Pleasure Mapping: An Easy and Effective Way to Create Amazing Sex
There’s a question you can ask during sex that can lead to a communication trainwreck, despite your best intentions.
“What do you like?”
On the surface, it seems like a great way to find out what brings a smile to your partner’s face and show consideration for their preferences and needs. And in some situations, it works well because your partner can tell you exactly what they enjoy. But it’s really common for people to not know what it is that makes their toes curl, not know how to put it into words, or not feel comfortable sharing it with a lover. That’s when you might hear something like:
- Everything you’re doing feels good.
- I like what you’re doing right now.
- I like the usual stuff.
While it’s understandable why someone might have responses like that, they don’t help create fantastic sex.
Why It’s Hard to Name Your Pleasures
I find that there are a lot of reasons why people have difficulty naming what feels good to them. We live in a culture that is both sex-obsessed and sex-negative. If the things that feel good to you don’t match what you think they’re supposed to be, or if you worry that they don’t match what you think your partner thinks they’re supposed to be, it’s easy to get stuck in a shame spiral and avoid asking for what you want.
But even more than that, a lot of people don’t actually know how to describe what makes them feel good. Telling a partner something like “I enjoy light circles on my clit” or “it feels good when you circle the head of my cock with your tongue” requires a degree of specificity that many people can’t put into words. In some ways, this is more challenging for people with vulvas since a lot of the sexy action is difficult or impossible to see. Folks with penises can look down and take a look at what’s going on, at least for some activities.
There are a few different strategies that people tell me that they’ve tried. Some folks will give a partner feedback, either with words, sounds, or body language to let them know when they’re doing something that feels good. While that might help in the moment, it doesn’t make it easier to ask for it in the future. The best you can do is ask them to “do that thing you did that time.” That might work, but only if they remember exactly what it was. Plus, it doesn’t transfer from one partner to another.
Another route is to try to be patient as your partner attempts to guess what you’d enjoy, while you both hope for the best. It can be a bit like trying to throw a dart into the board with your eyes closed- it requires more luck than you might realize. And if your partner unknowingly does something that doesn’t feel good, you might end up enduring unpleasant touch. By the time they switch it up for something else, your arousal has gone out the window and resentment has moved in. That isn’t a recipe for fun.
Sometimes, people will try to make themselves enjoy whatever their partner is doing. But that’s about as effective as trying to make yourself appreciate food or music that isn’t to your taste. Whether it’s a sex act that you never find pleasurable or it’s something that you might adore some other time, but not tonight, there’s no way to force yourself to enjoy something when it’s not the right thing or the right time or the right situation.
Pleasure Mapping is How You Figure It Out
If you want to tell your partner what feels good to you, Pleasure Mapping is an excellent way to figure out how to do it. Here’s how it works.
Set aside some experimentation time
The goal of a Pleasure Mapping session isn’t to have an amazing orgasm, though it’s certainly not a problem if it happens along the way. Instead, the purpose is to get information about what feels good to your body. Think of it as a wine tasting. You’re going to try a lot of different things, just to explore how they feel.
If you experiment with a dozen different kinds of sexual stimulation and discover three that feel amazing, that’s a win. It doesn’t matter that there were nine others that you didn’t like. All that matters is figuring out which three (or six or one) that you do.
Set aside at least an hour for this. The more spacious you can be with your time, the more you can relax and follow your body’s messages. Just like with a wine tasting, you’ll get more out of the experience if you don’t rush.
The whole point of Pleasure Mapping is to try lots of different things. If you’re not sure what that looks like, pick up a how-to book or movie. Personally, I prefer movies because you can see what you’re trying to do, and because you can watch a technique, hit pause and try it, and then move to the next one. Just make sure that you don’t get lubricant or body fluids on your keyboard or remote!
I’m a big fan of Jaiya’s Red Hot Touch video series for some great ideas for erotic massage and anal play. For oral sex, check out Tristan Taormino’s Expert Guide to Fellatio and Expert Guide to Cunnilingus.
