If you’re highly sensitive like me, life seems more intense. It’s almost like someone cranked up the dial on everything. Loud, busy places like bars, concerts, or even classrooms might overwhelm you. Bright lights or wearing a sweater made of scratchy fabric might bother you a lot. Seeing gruesome violence in a movie is too much.
But being highly sensitive also gives you an edge. For example, you bring many unique strengths to your relationships: you tend to be aware of your partner’s emotions and have high levels of empathy.
Because of your highly reactive nervous system, you have different needs than people who are not highly sensitive. For example, you might require plenty of sleep and downtime to calm your overactive senses. You need extra time to adjust to changes.
And you likely have different needs in the bedroom.
Dr. Elaine N. Aron, author of the book, The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You, was curious about the sexual experiences of highly sensitive people. So she surveyed over 440 individuals, both sensitive and non-sensitive. What she found was fascinating: highly sensitive people–especially women–experience sex differently than those who are not highly sensitive.
The differences Aron discovered were subtle. And not every highly sensitive person experienced the same thing. For every commonality Aron found, there were many exceptions. Experiencing something different doesn’t make you odd or any less sensitive, Aron writes.
Yet it can be comforting to know other people experience similar things as you–especially when you’re highly sensitive, because you may have felt different or odd your whole life.
Here are 12 ways highly sensitive people make love differently, according to Aron’s research:
1. To us, it’s “mysterious and powerful.”
Sensitive people process experiences deeply. Sex is no exception. For us, it’s an experience filled with meaning and emotion. It’s a powerful connection that transcends the mundane.
2. The pleasure can be intense.
Sensitive women are less likely than non-sensitive women to have trouble having an orgasm or lubricating. One sensitive woman told Aron, “I have always been physically sensitive to sexual pleasure in that the slightest touch or caress can be the source of deep satisfaction. When being kissed, my arousal level is high and my teeth tingle, the follicles of my hair ‘goose bump,’ and I make vocal sounds of pleasure resembling soft moans.”
3. We’re turned on by subtle flirting.
Think long, intense eye contact rather than crude dirty talk.
4. We want to express ourselves physically within a committed relationship.
Generally, sensitive women have fewer partners over their lifetime and had sex for the first time later in life. Sensitive men were more likely to be in a relationship at the time of Aron’s survey.
5. Sensitive women need to feel the love.
To truly enjoy it, women report needing to feel loving toward their partner. They didn’t enjoy it as much with someone they didn’t love.
6. Sensitive women are more likely to experience pain.
This is probably because sensitive people have a lower pain threshold in general. One woman told Aron, “Sexual activity can sometimes be painful if everything is not exactly [highly sensitive person]-right. Things can change in a flash due to extremely subtle stimuli that my partner [a non-highly sensitive person] seems oblivious to.”
7. Sometimes we can’t get into it.
Some sensitive women reported that they liked having sex less than non-sensitive women. Aron explains, “One reason for this might be that sexuality, being a source of general stimulation, is potentially a source of overarousal if life is already too full of stimulation.” In other words, if you’re worn out after a busy day, you probably won’t be in the mood to make love.
However, because sensitive people tend to be in tune with their partner’s needs, we are likely to do it anyway. We may do it just to please our partner, even when we’re not relaxed or wanting it. Sometimes we end up enjoying ourselves, but often we don’t. This causes a real problem: we won’t desire it as much the next time.
Another reason is sensitive women may find it hard to speak up when something hurts. They might feel embarrassed or guilty that they’re interfering with their partner’s pleasure. But pain is pain.
8. Noises or interruptions make it harder to get back into the mood.
So turn off your cell phones and make sure the kids are in bed.
9. We may need to stop because we feel overwhelmed or overstimulated.
Even a good thing can be too much when you’re highly sensitive.
10. For sensitive men, alcohol negatively affects their performance.
This isn’t surprising, given that highly sensitive people tend to be more affected by alcohol in general.
11. We like routine.
Who needs variety when making love is already mysterious and powerful?
12. We have a harder time returning to normal life afterward.
For us, the physical and emotional ecstasy is real. So we probably won’t get right back to work or hop on Facebook immediately afterward. We need time to transition back to normal life.
What’s Aron’s advice for highly sensitive people in the bedroom? Have a conversation with your partner about what each of you likes and doesn’t like, Aron suggests. Don’t guess or assume.
Also, try to do only what you truly enjoy. This may be much less varied and exciting than what you imagine pleases your partner. Of course you want to consider your partner’s preferences too. But both of you will suffer in the long run if you’re doing things you don’t truly enjoy. Your desire will dry up.
To get yourself going, try reflecting on your sexual desire when you’re alone. When you’re with a partner, all the sensory stimulation can distract you from your body’s cues. When you’re alone, you can use your powerful imagination to anticipate how it will feel to make love. This may give you the “jump start” you need.
Above all, remember that your sensitivity is a package deal. Aron writes, “If a non-highly sensitive partner likes your intensity, he or she will have to humor your needs and preferences that inevitably come with it, just as you must humor his or her lesser sense of intensity around sex and more interest in, for example, explicit sexual cues and images. Everyone, highly sensitive person or not, has preferences about sexuality.”
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