Updated: Aug 23, 2022
I teach a class about setting a scene from the submissive’s perspective. I spend about 90 minutes talking about engaging the 5 senses and using energy to set the space and create an experience. Inevitably, after the class, people tell me, “You know, I have never thought that much about setting up sex.”
I know this is true. In fact, great sex according to American romantic comedies, is suppose to be sex that involves no thought beforehand. The characters fall in love, then in one magical moment, they kiss and work their way to the bedroom for mind-blowing sex. In film and television, people who talk about sex beforehand are either total perverts (e.g., Quagmire on Family Guy) or it is a couple having marital trouble (e.g., Katie Bate’s character in Fried Green Tomatoes). Thinking about and planning for sex is not supposed to be for the young, the in-love, and the passionate folks out there.
This is a great illusion. Many people buy into the idea that unplanned sex is the most passionate and is the most “real.” This belief is very problematic. It actually prevents people from preparing for sex and doing things like buying condoms. The belief is that if they take the time to go buy condoms, they are planning for sex and therefore slutty. It prevents people from talking about what they want and don’t want in an encounter. It prevents people from having really great sex.
I have heard a lot of people say, “The brain is the biggest sex organ,” and then completely ignore that fact. Don’t get me wrong, a beautiful body and sexy dance moves are great, but the brain is the key factor. I am not talking about just sleeping with smart people.
The brain is where we think and what we use to focus on something. Getting the brain in the game will improve sex. My entry on the best sex tip ever goes into this in depth. Beyond focusing on your partner and being present, the brain is great for foreplay.
I will use personal experience to illustrate. I have a D-type I play with. We only see each other a couple of times a month if we are lucky. We end up playing a lot via text message. It generally starts with some flirting. Eventually, he sends instructions of some kind or a command. Something simple might be, “Send me a sexy pic. You have 5 minutes.” More advanced includes things like, “When you go out tonight, I want you to wear a butt plug.” Then over the course of the evening, I will text him to let him know it is in, I am out, ask permission to remove it, whatever.
Little games like this, which largely rely on engaging the mind, means that we are building tension and excitement long before we meet up. I am a submissive and I get off on doing stuff he tells me to do. It brings my attention to him even when he is no where near by. Getting a message in the middle of the afternoon telling me to send a naughty though takes him a few seconds to send and a few seconds for me to reply. However, the results are long-lasting. It shifts my focus to him. I continue to think about him long after the text is sent. Sending a short naughty thought gives me something to come back to think about that night when I am looking for personal inspiration. Its hot.
One of the other ways I encourage people to engage the brain in sex is to send porn the write to their partners. You don’t have to be a brilliant writer to do this. Simply sending your partner a short story about. “I picture you doing this. Then I do this naughty little thing. Then we do this.” type of porn is more than just a turn on. It is a great way to let someone know what your fantasies are and what you really want to try.
The 5 Senses and Sex
You cannot estimate the impact of actively engaging the senses during sex. They are already engaged, but a little pre-planning can help set the scene you want.
So, for about 18 months I lived in this apartment building with a hallway that had “date killing lighting” as my friends referred to it. It was this horrible florescent overhead lighting in a hallway painted with an off-white that had green undertones. It was impossible for anyone to look attractive in this light. I was at the end of a long hall. It meant that any date had to look at me for two minutes (and I had to look at them for two minutes) in the most horrible lighting. It was really, really hard to still find anyone attractive by the time we reached my apartment door (This is so true I did not have sex in that building my entire 18 months).
Some people have a strong preference for doing it in the dark or with the lights on. Lights on can be in the daylight, in the overhead lighting in a room, lit by accent lamps with low-wattage bulbs, candlelight, fire light, moon light, you get the idea. Each type of lighting can change an experience. Switch it up, see what lighting inspires what moods for you.
Music has always been important to me. I use it now to set a scene. Try this:
Play Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt,” then play Diana Krall’s version of “Just the Way You Are,” then play Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator,” then play Tupac’s “California Love.” Each of these songs sets a vastly different mood. My sister refers to Johnny Cash’s “Hurt” as “music to kill yourself by.” Generally this is not recommended for sex. Krall is much more romantic, Areosmith inspires something a little dirty, and Tupac has a great base line for setting rhythm. Everyone will have personal favorites and dislikes. Some people can’t fuck to show tunes. Some people love doing it to aria’s from the romantic composers. Find your thing and change up the music to set your mood.
