Sensuality vs. Sexuality, What's the Difference?

Sensuality vs. Sexuality, What's the Difference?

Can you find pleasure in eating, getting dressed or even having a good cry? Read our guide to see how sensuality can be experienced in each of these examples.

By: Starielle Hope

I’ve found that many of the people I’ve spoken with recently are using the words “sensuality” and “sexuality” interchangeably. This can be pretty confusing since the meaning of these words is actually quite different.

So what’s the difference?

Sexuality refers to sex, including the act of sex and everything leading up to it. Sensuality refers specifically to the activation of the senses, and the more senses involved the better. Sexuality comes from a desire for sex and sexual pleasure, whereas sensuality comes from a desire to have all of our senses “turned on” to a degree where we are able to find pleasure in everything.

Here in the US where our country was founded by Puritans, shame of pleasure in general is deeply ingrained in our culture whereas working ourselves to the bone and stress are celebrated as virtues. I don’t know about you but I have personally had more conversations with myself than I can count throughout my life where I told myself that doing something pleasurable was “a waste of time” and I should be doing something more practical.

How do people often respond when you ask them how they are? “Oh, good I’m just SO busy right now” is a common response I hear. Imagine asking someone how they are and hearing “Wow my life is just filled with pleasure, every moment of every day I am exploding with so much pleasure!”

I am a sex and relationship coach, I talk about sex for a living and writing that STILL made me uncomfortable. Why? Because in our culture “pleasure” and “sex” are inextricably linked, and making pleasure a priority can be seen as overwhelmingly promiscuous and even gluttonous. This is the root of the confusion between what is “sexuality” and what is “sensuality”.

What is sensuality if it’s not about sex?

The core of sensuality is about experiencing as much pleasure as possible throughout all of our senses throughout all of the activities we engage in on a daily basis. Does this sound overwhelming or abstract? Think about the various things you’ve done so far today. How many of them were pleasurable for you? To what degree? Is there space in your life to find pleasure in more of your daily tasks, or to experience pleasure more powerfully?

Let’s examine a few activities that everyone I know participates in regularly:

  1. Eating

Think about the difference between mindlessly shoving chips in your mouth in front of the television versus eating your favorite home cooked meal, cooked by someone you love where you are enjoying their company and savoring every bite. How much pleasure are you receiving from the experience of eating that food in each of these scenarios?

2. Exercising

Moving our bodies can feel like a chore, especially when we are dragging our butts to a sterile gym with fluorescent lights before the sun comes up. Thirty minutes to an hour can feel like a miserable grind. Maybe it’s so bad that we listen to music or an audiobook just to distract us from having to be present with our discomfort and exhaustion. Compare this to the experience of dancing for hours with your best friends to your favorite music at a show, party or club. Finding pleasure in moving our bodies, even when just walking down the street, is a huge component of sensuality.

3. Getting dressed

What do you consider when you are choosing clothes and putting them onto your body? Do you grab the first thing that seems appropriate for the occasion and throw it on? Do you try on a bunch of different outfits, painfully critiquing yourself in each one in the mirror before feeling that nothing is right or good enough? What if you were to choose clothes for how delicious they felt on your body? How would you move in a gorgeous silk dress or super soft cozy sweater? What if you were to revel in the physical sensations of sliding this fabric over your skin as you got dressed? A dress and a sweater might rank differently on the “sexiness” scale, but they can be equally sensual. It’s all in how you experience them and feel the pleasure in wearing each item.

Now don’t get me wrong, sensuality can absolutely be sexual. In fact, I highly encourage combining the two! What is important to remember here is that sensuality is so much more beyond sexuality and sexual pleasure. Sensuality is the art of finding pleasure in absolutely everything. Can you find pleasure while you’re sitting in traffic by turning on your favorite music and allowing yourself to fully absorb each note? Can you find pleasure in the release of a good cry? Can you find pleasure by dancing and moving your hips while you unload the dishwasher? Give it a try, we can’t wait to hear about your experience!

Photo by Isabella Bejarano