Get a little turned on
Sexual arousal changes how we process sensations, which is why getting bitten on the neck during a fun sexual experience feels different from getting bitten on the neck while writing an email. If you build some erotic charge before you shift to the Pleasure Mapping, it’ll be easier to get an accurate idea of what each technique might be like during a sexual situation.
How to give feedback
Now that you’re all warmed up, you can get started with the Pleasure Mapping. Try one of the techniques and focus on tracking how pleasurable it is. There are a few ways you can do that.
Some people like to rate it on a 1-10 scale, where 10 is “don’t ever stop doing that!” and 1 is “maybe we should put on netflix.” Other people have difficulty using numbers or words because it pulls them out of their bodies and into their heads. If that’s you, you can give a thumbs up, squeeze your partner’s arm or leg, or just say “yes.” It’s also useful to have a non-verbal cue for “stop doing that.” I like using a double tap on the bed or on your partner’s body, just like martial artists or wrestlers use to acknowledge that they’re pinned.
How to receive feedback
The most important thing to remember when you’re receiving feedback during a Pleasure Mapping session is that your partner is rating the technique, not your skill as a lover. After all, you might be an amazing chef, but if I hate the taste of cilantro, I’m not going to like your ceviche.
While this is good for everyone to keep in mind, I find it even more valuable for men (and cisgender men, in particular). We often get our egos wrapped up in our sexual skills because of the Act Like a Man Box, and we often take it personally if a lover tells us that they aren’t enjoying something that we’re doing. One good way to avoid getting caught in that shame loop is to remind yourself that your partner is telling you about the technique, not you as a person or as a lover.
I find that there are two easy steps you can take to do that. First, once you’ve been doing a particular move for a little bit, ask your partner to tell you how they rate it. That makes you an active participant in the Pleasure Mapping and helps remind you both that the intention is to collect data. Second, whatever their response, thank them for sharing it with you. It’s a great way to keep you from getting so caught up in your ego, and it helps them give better feedback because they know it’s welcome.
Using the feedback
When your partner rates something at a 6 or higher (or when they squeeze your arm, or say “yes”), make a mental note of that move because it’s a keeper. If you have trouble remembering it, you can even write it down. After the Pleasure Mapping session (or during, if it doesn’t kill the mood), describe what you were doing. Try to put it into words, but if that doesn’t work, you can also demonstrate it. For example, if your partner likes to have their clit sucked on, show them on a finger tip. Show them how much pressure they liked on their G-spot or prostate with your fingers on the back of their hand. Or if you were using a movie for guidance, scroll back to that technique so they can watch it.
This is probably the most important step because it’s how they learn how to describe what they want to ask for. “Do firm circles on my prostate” is a lot easier to understand than “do that thing with your finger.”
You can also use their feedback to look for patterns in their sexual response. For example, you might tell them that they like light touch on the head of their penis and firm squeezing on their testicles. Or circles on their clitoris and “come hither” on their G-spot. Or light touch at first, with more intensity later on. Whatever the patterns or combinations are, you’ll give them the incredible gift of knowing more about their sexual response and how to share that information to make a request during sex.
Try something else
Once you’ve tried a technique and rated it, shift to something different. If you find a move that feels amazing (like a 9 or 10), feel free to stick with it for a bit, but don’t lose focus on the primary purpose of Pleasure Mapping. You can always come back to that move later on.
In addition to trying different techniques, you can vary them by changing the tempo or the intensity. You might find that adding more speed or pressure makes it feel better, or you might find that it becomes less pleasurable. You might even find that there’s a “Goldilocks zone” where it’s just right. Each time you vary what you’re doing, give your a few seconds to tune into it and then ask them how they rate it.
You can make your Pleasure Mapping session as long or as short as you want. You can wrap things up when you feel like you’ve gotten enough information, or you can transition it towards a more erotic experience. You can also switch roles and try it from the other side. That might be fun to do back to back, or you might want to do it another time. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, other than what works for the two of you.
