Let’s talk about a sexy – but often misunderstood – aspect of the sexual experience: arousal.
Why misunderstood? Because we have a tendency to conflate “arousal” with “desire.” The two are related, but there’s a crucial difference: desire is a psychological wanting, but arousal is a bodily event. And to desire anything – be it a person or a piece of chocolate cake – there is always a beat between the wanting, and the satisfaction.
In fact, what gives desire its heat is a little bit of mystery, where we hope and wonder if it’ll actually happen… the “it” being anything, like sex with someone we’re attracted to. Or, eating that chocolate cake.
But where desire is about motivation, arousal is about preparation. Desire moves you to act, while arousal is your body getting you ready for whatever appealing thing is about to happen. When you’re sexually aroused, you might feel:
- Your breath quickening
- Your heart speeding up
- Your blood flowing to various erogenous zones, and those zones becoming more sensitive
Now, why is this all helpful for sex? Because once you know your arousal style, you can work with it more effectively to get in the mood for sex. You can know with more clarity, “OH, this kind of situation turns me on,” and you can then apply that knowledge to your future sexual encounters.
In truth, the science of sexual arousal is ever-evolving. But let’s take a look at five sexual arousal styles that are pretty common, to help you determine which one you (and/or your partner) are. I’ve also included quick hacks under each, to help you take each arousal style and make it an IRL sexy situation.
1. Arousal Through Conversation
This is the person who loves talking, relating, laughing together, and creating an emotional connection as their lead-in to sex. It’s important for this person to feel safe, relaxed, and like there’s been sufficient time to catch up with each other before any touching occurs. But as the conversation progresses, it could be a moment of sustained eye contact, a moment of giggling together, a moment of relating…that starts to get their juices flowing.
To hack it…
- Have a sit-down date, without a ton of outside distractions. Choose a place where you and your partner can sink in, catch up, and focus on each other.
- Ask questions, lead with curiosity, and share thoughtful responses: all ways to help someone who’s more conversational feel more connected to you.
- You can open up light, by simply asking: “tell me about your day?” Then you can progress to something more suggestive, such as: “I have a few ideas about what we can do after this. But I’d love to hear what you’re in the mood for.”
2. Arousal Through Touch
This is the person who wants to hug, brush your arm, hold hands, and make tons of skin contact as they get ready for sex. They are not physically stand-off-ish at all, and it’s the tactile connection between the two of you that causes their heart to pound.
To hack it…
- Maybe this one sounds obvious – include touch, duh – but it’s the way that touch happens, that’s important here.
- I recommend touch that creates a lil sexual tension: starting off with something more neutral or sweet, like hugs and/or a touch on the shoulder.
- As you read your partner’s body language, you can offer more suggestive touch: a kiss on the neck, touching their thigh, etc.
3. Arousal Through Visuals
This is the person who gets turned on by what they see: and that could be you looking sexy, it could be their own reflection looking sexy, it could even be a vivid fantasy. This person might also not be a bad candidate for using sexy media for arousal, like ethical porn. Within reason of course, but if you get turned on by visuals…media could be an effective “arousal runway,” as my dear friend/fellow sex educator Ian Kerner puts it.
To hack it…
- For this arousal type, I find it goes a long way to pay compliments. Something simple but sincere, like: “wow…you look super hot in that outfit.”
- You could also share a visual fantasy with your partner, like: “I love picturing you in bed, on top of me while my hands are tied.”
- Going to the trouble of getting yourself primped and dressed up can also be ideal here. Not saying you have to rent a tux/ball gown, but rather, wearing your version of polished, primped, and put-together.
4. Arousal Through Play
This is the person who’s down to role play, down for kink, down to be super exploratory – all with a playful spirit leading up to sex, with a vibe of, “I can’t wait to try this with you.” Highly imaginative and connected to fantasy, people that get turned on by play thrive when their partner is open to new experiences, in and out of the bedroom.
To hack it…
- This is the partner who may want to shake things up, with something completely out of the ordinary. For example…
- I’ve got a friend who plays “Sexy Stranger” with her husband, and one night, they met at a bar as if they were randos – but he put on a British accent. That playfulness and collaboration helped them have their best sex in years!
- You can find tons of ideas for sexual play in my recent kink episodes: You’re Kinkier Than You Think: Part 1, where we lay out the basic principles of kink and BDSM, and You’re Kinkier Than You Think: Part 2, where we walk through ways to play.
- Inspired by those episodes? Wanna stock up on kink supplies? Swing right over to Good Vibrations to getcha some.
5. Arousal Through Physical Adventure
This is the person who gets turned on by doing something heart-pounding with you: working out, hiking, getting super into their body and watching you get into yours. They feel vital and alive doing physical activity, which releases feel-good chemicals in the body…prompting them to feel sexual, as they leverage their body’s physical arousal for intimacy between the two of you.
To hack it…
- This arousal type is all about physical activity, so plan situations where you two can be active together.
- It doesn’t ALWAYS have to be something super athletic, either – it could be a walk around the neighborhood, a swim, or a short jog.
- But please don’t feel like you have to run an ultramarathon together just to have sex. The basic idea is that we’re getting our hearts pumping together.
So now you know the difference between desire and arousal, what some common sexual arousal types are, and tips for applying these types to real-life scenarios. Well done! Most people aren’t just “one” type, but a combination of a few – so have fun experimenting with each, seeing which arousal style gets you in the mood for your best sex.