The Basics of Sensation Play? (Guide)

sensation play
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You’ve probably heard kinksters talk about sensation play, but you might be wondering what exactly it is. The term “sensation play” can refer to a wide range of activities under the BDSM umbrella, and some you might not have thought of as kinky at all!

In a nutshell: sensation play is any kind of activity that is intended to be arousing to the senses. The term is most often used to refer to things that play on the sense of touch, such as using items that cause different sensations on the skin, but that’s not the only way it can be used. Touch, taste, sight, smell, and hearing can all play a part in sensation play.

What are some things that could be classed as sensation play?

The possibilities are almost endless! Here are just a few I thought of:

  • Stroking a partner’s body with different items, such as fabrics or feathers.
  • Wartenberg pinwheels.
  • Ice play.
  • Hot wax play.
  • Tickling.
  • Scratching with fingernails or other objects (my partner loves drumming brushes for this purpose!)
  • Biting.
  • Massage with scented oils or lotions. 
  • Sensory deprivation, such as blindfolds, earplugs, or mummification.
  • Using food during play.
  • Using music during play and experimenting with how different music changes the mood of the scene.

This list is by no means exhaustive and you’ll probably think of many other examples. The great thing about sensation play is that it’s so versatile and allows for so much creativity.

Stroking!? That doesn’t sound very kinky…

There’s a misconception that, in order to count as BDSM or kink, an activity has to involve pain or otherwise be as “edgy” as possible. This simply isn’t true. Remember: the goal of BDSM is not to be the kinkiest or to be more hardcore than the next player. The only goal is for you and your partner(s) to have a great time and hopefully experience some amazing things together.

I’ll let you into a secret: some of my best scenes have been heavily based on sensation play, with no pain play involved at all.

It’s also important to note that some of the sensations described in the list above, and many others that fall under the sensation play umbrella, can be surprisingly intense. A Wartenberg pinwheel does not break the skin, but in certain areas of the body can make the bottom feel as though they are being cut. Tickling, despite being seen as harmless and playful by many, is actually an intense kink experience for many tickling fetishists… and can be an extremely hard limit for other people. 

In short, don’t assume that sensation play is by default less edgy or less kinky. The only thing that defines what “edge play” is for you is where your edges are. For some people, getting whipped until they bleed might be edge play. For others, getting blindfolded and stroked with a silk scarf might do it. There’s no hierarchy of kink and it’s all valid.

So why are people into sensation play?

Our senses are at the core of so many of the wonderful things that make life worth living! The sight of a beautiful sunset, the smell of freshly baked bread, the taste of chocolate, the feeling of a lover’s hand in ours, or the sound of a favorite song. Our senses are incredibly powerful – they’re literally how we experience the world.

They’re also at the heart of our erotic selves. Whether it’s being touched in a certain way that makes your head spin, hearing a certain piece of music that always makes you want to fuck, or smelling that perfume your partner wears that drives you wild, our senses are how our sexuality manifests itself in the physical space.

Therefore, playing with and manipulating them can be a gateway to some amazing erotic experiences.

There’s also brain chemistry at play here. The intense sensation can cause the release of endorphins. These are hormones that are responsible for dulling pain and causing feelings of pleasure or euphoria. If you’ve ever experienced an orgasmic afterglow, a runner’s high, or an intense feeling of wellbeing after eating a lot of sugary snacks, endorphins are responsible.

Contrary to popular belief, kink play does not need to cause pain in order to release endorphins. Sensation play can bring them out just as easily. Therefore, ensure that you have appropriate aftercare plans in place (more on that in a minute!)

Sensation play as power exchange

Sensation play is often neglected in power exchange dynamics (relationships where one person gives up control to the other, either temporarily or more long term) in favor of other types of play such as pain or restraint. But sensation play can actually be a powerful way to reinforce a power dynamic.

What about blindfolding your submissive partner and stroking them with different items or types of fabric, making them guess which is which (with rewards and punishments according to how well they guess.) Or how about ordering them to stay still while you run a piece of ice all over their naked body?

Sensory deprivation can also be a powerful tool if you’re playing with power. Taking away one or more of someone’s senses means they’re forced to experience the world in a different way to how they might be used to. Removing one sense can also heighten responsiveness to the others – for example, blindfolding someone can make them experience a touch more intensely. Try using blindfolds, earplugs or headphones, hoods, mittens, or pallet wrap.

Almost anything can be a tool for reinforcing your power dynamic if you think about it in the right way. Hitting your submissive isn’t the only way to have control over them, and getting tied up isn’t the only way to let someone dominate you! One of the things that draw many Dominants to their role in the first place is the ability to elicit reactions – pleasure, pain, intense emotion, or a myriad of other reactions – from their submissive partner. Sensation play is an amazing way for dominant reaction-junkies to get their fix.

