The first time I had sex, I knew I’d be obsessed over the feelings and the person *plenty*, but one aspect caught me by surprise: I couldn’t stop smelling them wherever I went. I’m pretty sure in retrospect they just used some standard detergent from Duane Reade, but in my mind it was better than Le Labo: the clean, boyish smell of fresh cotton completely swept me up. I would get lunch with a friend and freak out over the cloth napkins, walk home getting lost when a stranger walked by me vaping a menthol Juul (I know, I know!), lay on my bed and smell them all over my sheets.
It was like a spell had been cast on me. I thrusted whatever would trigger my memory into some unsuspecting friend’s face, trying and failing to convince them, “See, doesn’t it smell so good!?”
To this day, I’ll smell that detergent and get nostalgic. I don’t know the connection between intimate sex and smell. I don’t know why brushing your crushes hand, smelling someone on your pillowcase, seeing them across a room, or hearing the pitch of their voice can turn you into a completely mushy and almost irrational, swooning mess. But I know for sure that sex heightens all of our senses, and if you’ll take the advice of a girl who can write paragraphs over the erotic appeal of some laundry product smells, I’d love to suggest some ways you can heighten the sensual side of sex for yourself and/or your boos: from a low-effort, high reward scenario to a more drawn out, still equally high reward, adventure.
Feast your eyes on this! For all you visual learners, museum goers, aesthetic-obsessers, voyeurs, and exhibitionists.
Massage candles, which you light until the wax softens and turns into an oil, smell delicious and feel great too.
Lights, camera, action:
Normally get freaky in the dark? Go as light as you’re comfortable with. A candle or ten always makes me feel like I’m in a cheesy, black and white 80s music video, which can sometimes be a great vibe, while a string of LED lights can add some gentle color and brightness. Solo or partnered sex when you can see body/ies can help you recognize the manueverings that help or detract from the experience, encourage you to feel around more, or help you see how hot you really do look (bonus points if you set up a mirror or two). Normally like it bright? That leads me to my next suggestion…
In the (blind)folds:
Light deprivation, baby! Just how having the lights on makes you present and aware of your surroundings, having absolutely no light at all makes you present and aware of your feelings, and the ~sensations~ that arise. Spectrum offers a wide variety of blindfolds, starting with a double-layered silk one from Sex & Mischief at $8 and going up to the leather padded Stockroom Foam ones for $50. Or if you want to take it a step further and kinkier, a spandex hood covers your eyes and, besides your mouth, the whole rest of your face. Try picking up some sensation toys from the ‘Touch’ section and letting your partner take control. By losing one sense, you may have heightened access to a whole lot more. Insert drool emojis here.
Give them a show:
If you’re an exhibitionist like me and like to dress up even as you’re dressing down, wearable toys, harnesses, and body decor look beautiful and add some more sensation. The Sportsheet’s Nipple Clamps and Bijoux Pasties, for example, may make your chest look like a Euphoria eye makeup look, while the clear vinyl Stockroom CTRL line of harnesses, leashes, wrist and ankle cuffs, hog ties, and cages are versatile enough that you’ll want to wear them in and out of wherever you play. Another option is Bijoux’s Desir collar, which is a dead-ringer for that iconic Paris Hilton metallic dress.
When you spend all your free time in your local flower shop, Bath and Body Works candle aisle, and on Aesop’s Instagram page. Get a whiff:
Rub one out:
I don’t think I understood how nice massages really could be until I received one myself. It’s a tremendous act of self-love after a long, tiring day, and has lots of kinky potential in a partnered, Dom(me)/sub dynamic. Massage candles, which you light until the wax softens and turns into an oil, smell delicious and feel great too. Jimmyjane makes one at $25 in Vanilla Sandlewood, Mystic Mango, and Berry Blossom, and Désirables offers a vegan alternative with a matching oil in a scent called Omeha, which can be described as [??? can’t figure this out] between $23 and $28. If you don’t care about the fiery element and would rather just warm the oil up with your hands, or not at all, Earthly Body makes an edible massage oil in all the classic, yummy flavors for $6. Just make sure if you’re DIY-ing it you don’t use an actual candle and wax – these products are specially formulated so they won’t actually burn you.
Soak in it:
Momotaro’s cult favorite, the Apotheca Tonic, is beloved for its anti-irritant qualities and the smell of [?]. Put 5-10 drops in a bath, set the mood, and relax a little. This is another great one to combine with other sensation play (a waterproof toy or anything from ‘listen’ or ‘touch’).
