Sensuality and Sexuality are the Same Thing

Myth-busting Monday: sensuality and sexuality are the same thing.

 

No, they aren’t.  But they are certainly related.

 

Sensuality is playing with and pleasing the senses, which may or may not be related to sexuality, depending on the individual and the context.

 

Sexuality encompasses the senses and encounters can be enhanced (or deflated) with sensation play, but sexuality is obviously beyond the senses and includes and influences so much more in a multifaceted, many-direction exchange – hormones, genitals, relationship dynamics, family history/upbringing, emotional and mental health and awareness, physical healthy, body esteem, trauma history, culture and media influences and norms, systems of oppression, etc.

 

Our culture has a problem with both sensuality and sexuality – playing with sensation feels extraneous in a busy, productivity-oriented world, and why would any of us choose to focus on our embodied experience in a body-negative culture?  Being in our bodies in a culture that denigrates most bodies can exhausting, painful, even traumatic.  Sex sells in our culture – we use implicit representations of it to sell everything or grab the viewer’s attention, but to educate yourself about it, question it, talk about it, enjoy it, challenge it, isn’t considered acceptable by most.  Our culture is not only body-negative, we are sex-negative too.

 

Why this topic?

 

I attended a sexuality workshop recently (yes, sexuality professionals also attend workshops – I love to see what other folks are up to and learn from them) – the presenter mentioned being frustrated with sexuality professionals that conflate the two – sensuality and sexuality.  I have done this and continue to do this, not to obfuscate or superimpose the words, but because of the charge of the word sex in a sex-negative culture, referring to something as being sexual leads to that something’s dismissal by many.  For example, I offer yoga and mindfulness for “sensuality”, but it is inherently a sexuality education offering.  Calling it yoga for sexuality lead to two assumptions by the public – that it was nude yoga or that it was too much/cringy/improper/threatening.  My sexuality professional supervisors specifically recommended using sensation in the title because otherwise, no one would show up for a class that they assumed was inappropriate.  I use the word sensation not as a bait and switch, that is, bait people in for one experience and give them another, but because I am teaching and modeling leveled up sexuality that is more broad and holistic.  Here, I am teaching people to be in their bodies and to feel which is very much yoga and tantra and also very much translates into sexuality and satisfaction with sexual encounters (just check pubmed’s research results on yoga and sexuality or see my write up here: https://ignitewell-being.com/%20yoga-and-mindfulness-for-sensuality/ )

 

Another example, from my own practice, is offering workshops on relationship health – these are also sexuality offerings, though calling it such might make people recoil.  Like with my sensuality offerings, I construct an understanding of relationship health through a sexuality lens in these workshops as they unfold.  This is not a bait and switch, but it allows people to relax into an understanding of their sexuality in a culture that shames and silences (while selling) sex.

 

Language is important, and my language is imperfect, which can be painful as a writer and social justice advocate.  I will make mistakes, use words in less ideal ways, and as a result, elicit opinions from others.  But everyone’s language is imperfect – we are all learning in a culture that (thankfully) is adapting its language as our culture evolves.  Everyone is also opinionated and entitled to that opinion.  Part of what helps with imperfection and opinion-orientation is nuance –  I am all for nuanced conversations over one-liners or quick, blanket statements. Nuance allows for an understanding of why professionals that very well know the difference in meaning, might use “sensuality” or “relationship health” in place of “sexuality”.

 

We, as in sexuality professionals, are trying to draw people in and expand their own education and constructs, rather than shut people out with language that feels challenging.  I wish we were all in a place where we could speak directly and openly about taboo topics, and as a professional, I am in a both/and space. I offer language that is direct and explicit, and I also offer language that is more approachable in our culture; I offer explicit sexuality workshops, and I offer more indirect and holistic sexuality workshops.  It shouldn’t have to be my job to get people comfortable with direct language like saying vulva, penis, orgasm, or sex, but that’s where we are as a culture (or at least that is where many people are that I serve).  Accommodation means working with people where they are, with the language and processing ability they have, and in some ways, indirect, gentler language like “sensuality” is a form of accommodation and comfort.

 

How does language play into your relationship with “charged” words and self-concepts like sexuality?  How does your language and word use adapt along with our culture’s?  Are there certain social justice advocates that have helped your navigate language?

 

Happy myth-busting, community.  Wishing you all the best as you deconstruct what no longer serves you.

 

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The above content is written by Dr. Allison Mitch, PT (DPT), RYT500; sex-positive, trauma-informed sexuality counselor and educator (she/her/they/them); copyright protected, please cite accordingly.  The picture is from Pexels.

 

For more offerings that support sexual well-being, please see: http://ignitewell-being.com/events-and-services-summary/   For more information on my offerings, including the above referenced yoga class, or to work with me directly, please email ignitewellbeing.naperville@gmail.com

 

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