Things to be cautious of…

Just because you’re playing with sensation rather than pain or bondage, doesn’t mean there aren’t things you need to be careful of. So what are some of the tripping points to watch out for when you’re dabbling in sensation play?

The first and most important is consent. You might not be hitting someone, but you still need to ensure that you have ongoing, enthusiastic consent as a minimum standard before and during play. So make sure you negotiate fully and ask your partner if anything is off the table for them. Some people find temperature play extremely uncomfortable. Others hate the loss of control that comes with being tickled. Some will be fine with being blindfolded but not want earplugs used, or vice versa. Limits are very personal and exist for many different reasons. The point is that you can’t know, so make sure you ask.

The second thing to be aware of is safety. It’s still possible for something to go wrong and cause unintended harm. So when you’re going to do a new type of sensation play, make sure you read up on it and familiarise yourself with the relevant safety protocols. For some activities (such as massages or stroking someone with a silk scarf) the risks are very low. For others (such as hot wax, Wartenberg wheels, or certain types of sensory deprivation) they can be much higher if you don’t know what you’re doing. I know of one kinkster who was permanently scarred by a hot wax play scene gone wrong. An extreme example, yes, but it happens. Forewarned is forearmed.

Emotional safety is important too. I once spoke to a bottom who was traumatized by a scene with a Wartenberg wheel, because the “cutting” sensation evoked memories of their history with self-injury.

Prepare as best you can, expect the unexpected, and be ready to handle it in the event that something does go wrong. 

You should also be aware that sensation play can still cause the bottom to go into subspace (a kind of floaty, meditative or trance-like state) even if no pain is involved. This can happen whether it was your intention or not. Make sure you discuss aftercare needs and that you set time aside to look after each other after the scene is over. Subspace can cause subdrop, so don’t forget to negotiate how you’ll handle it if that happens.

Where do I get sensation play toys?

You can buy sensation play items, from feather ticklers to Wartenberg wheels and much more, at your local fetish market, some sex shops, or from an online BDSM vendor.

However, you can also use household objects for sensation play! Feathers, ice cubes, cuts of fabric, scarves, chopsticks, knitting needles, the edge of a credit card (yes, really,) cocktail sticks, meat tenderizers, and pallet wrap are just some of the everyday objects I’ve either used or seen used as sensation play toys.

You are limited only by your imagination and by safety and hygiene concerns. It should go without saying, but please make sure that whatever you’re using is clean, especially if you’re going to be putting it anywhere near the mouth, eyes, or genital area.

There are some things you really should buy from specialist manufacturers, such as candles for wax play. Bondage candles or wax play candles are made to be body-safe and typically burn at much lower temperatures than ordinary household candles. They’re also free from any synthetic dyes or scents which can cause skin irritation or burning.

But otherwise, have fun and get creative! And don’t forget to tell us what amazing, creative ideas you come up with.

How do I build a scene around sensation play?

A sensation play session can be a scene in and of itself, and it might be all you do in a particular session. But it can also be combined with other activities.

Many people like using sensation play as a kind of foreplay. It brings all their senses online and wakes up their nerves, making them super sensitive when it’s time to have sex. Others use it as a warm-up before heavier kink play such as impact play (flogging, whipping, spanking, etc.) as it starts all those yummy endorphins flowing, making more intense or painful sensations easier to take and more pleasurable.

Sensation play also pairs amazingly with bondage. You can tie someone to the bed and apply all kinds of sensations to their body. You can add sensory deprivation to bondage, such as by blindfolding someone who is in a hogtie. You can put someone in a suspension harness and then drip hot wax on them or run ice all over their body. One amazing variation I’ve seen involved a bound submissive being used as a table for a food play scene.

Then there’s mental bondage, or “honor bondage.” This is a type of play where you don’t restrain someone, but they’re ordered to stay in a certain position (for example, with their hands above their head.) There can be a lot of fun to be had in watching them struggle to be obedient while you try to make them break their posture by inflicting various sensations on them… only to punish them when they inevitably fail (or reward them if they manage to beat you at your own game!)

In short, almost any kinky thing you enjoy doing could potentially have a sensation play angle applied to it if you wish.

There’s no right or wrong way

I say this all the time about kink topics. It’s always true but it’s never more true than when we’re talking about something as versatile and varied as sensation play. The only right way to do it is the way that’s fun and pleasurable for you and your partner.

So use your imagination, try things out, and start playing!

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