When you intend to get every possible use out of your tongue, quite simply.
It’s a snack:
Flavored lube has a somewhat cheesy reputation and is usually only relegated in media to a quickly-ignored suggestion from an out of touch health teacher. However, as someone who has conducted multiple taste tests of flavored products — these things just happen when you’re spending all your time in sexual health spots — I beg you to reconsider. Flavored condoms and dental dams are an awesome way to normalize and add some excitement to using a barrier method, and lube enhances everything already, so the taste of Blackberry Fig (my personal favorite from Sliquid) or Salted Caramel (one of the many from Sensuva’s line) really just is the sweet cherry on top.
This is more of a figurative use of the word taste, as I wouldn’t recommend putting your mouth on Megan Rose Gedris’s book of literal food porn. Her queer, 18-chapter comic book features the shy Rhonda going on the Mukbang adventure of her life after a chemical is spilled on her, catalyzing a kaleidescopic transformation of an *increased appetite*, hint hint. Get hungry and hormy all at once.
Suck it up:
The names of most oral-sex-stimulator toys are pretty horrible and gendered, but if you can look past them, the level of technological innovation is pretty genius. If, for whatever reason, you’d rather use a toy than a human mouth, Spectrum carries a wide range, from the very literal Fantasy For Her suction/tongue device and Svakom thrusting masturbator to the more abstract Lelo line of suction toys and strokers.
Your love language is physical affection. Your sexual awakening may or may not have been one iteration or another of Janet signing “Touch-a-Touch-a Touch me” in Rocky Horror. You always want to touch the art.
I could write several articles on all the fantastic BDSM toys in the sensation and impact departments (your favorite Spectrum founder Zoë herself recommends of feather body ticklers, while the world of electrostim is a little more intense but equally fascinating), but I feel the need to do what every Kink 101 workshop teacher has done and introduce you all to the magic that is Vampire Gloves. As sexy as they’re powerful, these leather gloves feature metal points down each finger. Whether you want to lightly tease someone or deliver some heavy impact play, these truly deliver.
Add a little texture:
Another dense department! The toy industry has seen a huge rise in some truly innovative textures to enhance your favorite vibrating toys. Providing a special surface sensation while performing all the regular functions of dildos, vibes, and sleeves, they’re easy enough for beginners to get a hang of them and alluring enough to appeal to the most seasoned toy owners. Some of Spectrum’s bestsellers include B-Vibe x Zoë Ligon Bump Texture Vibrating Butt Plug, Oxballs Finger Fuck Textured Glove, and Uberrime Xenuphora Alien Tentacle Silicone Dildo. Bonus points if you use them on ~erogenous zones~ besides your genitals!
You know what the one tool to make any sex the best it can be? It’s not a toy, it’s not a maneuver, it’s education and active listening to your partners and yourself.
For those of us not living in cramped apartments or college dorms (I’ve spent the past year in both), WaterSlyde’s Bathtub Water Diverter attaches to most faucets and directs the stream to wherever you need it. This is an especially fantastic toy for someone learning to masturbate, someone who has to be really sneaky about the toys they use, or someone hesitant about vibrators who still loves sensation.
You’ve invested in sound-proof walls, headphones, or a high quality speaker. You never leave the house without your airpods in. You live for the “I be in my girl’s ear like” memes.
A classic! While apps like Dipsea and Quinn have tapped into the app store to allow you to listen to sexy stories, if you’re a reader, you can find some in your local feminist bookstore. Spectrum carries the aptly named Big Book of Orgasms, and other bestsellers making waves in the department include Asa Akira’s Asarotica (a personal reccomendation), Tristan Taormino’s Take Me There: Trans and Genderqueer Erotica, Tobi Hill-Meyer’s Nerve Endings: The New Trans Erotic, Kabi Nagata’s My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness, and C. Spike Trotman’s Smut Peddler Presents: Sex Machine, the last three suggested by queer artist, educator and bookstore frequenter @yourpeachyboy.
Do some research!
You know what the one tool to make any sex the best it can be? It’s not a toy, it’s not a maneuver, it’s education and active listening to your partners and yourself. Maybe this is my sex-ed bias, but I truly believe you can study this stuff. Whether you want to learn about relationships with others, relationship with ourselves, vulvas, penises, the butt, LBGTQ+ identity and history, BDSM and kink, how to heal our hearts and bodies from trauma, or how to be a sex-positive parent, there’s reliable options for all that. And what’s more romantic than taking the time, energy, and effort to understand your and your partner/s world?