid of. Extreme cold can feel like being cut. Spines and things that poke might feel like your skin will break. Warm water running down your skin might feel like blood.
The sensation may cause fear or a person may fear the unknown. Regardless of what the person fears, it can be an intoxicating way to play. Because of the potential for danger, especially with mental triggers, sensation play and fear should not be taken lightly. Anytime you play seriously with fear, you’re engaging in a more advanced form of kink. Safewords, checking in with your partner, and going slowly are only a part of playing safe with fear. Knowing and respecting your partner’s limits are also extremely important.
Safety in Sensation Play
Sensation play involves several things: extreme temperatures, pain, fear, making a partner believe something that may or may not be true, feeling overwhelmed, and wondering whether you can “handle” what’s happening. Play carefully when it comes to all of these things. Safety is important in all forms of kink, including sensation play.
- Be open and honest about limits with each other.
- Admit if something scares you.
- Have a safeword.
- If gags are involved, use a safe gesture like a snap of the fingers or drop an object to signal a problem.
- Check with your partner periodically, even if there are no obvious signs of distress.
- If your partner is unable to verbally communicate (give a color, say their safe word, or answer a question) stop playing to make sure they’re OK.
- Anytime you’re in doubt about whether they’re in distress or saying “no” when they mean “yes” - ask and/or stop.
- Do not think you’re disappointing your partner if you need to slow down or stop.
- Be honest about whether you want something to continue or not.
- You can change your mind about your limits or the type of play you’re willing to do. (So can a Dominant, by the way.)
- It’s OK to try something and realize you didn’t like it. You’re not obligated to do it again.
How to Play with Sensation
The types of sensation you play with are only limited by what you like or don’t like. Any activity that creates a feeling on your skin, in your muscles, or even in your mind is a sensation. Some types of play are considered “typical” in sensation play, but almost anything can be used in this kind of play.
Hot and Cold
How you play with temperature is limited only by your resources and imagination. The most common ways are ice cubes and hot tap water. Glass or stainless steel/metal toys are great sensation play toys. Pop one in the freezer or refrigerator to get it cold. Place another one in hot water. Place the toy or ice cube on different sensitive parts of the body for a quick reaction. Always makes sure that anything warm isn’t too hot and that ice doesn’t get stuck to the skin. A quick way to sooth extreme cold is to follow it up with a warm tongue and mouth.
Because of the potential to cause real burns, it’s best to use candles made for wax play that burn at a lower temperature. People with a lot of experience may be comfortable using regular candles, but it’s not advised. The trick to wax play is how high you hold the candle from your partner while dripping wax on them. The higher you go, the cooler the wax when it hits skin. Some people enjoy the scrape of nails or other hard edges needed to get the wax off later but you can also coat the skin in massage oil before you play to make wax removal easier. (Learn more in How to Have Fun (and Be Safe) With Wax Play.)
Tickling, something we do to small children, isn’t what a lot of people think of in kink or sex. You might want to, though. Imagine how helpless you feel when someone “attacks” your feet or sides with playful tickling. While laughter and fun should have a place in BDSM and kink, it can be rare - most people seem so serious! Tickling is one of those times when laughter is almost required. That it feeds into feelings of power and control, even fear, are like sprinkles on a kinky cake.
Originally a medical device used to test for nerve damage, at some point kinksters decided there was a much better use. Known for its long, sharp spines that rotate on a wheel as pressure is applied to the handle, the Wartenberg wheel is (among some of us) a torture device. The wheel creates the feeling of sharp pricks which can make you believe your skin is being cut. A basic Wartenberg wheel is a single row of spines but it has evolved into a bigger, better, and (depending on your perspective) meaner toy with multiple wheels and spines.
Small or big electric pulses passed through skin and muscle can create a variety of sensations depending on the part of the body and how you feel about that kind of play. Violet wands, TENS units, and other electrical toys are used from a little to a lot. The TENS unit is a medical device meant to relax muscles. When turned too high, it can cause pain or a harsh jolt. Depending on where the wand or unit is placed, it can also cause orgasms and lots of pleasure.
Soft or Scratchy
Like hot and cold, soft and scratchy can be used together to create a contrast or enjoyed independent of each other. In sensation play, though, contrast is often a big part of the control and enjoyment for either partner. While you can buy specific toys to create either a soft or scratchy feeling, it’s not always necessary. That said, there are sensation play toys of all kinds, so keep an eye out for the ones that fuel your desires.
Flower petals, soft cotton, fake fur, and silk rubbed against the body may make your partner arch like a contented cat. It can also be soothing in between hot and cold, electrical stimulation, or the scratch of fingernails.
There are different forms of “extreme” kinky play known as edge play. When discussing sensation, the most common forms are needles, knives, and blood. Each of these can be experienced on their own or in some combination. Sometimes no needles, knives, or blood are used. The top or Dominant uses toys and other items to create sensations and play on their partner’s belief in what they think is happening to them.
In other instances, needles and knives are used to cut or pierce the skin or to pretend to pierce the skin. Some kinksters enjoy blood dripping down their bodies. Others want the sharp sensation of a needle or knife breaking their skin. This is an advanced form of kink that should only be tried after establishing strong trust, learning how to play safely, understanding first aid and CPR, and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to prevent the spread of disease.
No discussion of sensation play would be complete without a mention of pain. As you’ve noticed, many forms of sensation play already discussed can cause pain. Hot candle wax, electro-stimulation, and sharp points poking into the skin may cause uncomfortable and potentially painful sensations. Sharp smacks used in impact play do too.
Pain can be a combination of sensation and impact play or it can be caused with no forceful impact to the body at all. Sometimes, though, what we think of as painful may simply be an intense feeling we’re not used to. It’s important to experiment with sensations to find what feels good to your partner, what turns them off, and what they want to do again even if it’s intense or, at times, seems unbearable. There is no single right way to process a sensation. What may feel good or soothing to me could be unbearable and painful to you.
Try giving your partner a sensual smack with LELO's SENSUA Suede Whip.
No matter what kind of sensations you play with, aftercare is a must. For some people, this involves lots of cuddles and soothing words. For others, not so much. Not everyone needs or wants this level of care when play is done.
At a minimum, a top or Dominant needs to make sure their partner is comfortable. Offer water or food. Cover your partner with a blanket if they’re cold. Help them get dressed again if they allow you to help. Make sure candle wax is cleaned off of their body and that any broken skin is cleaned and covered. Try not to leave them alone, especially if they’re incoherent.
Sensation play affects both the body and the mind. It can disrupt how your body and mind processes information until you recover. How a person reacts during and after sensation play is unique to them. What they need in terms of aftercare will differ based on how you played and what you did. Because some sensation is also edge play, it’s important to make sure they’re not in immediate need of medical care and that nothing was triggered mentally or emotionally. Take care of each other so that you can continue to be kinky together in the future.
Ready to give sensation play a try?
Sensation play is a fun way to get kinky with or without impact play or bondage. Like all other forms of kink, you can try it on a spectrum from light play with feathers to more extreme play. What matters most is that both you and your partner build a good level of communication and trust so that you understand what is allowed and what isn’t in your kinky play. Take care of each other and play safe so that you can keep trying new things and new sensations. If you experiment enough, you’ll find some kind of sensation you enjoy whether it’s soft and sensual or rough and painful - or something in between.
Professional writer, sex blogger, erotic author, sexual submissive, and kinkster, Kayla writes more than is probably healthy over at A Sexual Being and overshares about the kinky and mundane side of her BDSM relationship. Her mission: to make BDSM, specifically Dominance and submission, less scary, less weird, and much more real and attainable for anyone willing to learn more.