Adena Bank Lees, LCSW

From Surviving to Thriving


Sensuality's Role in Great Sex

You have to feel it to enjoy it

Posted Feb 10, 2019

Source: Dreamstime

Who doesn’t want to have great sex? 

Unfortunately, great sex does not just happen on its own. My clients who are trauma survivors and in long term relationships know this all too well. So do those in recovery from various addictions. They often report sexual dissatisfaction in terms of needing to be intoxicated to enjoy sex along with being terrified of sober sex.

In order to have great sex, you have to be “there”, be present, feel it fully on all levels; physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally. This takes courage. This takes commitment. This takes clarity. 

Sensuality is the ability to perceive sensations from something that happens to or comes into contact with your body. It is the quality and skill to get you there, be present and feel it fully. It means you actively inhabit your body. Sensuality is not only sensations of a sexual nature. Think about it. Something as simple as a stroll in the park, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and quality of the air, is a sensual experience. Dr. Pat Love, author of Hot Monogamy, defines sensuality as, “The ability to be comfortable in one’s body, suspend time, and communicate through the skin.”  

Trauma survivors, especially those who have been sexually abused and/or assaulted, experience their body as an unsafe place to be. Their body has betrayed them, by responding to touch and other stimuli in ways they did not want, were ashamed of, and/or were physically painful. Residing in a body that has been traumatized consists of dealing with intense, overwhelming feelings and sensations.  Dissociation, a mental process that causes a lack of connection in a person’s memory, body, and sense of identity, is often used by survivors as a coping mechanism. They are thereby not living actively in their bodies and are cut off from healthy sensuality and sexuality. “I watched myself from the ceiling…I was somewhere else when it was happening,” are common statements I hear from clients. Wendy Maltz, in her book The Sexual Healing Journey, provides survivors with the tools to explore and communicate sexual beliefs, desires, and preferences. Specific exercises that go from non-genital, emotional/spiritual connection to genital touching while maintaining emotional/spiritual connection are also offered and have been essential for my clients’ sensuality and healthy sex life.

It is well established in the profession that a history of traumatic experience and addiction are highly correlated. Active addiction may be used intentionally and/or non-intentionally to achieve a dissociative state. Therefore, the terror of sober sex mentioned earlier, usually comes from the anticipation of having to be present and vulnerable just like that of trauma survivors who are not addicts. 

Often, partners in long term relationships who do not identify as either of the above, often report being “too busy” and “distracted” to have sensuous sex. Dr. Pat Love tells us that, “By its very nature, sensual lovemaking requires generous amounts of time.”

Courage, Commitment and Clarity contribute to sensuous sex by providing you with the ability to:

  • Walk through the fear/terror of vulnerability.
  • Face and deal with unresolved trauma.
  • Stay sober one day at a time for the long haul.
  • Discover what sensations feel good and what sensations don’t feel good.
  • Be clear about the results from this discovery.
  • Commit to the time and process of lovemaking.
  • Clearly communicate your wants, needs, likes and dislikes.

 8 Steps of Healthy Sensuality

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply, with a longer exhale than inhale. Continue this through all the remaining steps. It will help you stay present by activating the part of your nervous system that helps calm your body.  
  2. Identify emotions and the physical sensations that accompany them.
  3. Experiment with non-genital sensations. Use all of your five senses. Identify which ones you like and do not like. Keep a written list. E.g. cold air vs. warm or hot air; the feel of silk vs. cotton on your skin; the sound of different birds singing; the taste of potato chips vs. chocolate chips; the colors of nature as you take a walk outside. 
  4. Clearly communicate numbers 2 and 3 above to someone you trust such as your partner, a professional, a friend and/or a sponsor in recovery.
  5. Experiment with non-genital touch. Start doing this with yourself and then your partner. E.g. rub your hand on your arm. Use different types of touch; light, firm, deep. Keep a written list of what you like and what you don’t like.
  6. Experiment with sexual/genital touch. Do this first with yourself, and then your partner. Keep a written list of what you like and what you don’t like.
  7.  Clearly communicate numbers 5 and 6 above with your partner or someone else you trust.
  8.  Commit to at least one hour per week for sensuous touching or experiences with yourself and/or your partner.

If this all seems like a daunting task, remember to keep it simple, sweetheart (KISS). Take one step at a time. Ask for and practice receiving support. No one does this alone. You are worthy of actively inhabiting your body. It can actually become a safe place from where you get pleasure, connection and comfort.  And, last but not least, you are worthy of being made love with!


Love, P. (2012). Hot Monogamy:Essential Steps to More Passionate, Intimate Lovemaking. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Maltz, W. (2012). The Sexual Healing Journey: A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse, 3rd Edition. New York, NY: William Morrow.

Perel, E.  (2007) Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. New York, NY: Harper Paperback.