Non-Impact Sensory Play
So you’re in the mood for something a little kinky, but for whatever reason, impact isn’t appealing to you. Perhaps you find it triggering or just unpleasant. Perhaps you have extremely thin walls and want a quieter experience. Perhaps you’re usually on board with impact play but you’re just looking to expand your horizons a bit! There are plenty of ways to play with sensation with a partner (or, often, without a partner!) without having to integrate impact play.
Sensory play can be a great addition to your sex or kink life, whether you’re interested in some sadism and masochism, or just want to find out what all those nerve endings in your body can do. Touch is sexy and intimate, and playing with those sensations can be exciting. Before experimenting with any kind of sensory play with someone, be sure to discuss your expectations and needs with your partner! Figure out what kind of experience you’re both looking for, what to avoid. Set up a safe word to end play immediately in case things get overwhelming or unpleasant (or someone just wants to stop).
This is far from a complete or exhaustive list, but I hope it’s enough to get you started! Let’s explore a few different sensations and tools to get you started. Some of these still fall under the umbrella of pain play, but many are completely pain-free.
If you’re not interested in impact but would still like to integrate some pain into your play, candle wax can be a great tool, if done with care! It creates a sharp, hot, stingy pain on the surface of your skin and, as it dries, can also create an interesting “tight” sensation on the skin that’s quite unique. It’s also easy to vary sensation a bit, by raising the candle higher or lower: the further it has to fall, the cooler the wax will be when it arrives at its destination. Any candle used for play should have a very low melting point, to keep from harming skin. Soy-based candles are usually your best bet, and without any fragrance. Also, don’t drip wax on the face or directly on genital. These more delicate places can get burned easily. The Temptasia Fox Drip Candle from Blush is a great way to start exploring; it’s inexpensive, has a nice low melting point, is easy to clean up, and it’s very cute!
If you’d like the fun of dripping a candle onto someone without the pain play aspect, massage candles might be a good investment. Instead of creating wax to pour onto someone, they pool into a warm, often fragrant oil that you can use to massage your partner, and they’re designed to be pain-free. Be sure to read the directions thoroughly to make sure you don’t hurt anyone by accident!
In either case, I strongly suggest laying down a towel or a Liberator Throw so you don’t get wax or oil on your sheets, floor, kitchen table, or whatever other surface you might be playing on.
Nipple and clit clamps are another fun way to introduce pain play without impact, but it can be hard to know where to start! Clamps work by squeezing the skin in the area the clamp is attached, which creates a pinching sensation that’s hard to ignore. By trapping blood there, the area becomes quite sensitive; when they’re removed, blood and sensation rushes to back the area, which makes them extremely sensitive even after the fact. Clamps should always be monitored, though. Don’t leave them on for more than fifteen minutes, because they could in theory cause some nerve damage (it’s uncommon, but it is possible). Always check in with your clamp-ee to see how they’re doing. If they’re starting to go numb, take them off! And of course, it goes without saying that if they state their safe word or otherwise indicate that it’s too much, playtime is over and the clamps should be removed immediately.
A whole guide could be written dedicated to choosing the right clamp, but for a basic overview: try something that’s easily adjustable. A lot of people recommend starting with tweezer clamps like the Spartacus Black Beaded Tweezer Clamps, which can be used on nipples or clitoris, but they can be hard to work with, especially if you have puffy areolas or flat nipples. Screw clamps like the Nipple Grips 4-Point Press from CalExotics are adjustable (you can also take the weight off if that’s easier) which makes it very easy to customize the amount of pressure used. Alligator clamps like the Sportsheets Sex & Mischief clamps, however, are my favorite, because you can easily adjust the pressure with the screw on the side. They can be attached to nearly any skin; nipples, clit, arm, whatever - which is great if you want to experiment a little.
