Getting in the Zone—the Erogenous Zone, That Is
Whether you're using a feather tickler or the light stroke of your hand, "pleasure mapping" is paramount when initiating and extending foreplay. Pleasure mapping is a process of identifying erogenous zones and new types of touch. You can find your partner's not-so-obvious erogenous zones by experimenting with touch and paying attention to their moans and nonverbal cues.
"When you get turned on, your whole body becomes more sensitive than usual, so even if an area is usually pretty unresponsive during sex, like your earlobes, it might still be able to get you going under certain circumstances," said Pippa Murphy, a sex and relationship expert for the website Condoms.uk, based in the United Kingdom.
Knowing where your partner enjoys being touched (aside from their genitals, of course) increases intimacy, builds anticipation before the main event and makes your sexual experience more satisfying.
Female vs. male erogenous zones
In general, women are more sensitive to touch on the waist, stomach and belly button, and breasts and nipples. Men tend to be more sensitive on the ears, back of the knees and soles of the feet, but every person is different.
"Anywhere with a high concentration of nerve endings can be an erogenous zone," said Bailey Hanek, a sex therapist certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT), and a consultant for the Between Us Clinic, based in Deerfield Beach, Florida. "These include the ears, neck, armpits, nipples, navel and inner thighs. However, any part of the body can become an erogenous zone if stimulation of it becomes paired with arousal and pleasure."
There are more than 40 erogenous zones apart from the genitals, according to Rhiannon John, a resident sexologist at the online sex toy store BedBible.com. People often get hyper-focused on the clitoris and penis thanks to social conditioning, porn and pop culture, causing them to miss out on exploring each other's bodies for exploration's sake, which can create lots of intimate fun.
An entry-level way to begin pleasure mapping is to touch different body parts and ask your partner to rate the intensity from 1 to 10. But there are tons of other creative ways to explore.
6 ways you can experiment with erogenous zones
1. Erotic tickling
Tickling is a playful form of touch many people experience as children. When we tickle our partner and vice versa, it can evoke similar happy feelings from our childhood.
"Tickle someone softly on their earlobes or underarm area, then slowly work your way up to their neck or face," Murphy said. "This will help them relax since it's a gentle form of physical contact."
You can tickle someone's ear with your mouth by blowing or licking, too, something you may have experienced during a makeout session. This act may send shivers throughout your partner's body, which can act as a segue to more intense foreplay.
2. Intentional touching
Is there anything better than a partner touching you just to get to know your body? If your love language is physical touch, this can be a great method of foreplay.
Murphy advised starting from the top of the head and slowly working your way down.
"Stroke someone's face gently, using both hands simultaneously so that they get used to being touched by multiple parts of your body at once," she suggested. "Then move on to other areas of their body such as the arms and legs before moving on to intimate areas such as their lower back or inner thighs."
3. Temperature play
You don't have to go full-on "hot wax and blindfold" to experiment with temperature play. Start by warming your mouth with a cup of hot tea or chilling it with an ice cube before kissing and licking your partner.
"Experimenting with different temperatures can also elicit pleasure," John explained. "Try adding an ice cube to your mouth while sucking and blowing on your partner's nipples or using warm massage oil to massage your partner's feet sensually."
If your partner is up for it, you can try wax play with a soy-based candle that has body-safe essential oils. Dripping hot wax onto their sensitive areas can be thrilling, teetering the fine line between pain and pleasure.
4. Lick away
Licking someone's erogenous zones outside of an oral sex context is also a fun activity to try. Licking the different erogenous zones—inner thighs, hips, sides of the stomach and more—can build suspense and make oral sex more erotic.
Murphy suggested licking the nape and back of the neck specifically since these areas have so many nerve endings.
"As you kiss your partner, move your head slightly to the side, hold their head close and then lick," she explained. "If they breathe faster, you'll know they're enjoying it."
5. Couples dice
If you and your partner feel uncomfortable exploring each other's erogenous zones or aren't sure where to start, try making a game of it.
"If you're having difficulty being creative, consider using a board game or couples dice. Some of these games have body parts on one die and actions on the other," said David Helfand, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in Vermont specializing in couples therapy, neurofeedback and brain mapping.
You can find couples dice at your local sex shop or on popular online retailers.
6. Sexy word list
Helfand suggested another simple exercise for couples who have an idea of what they want but don't know how to talk about it:
- List as many words as you can in two separate categories: sexual acts and sex-related body parts.
- Then cross out the words you don't like, circle the ones you do like and underline the ones that are OK depending on context.
- Compare your partner's list with yours and discuss the exercise together.
"This exercise helps break the ice even if you've been married for 20 years or more," he said.
Every sexual experience is a learning experience
Whether you've been with your partner for a few weeks, months or years, every time you have sex is a chance to better understand your significant other. You're learning what makes them breathe faster, what makes their eyes roll to the back of their head and what makes them explode with pleasure.
Pleasure mapping the different erogenous zones—which, as you now know, can be anywhere—is an experiment. Look at your partner's body as a map to explore. And with experience and a lot of fun, you can begin to introduce feathers, vibrators, massage candles and other props that get both of you going.
Just remember, the important word here is "pleasure."