The most important thing is that you both discover more about your sexual pleasures and responses, and that you have new ways to ask for what you want. If that’s where things end, that’s a big win!
Some Useful Tips for Pleasure Mapping
- Since arousal can change how the nervous system processes sensations, you might find that a technique that only rates a 2 at the start might be a 7 later on. So it’s worth trying some of those moves later to see if anything has shifted. (Though if there’s something that gets a big no or a negative number, you probably don’t need to give it another chance.)
- One of the more common mistakes people make is thinking that the best sex happens when you keep adding more and more sensation. Unfortunately, that can lead to overstimulation which makes the body numb out. You’ll have much more fun if you allow for the rise and fall of arousal. In some ways, it’s like eating spicy food. There’s usually something that cools your mouth down, like chutney, sour cream, raita, or yogurt sauce. Going from hot to cool to hot allows you to enjoy the flavors far more than adding more hot sauce to every bite.
This connects to Pleasure Mapping because a technique that rates a 3 is a great way to cool things down and give your lover a chance to catch their breath. Then, you can do that 9 move and ramp them back up. They’ll actually feel more pleasure than if you stayed with the 9 for the entire time. It’s much easier to do that when you have the information from a Pleasure Mapping session.
- Since bodies change over time, we often discover that our likes and dislikes shift, too. After all, most of us don’t eat the same food when we’re 20 and when we’re 40, so why should the sex we like stay the same? Pleasure Mapping is a great way to explore how your sexuality might have shifted.
This can be especially useful after pregnancy and childbirth, as well as during or after menopause, since these experiences can change sexual response. Some folks find that starting or stopping hormonal birth control can shift things, as can having hysterectomy or prostatectomy. A lot of medications can also change your sexual response. But even if none of these sorts of medical events have happened, if sex isn’t feeling the same as it used to, Pleasure Mapping can help you reboot.
- Rebooting isn’t just for dealing with a clearly defined event like a medical issue. It’s easy for long-term couples to get into sexual routines where they do what they’ve always done. Pleasure Mapping is a useful way to bring a beginner’s mind to your sex life and get some fresh perspective. If your relationship feels good but your sexual connection is feeling stale, try Pleasure Mapping and see if it helps you discover new ways to have fun together.
- You can use Pleasure Mapping while exploring BDSM. It works for all kinds of activities, like spanking, role play, flogging, bondage, or almost anything else you might want to try. And you can use it to explore touch anywhere on the body. This isn’t only for sex.
- Pleasure Mapping can also be done solo. That’s a great way to experiment with your pleasure response without the pressure of a partner’s expectations, or if you don’t have someone to try it with. Many of the erotic massage techniques in the videos l linked to above work great for self-pleasure. And women might find the tips in Sheri Winston’s Women’s Anatomy of Arousal inspiring.
- Lastly, you might find it helpful to try Pleasure Mapping with a somatic sex educator (aka a sexological bodyworker). These are folks who offer somatic erotic exploration within a safe container and a strong ethical code so you can learn about your sexual patterns, gain skills for embodiment and self-regulating erotic energy, and build new behavioral patterns to make it easier to create the sexual connections you want.
You’ll get different information working with a practitioner than exploring with a partner because they have a wider perspective. They hold a different space than partners, and they don’t have the same emotional attachment to your process or the outcome. Working with a practitioner can be especially worthwhile if you’re back on the dating scene for the first time in a while since you can get some new tools and ideas to make sexual communication easier. It’s also helpful if you’re on a healing path, particularly around sexual trauma.
However you decide to use Pleasure Mapping, it’s a simple and effective tool to figure out what you enjoy, find better ways to ask for what you want, and even discover things that you didn’t know would feel wonderful. And that goes a long way towards helping you create an amazing sex life.
As a somatic sex educator and relationship coach, I want to help you find new tools to create the relationships that support you and make you thrive. I offer in-person sessions in Seattle, as well as coaching over video. Get in touch with me to schedule a free Get Acquainted call. Let’s talk about what’s going on for you and how I can help you make sex easy.