Sensual Snuggles & The Importance of Touch

Baby, it’s cold outside, and the holiday season is upon us whether you like it or not. This is the time of year where we’re expected to uphold holiday cheer, nestle in with our sweeties by the fire, and travel for hours to be with family. It’s also full of stress, family drama and other problems that pop up around this time that can be amplified due to the season. For me, this time of year is hard. My family is spread throughout the world, travel takes its toll on my productivity, and while I love tiny baby family members, I am invariably left with head colds. Truly though, I love this time of year. It’s one of the few times where family gets together, meals are more likely to be home-made, and dinner around the table (maybe without the TV on!) are important components. Those are values I cherish, and I appreciate how tradition can aid reflection on lifestyle choices. Regardless of how you feel about the American Holiday Season (or if they’re even a holiday you ascribe to), we can all get down with the idea of making emotional connections with a sweetie in your life.

There are amazing resources out there filled with tips, tricks and ways to get creative in the bedroom, but for now I want to hone in on another element in sexual expression and sense of sexuality: touch, sensuality, and the good ol’ fashioned make-out session. Remember those?

I’m going to generalize for a second. In general, I think most romances (whether it be the 1-night-stand, official date activities or some other definition) have a period of appreciation for kissing, hugging, and touch (sensual or no). Over time, if this isn’t incorporated as a part of your relationship habits, you may be weeks/months/years down the line with this person you cherish and it can generate feeling emotionally and physically distant. That’s why this time of year is perfect for trying something new or rekindling that spark of touch you might not have explored in awhile!

Let me put my sexuality educator hat for a second, and sit you down in my classroom. Listen up folks! Sexuality is so much more than reproduction, sex, pleasure, etc. It includes cognitive and emotional components that you might not traditionally put in the ‘sexuality’ box. Sensuality is an example of this space, and includes physical sensations (note: senses) that for sure can be explicitly sexually pleasurable, but it more broadly speaks to all of your senses being pleased as punch. When we use ‘sensuality’ we’re usually meaning the sense of touch. What an incredible, under-valued, and amazingly complex part of our bodies! You have WAY more senses than the Big 5, and your skin is invaluable for a good number of them like pressure, pain, cool, heat, touch, and more! Plus, we have this awesome skill of inferring intention and emotion from how, where and why others touch us. Too cool.

There’s another element of touch that gets left out at times. The concept of skin hunger. Yep, we’re all secretly zombies. Really, skin hunger is about the fundamental need we have for touch. If you’ve been exposed to any psychology 101 materials (or read any lists about unethical psychological experiments) you may have come across some research by Harry Harlow, a prominent mid-century American psychologist. His work investigated social isolation of baby rhesus monkeys involving 24 months of isolation and fear…that really makes me sad, so if you want to know the explicit details go look it up! Anyways, one group of these monkeys were given wire-frame “mothers”, one covered in terry cloth and the other simply wire. Among other things (like permanently deranged monkeys driven mad from 24 months of social isolation), the babies with the wire mothers failed to thrive, while the ones with the terry-cloth mother demonstrated comforting techniques – even when the cloth mother did not provide nourishment to the baby.

This is an example of why touch is more than enjoyable, it is necessary. It’s easy to see why touch and attachment are important for an infant, and the need for touch does change over time. Does a toddler seek kisses and hugs from loved ones in the same way a college youth does? Hardly. But this doesn’t mean the drive isn’t there. One way to demonstrate this is to take a look at yourself right now, or when you’re sitting through your next meeting. Notice how you’re sitting. Do you have all limbs at your sides, not touching anything but the furniture and floor? Do you scratch your head, lace your fingers, play with your hair, cross your legs? Our drive for skin hunger starts with how we touch our own bodies. We find comfort in resting our head on hands, or through crossing are arms. We utilize sensations to comfort, improve upon or express our emotional states (and I’m not even talking about masturbation!). What’s more, touch is also an important part in reducing stress, altering heart rate/breathing patterns and has all sorts of healing powers.

So, why not practice exploring your skin hunger and sense of sensuality with your sweetie? Relieve some stress, have some fun and connect in a new way. Practice varieties of touch, explore using or removing specific senses, and set some boundaries if this feels overwhelming. Set a timer, set expectations (ice off-limits? No sex allowed? Ask before blindfolding?) and challenge yourselves to talk about what you enjoyed or noticed about the experience! If you’re feeling out of touch with your partner, this could be a great way to build some sensuality rapport and rekindle emotional or sexual closeness you’ve been missing. I’ve put a few examples to get the ball rolling, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Have one you’d like to add? Leave it in a comment below!

Let’s start with the basic Sensual Massage.

Create a space that suits the vibe you want to have. Get some tools like massage oils or lotions your sweetie would enjoy. Appreciate getting naked or undressing one another! Don’t forget to be hands-on. A massage is not just about the back and shoulders. Work through every inch and note where your partner seems to be particularly enjoying themselves! Move slowly, and keep in mind that your partner is going to be the most sensitive at the beginning, so start with a light touch all over and work your way into deeper massage. You don’t have to be a professional to provide a relaxing, sensual experience that leaves you both feeling connected!

The Timed Switch Power Play

Get a timer and set it to go off every few minutes (3 min is just enough to get going but can leave your partner wanting more!). Decide who’s going to be playing vs played upon first. The person to be played on must lay quietly and let their partner know when they enjoy something! The other person has 3 minutes to explore messing with 1 sense at a time with their partner. Challenge yourselves to rotate through each sense, touch is powerful but consider how other sensations can be incorporated! Once the timer goes off, switch. Want to add some teasing element? Restrict direct kissing or touching genitals.

The Anything-But Teaser

This takes some time and is a great way to explore non-verbal communication and listening to what your partner’s body is saying. Pretty simply, you’re going to snuggle up (think make-out session) and caress each other and do anything BUT kiss directly. Get close, brush lips, kiss necks..but no kissing! Set some music, dim the lights and see where it takes you. Another variation is to engage in a similar session but to caress your partner with anything but your hands. This doesn’t mean use your wrist to awkwardly stroke your partner, think of it as a way to practice being aware of your whole body, and resist using your hands in conventional ways.

If you’re looking to add ways you can make sensual intimacy and touch a more important part of your relationships, simply being aware and trying will do wonders! Focus on your eye contact to deepen intimacy (put the screens down when talking to someone), explore the simple joys of hand-holding or playing a bit of footsy at dinner. This may seem trivial or silly, but swallow that pride and give it a try. What do you have to lose, when you’ve got so much sensuality to gain?!


Joanna Dawson earned her Masters in Public Health (MPH) before working for years in the non-profit world with sexuality, sex-positivity, GLBT themes and health education for young people, adults and communities. Sexuality is a complex, diverse and evolving component of our lives, and she works to equip folks with the tools to take charge of their sexuality and their health. Joanna is dedicated to promoting sex positivity as an advocate, educator and ACSM-certified personal trainer. To join in her pursuit of wellness, health and a fulfilling lifestyle follow Joanna's blog.

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2 Responses

  1. JoDawson says:

    Totally. I think there’s loads we can take from our physical cues that lead to our emotional state and needs. Here’s to exploring those senses…it’s even good for your health!

  2. Ang. says:


    This is really eye-opening to me! I knew about the need for touch, but had never thought about all the self-touching throughout the day being a part of that! I’ve always wondered why I sometimes sit or stand in somewhat awkward positions that just seem to feel “right” at the time. Maybe I need to start taking cues from myself and get some “touch time” with my wife when I start doing that!