Wartenberg wheels were invented as a neurological tool to test nerve sensitivity. Naturally, kinksters appropriated them for their own purposes! They consist of a round, spiky wheel attached to a handle. They look like a villainous pie crimper, or a pattern wheel from the devil’s sewing kit, but despite how they look, they don’t actually cause any real pain! The sensation from a Wartenberg wheel (also often called a pleasure wheel, or a spiked pinwheel, or other variations) is extremely tickly, but very focused in a way that’s hard to compare with anything else. This makes them a super fun tool if you want to play with sensation but aren’t looking for pain. Also, their origins as a medical tool makes them fun for certain roleplay scenarios. As a bonus, they tend to be inexpensive. I’m partial to the Scandal Pleasure Wheel by CalExotics, simply because I’m partial to the Scandal line as a whole and like that it “goes with” my Scandal bondage cuffs and impact toys. What can I say, I’m a collector.
Pinwheels like this are pretty hard to hurt yourself with, although it’s not impossible. Use some sense. Also, keep it in a box or a bag so you don’t accidentally grab the spikes when you’re digging through your drawer looking for something else. Trust me on this one.
You know, you see ticklers a lot in kink kits and so on, yet tickling seems like an underappreciated sensation in the kink world. A softer sensation can be fun on its own, not to mention in contrast with something more intense.
Feather ticklers are not only fun, but they’re a super inexpensive toy to add to your collection. (You can always throw one in if you’re, say, a few dollars under $68 and would like to take advantage of SheVibe’s free shipping.) They tend to be very slim as well, so they aren’t too difficult to store.
I’m also a big fan of multi-use tools, and there are a lot of toys that can be repurposed for a tickling sensation! A flogger dragged over the skin creates a soft, lovely sensation that’s very easy for a top to control, and there’s an extra bit of psychological intensity, knowing that the toy can be used for something meaner, even if no one intends to. I also love using a silicone whip for tickling because in addition to the above, they’re often a bit cooler than the body, and temperature differences can be very interesting.
Speaking of which…
An ice cube on the skin is a classic for a reason! It can be borderline painful for some people, but for others it’s a really powerful stimulation of nerve endings.
If the melting water aspect sounds messy or annoying, glass toys like the Icicles No. 42 Medium Ben Wa Balls by Pipedream are great to repurpose for temperature play! You can put them in cold water or even your freezer before use, and because of how glass conducts temperature, they will retain the cold for quite a long time, so you can keep dragging or rolling your glass item over the skin. You could always use a glass dildo, and then you can probably come up with some additional uses if you’re so inclined. I have faith in you and your imagination.
Hot tip for temperature play: combining ice play with other sensations can be really fun, because cold can sometimes dull nerve endings. Seeing how long it takes for someone’s skin to register tickling again after getting iced might be an interesting experiment. Be careful, though, with anything that can actually cause pain. Dulling nerve endings with ice, temporary though it may be, could cause someone to not notice if they’re actually being harmed more than they can handle until it’s too late. Again: use caution and good judgment!
Bring out a hairbrush, a back scratcher, loofah gloves, or just your nails for a surface-scratchy sensation! Make sure whatever you’re using is clean, especially fingernails. This can be painful, or just intense, and sometimes unexpectedly satisfying. A bit of roughness on the skin brings blood to the surface, and makes that area of skin much more sensitive to whatever else you might want to do—tickling, ice, a few little strategically-placed kisses…
Blindfolds and Bondage
While the full use of bondage and blindfolds is another topic that could have its own separate guide, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the use of both to enhance other sensation play! Removing one sense can heighten other senses, so combining sensory play with sensory deprivation play is pretty common! A basic blindfold like the Sex & Mischief Black Satin Blindfold by Sportsheets is another inexpensive add-on item that can get a lot of use.
Some simple cuffs can also increase the excitement of sensory play by removing some autonomy. The added helplessness of being unable to block input from your partner can make that input a lot more intense. Some simple Velcro cuffs like the Sportsheets Sex & Mischief Beginner Cuffs are easy to escape if it’s something you’re new to, but they still enforce the psychological aspects of light bondage. Or, if you want something harder to escape, these Saffron Gauntlet Cuffs will make your arms pretty useless for the most part, but they’re still quite comfortable.
As I said, this is far from a complete list of sensory options! This might be enough to get you started, and maybe even spark a few other ideas. Explore safely and have fun!