If you want kind of raunchy, rough sex, I would avoid trance music. If you something deeply romantic and slow, I don’t think I would put on boy bands. But you need to experiment and find what works for you.
This is probably the most ignored sense when it comes to sex, but it is critical. How you and your partner smell is huge. You don’t want to get all up and personal with someone you think stinks. If someone is wearing the same perfume as your ex, it may not work.
Beyond that, however, is the scent of the location. By the sea is a different scent then in the mountains. It changes your memory and experience. Incense, scented candles, cigarette smoke, all sorts of stuff can trigger memories and feelings. I love certain incense (e.g. sandalwood) but anytime someone burns strawberry incense I immediately draw up memories of sitting in my best friend’s bedroom when we were 12, listening to the Beastie Boys, and hiding from her violent sister. This is bad for getting me in the mood for sex.
Scent can also become deeply associated with good sex. If you regularly light a specific type of scented candle or incense or you open your windows to let in the scent of your garden, over time, a partner comes to associate that scent with good sex with you. Eventually, that smell can trigger arousal without anything else (think Pavlov’s dogs).
Taste can be harder to incorporate or change. We all have a personal body chemistry and taste a certain way. However, what you eat can change some of that chemistry. A couple of basics to keep in mind: A diet heavy in fast food or meat products tends to increase bitterness and pungency in the way you taste. Pineapple juice can make your body fluids sweeter. A lot of fried foods tends to make your private bits smell like frying oil. If you smoke a lot of cigarettes, your private bits can take on the taste of old cigarette butts. If you smoke a lot of weed, your privates tend to smell more like your favorite strain.
Other things to keep in mind. Cologne and perfumes taste horrible. If you have put them on your neck, cleavage, or other parts, your partner will get a mouth full of nasty when they kiss it. Body lotions can change the taste of skin if they have been recently used. Different lubes have different flavors. I hate lube flavored to taste like fruit or chocolate and it tends to make my skin chafe. You shouldn’t lick silicone-based lubes and try and reduce conception of water-based ones. Very few taste good, but some like Liquid Silk, are tolerable.
Touch is critical in intimate moments. Most people are use to hands and other body parts touching them. Kink play has a whole division called sensation play. We incorporate many tools to change sensations. Rubbing someone with a rabbit fur mitt can be very soothing and erotic. Silk and cashmere are soft on the skin. You can engage a Wharton wheel to prickly sensations. Steel claws may be used for gentle are hard scratching. Finger nails and teeth can be used to change sensations.
Energy is the last “sense” I generally talk about in my course. Some people are more sensitive to energetics of space than others, but we all pick this up on some level. Working to control the energy can change the experience.
Think about asking your partner over to your place for a play date. They get off work, try to rush over, end up spending an extra 20 minutes on the freeway because of an accident, are hungry and tired when they arrive. Rushing into play means your partner is geared up, anxious, hungry and distracted. Taking a few minutes to let them settle in, calm down, and maybe grab a little snack can calm their energy and make the experience more enjoyable.
For people more sensitive to energies, they might pick up on what others have left behind. If, for instance, you had a very depressed friend over for coffee earlier in the day and spent an hour or two talking about their horrible life, your partner may pick up on that depressed energy when they come over.
I find that smudging (burning sage in a house) does help clear the energy. So does lighting candles and airing out the house. If you or your partner is tuned into environmental energy, this can be important to balance.
All of this is not to say the random, unplanned interlude is not fun. I have had great spur of the moment sex. I am a big fan of the “I have morning wood and don’t want it to go to waste” sex.
However, a little planning can go a long way. Most of the time, people know there is a possibility of sex. Taking time to prep the space and think through a few things can greatly heighten the experience for everyone involved. As a friend of mine has said, “Some times the old ways are the best ways.” When it comes to sex, I have to agree with this.