Differentiating sensual touch from sexual touch
A problem of particular interest to me, as a person who wants to participate in the philosophical academic community, concerns the definition of “sex,” or what makes something sexual. This is also a question that gets some discussion in the asexual community, especially among asexual people who experience sensual attraction.
I have experienced both sensual and sexual modes of touch in my life, with various partners. For simplicitly I’m going to put sexual partners and sensual partners in a category called “touch partners,” because none of the touch involved romantic feelings.
With various touch partners, I have experienced intense sensual touch as well as intense sexual touch, and there is no difference in intensity for me. I have experienced sexual arousal during sensual touch, and I have had the experience of being completely un-aroused during sexual touch—although it is worth noting that being completely un-aroused during sexual touch makes a person more likely to experience pain instead of pleasure in certain body parts if you’re not careful. Sensual touch and sexual touch can both be gentle.
In my experience, sensual and sexual touches do not categorically have any differences in intensity, gentleness, or the presence or absence of arousal. Neither intensity, gentleness nor arousal determine whether touch is sensual or sexual. Also, whether or not you’re touching someone’s gentials or not makes no difference: it is possible to sexually touch someone’s arm and sensually touch a person’s genitals or nipples.
What makes the difference for me is that a sense of urgency is a hallmark of sexual touch. Sexual touch often involves a need to either maintain or increase arousal, so urgency as a defining quality of sexual touch makes sense.
Sensual touch for me, by contrast, does not involve any sense of urgency. Since there is no urgency, there is no feeling (or much less feeling) of pressure to perform, or pressure that one is inadequate. The goal of sensual touch is only pleasure–never arousal or orgasm, though it is possible for those things to occur during sensual touch for people whose skin is particularly sensitive.
Though I can enjoy sexual touch very much, I vastly prefer sensual touch, and I’m only really interested in pursuing new modes of sensual touch. I hope that my differentiation of the two terms is as helpful to other people in the asexual community as it has been for me.