Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Debby Herbenick Ph.D., M.P.H.

The Pleasures of Sex

Touch Me, Baby: When Skin Is the Biggest Sex Organ

How touching and being touched can enhance your sex life.

Posted May 27, 2009

Often when people think about the pleasures of sex, they think about genital arousal (e.g., erections or vaginal warmth or lubrication) or orgasm. While I certainly wouldn’t argue these, I would add that one of the most pleasurable parts of sexual intimacy is the experience of touching and being touched all over.

Decades of research have shown that human babies and many animal babies need touch not only to survive, but to thrive. Touch can have psychological effects of helping people to feel loved, happy, accepted, calm or reassured. Touch can also have biological effects, such as by helping to promote the release of oxytocin (which has often been referred to as the “bonding hormone” or the “cuddle hormone”).

In sex, we have the uncommon opportunity to touch and be touched all over our bodies. When two people take their clothes off and press their bodies against each other in a hug, while kissing or in one of many possible sexual positions, they get to experience an enormous amount of skin closeness. They may touch cheeks, lips, chests, legs, and feel their partner’s hand along their back, thighs, or stomach. There is, after all, something qualitatively different about pressing two naked chests against each other compared to two chests that have even small or moderate amounts of clothing on. Even wearing a bathing suit, a bra or underwear can feel like a barrier to intimacy compared to the experience of being exposed – physically, and often emotionally – together.

This week, I’d like to invite you to think more about the potential pleasures that lie in touching a partner or being naked together. How might you explore your bodies in ways that promote closeness, enjoyment, or excitement? Perhaps one of these suggestions will enrich your experience of sexuality this week:

  • Bathe with a partner, using a soft body wash or soap to clean each others’ bodies. Body wash or soap adds a new texture to the feel of a partner’s touch on your breasts/chest or back. Take time to notice how it feels to be washed by someone and when it’s your turn, try to wash your partner with a feeling of love or affection.
  • If you don’t feel up to sex – but suspect that deep down inside, you might be open to it – then when your partner initiates sex, suggest that you cuddle instead with as few clothes on as you’re comfortable wearing (or rather tossing aside). Spend as long as you’d like cuddling – letting your hands feel free to touch each other’s backs, hips or cheeks as you kiss.
  • During sex, try using your hands to stroke your partner’s back, cup her breasts, or grab his or her butt. Do it with tenderness or with lust.
  • After sex, try laying naked together, close – or if one of you gets uncomfortably warm after sex, try to at least touch feet and focus on what it feels like to stay connected.
  • Consider sleeping without clothes on or in your underwear, feeling the sheets against so much of your skin.
  • Set aside a few hours of nothingness and turn it into something remarkable: pack a picnic, head to the park and listen to music with one of you laying their head in the other’s lap. If you’re comfortable, kiss or make out. (Do keep your clothes on in the park, however).
  • Kiss your partner from their toes all the way to their lips. This move isn’t just for chick flicks – when done slowly and with passion, it can be an incomparably luscious experience of foreplay.
  • Massage your partner’s back while he lays face down on the bed. At times, press your breasts or chest to his back with the intent to seduce or to lie close.

These are just some ideas – surely you will think of others that will work as well if not better for you. The point is to not only try to work more touching into your intimate life and your sex life, but to learn to experience it with a mindfulness and a presence that may just bring you to tears, if you’re the sentimental type. Or at least to the point of more pleasure.

Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH is a research scientist at Indiana University, a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, and the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Her personal blog can be found at MySexProfessor.com

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