Sensualists vs. Sexualists

By Vivienne Arkell

“There are two main ways of doing it: sexually or sensually.” So writes Lisa Carver in her classic essay Some of My Best Friends Are Sensualists. This seminal piece was written for NERVE in 1997, yet not much has changed since then. We might actually have taken a step backwards with hard, fast, performance-oriented porn being today’s favored version of male fantasy sex. And something people mainly watch at home alone!

As per Carver, sexualists “are more enthusiastic, garish, brutal. We’re on a mission… If you know what you want, why do other stuff first?” She goes on to say how “sexualists live with definite goals, which we pounce on and pummel into submission.”

Sure there have been times when you yearned to be mercifully taken and thrown on the couch for a quickie. But as a steady diet? Carver says:

Sexualists are into sex. Sensualists are into eroticism: stuff that isn’t sex but involves the suggestion of sex. They notice details like texture and scent. They have plenty of time and they are ready to explore the options. You kiss for a wicked long time.

This is exactly why The Sensualogist spends oodles of time thinking about and promoting the savoring of sex and sensuality. Can we believe Carver and many others don’t really consider eroticism to be real sex? Eroticism can transform body-to-body encounters, adding a layer of mental pleasure, which is rewarding for its own sake.

“Sensualists have sex without orgasms on purpose. They call it tantric sex. I’d call it a bad date… Sexualists hate nothing more than someone who takes too long.”

Carter laments. “Oh god it’s so awful — they peer into your eyes and they stroke you and say, “Mmm.” For The Sensualist, the ‘goals’ of a naked encounter aren’t generally performance or conquest; they are pleasure and closeness with your partner.

Carver is crystal clear on this topic and a master with words. She brilliantly explains:

“In a conversation with a sensualist, it came out that we both masturbate by lying under the bathtub faucet. But she likes to let it just barely dribble onto her you-know-what and let the pressure slowly build, while I turn it up all the way and swivel right up to the opening where the water rushes hardest. That’s when I understood: the sensualists are in it for the long haul — they want to be enfolded in sensation, they want to expand their consciousness to the breadth of the universe, encompassing everything. Whereas I want to lose everything. I want to be smashed to pieces.”

Carver makes the following comparison. “They [sensualists] want to play our bodies like fine-tuned cellos, employing all their acquired love-making skills.”

For the sensually skilled couple, the variety of pleasurable scenarios is endless. With so many dreamy ways to indulge, sometimes you will heatedly skip ahead, passing up the sensual foreplay. Can we hear another kind of “Mmm?”

 

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