Do It Better

A Sensual Guide to Textures

| 02/05/2021

Illustration by Sophi Gullbrants

For this Valentine’s Day, our theme is Stay Tender: There’s nothing quite like a personal touch, especially at a time when personal touch is hard to come by. Don’t be afraid to reach out with a little tenderness—to others, and to yourself.

In the morning, it’s the smooth, cozy cup of vanilla bean black tea with a dash of coconut milk held tightly between my palms. At noon, it’s circling my hand over a freshly lit candle, walking the line between comfort and slight masochism. And as I trail off to sleep, it’s a comforting handful (or two) of my own boob, with the purest intention of experiencing bodily warmth and softness. As we approach a year of quarantine, this is my own protective shield against a global pandemic in its own right: the lack of exposure to human touch that many of us are experiencing in our self-seclusion. 

As we stay indoors to protect ourselves and those around us, a new slew of threats arises. According to the Texas Medical Center, the long-term effects of lack of physical touch can include increased levels of stress, depression, and anxiety. Also known as skin hunger, this touch deprivation is yet another side effect of the cooped-up lifestyle we have been forced into.

While it may be a while longer until we can safely explore the skin of another and reap benefits ranging from better sleep to calming cardiovascular stress, there is some good news. Touch doesn’t solely serve as a vessel of connection between two humans, but also allows us to feel connected to ourselves through self-soothing, or self-regulating our emotional state.

Textures can awaken your senses and provide your body with some much-needed novelty.

Humans have the ability to self-soothe, or restore their emotional equilibrium, stimulating any of the five senses. In doing so, our brains begin firing neurons, and our minds connect this stimulation with thoughts and feelings. With touch, we have the ability to control these associations within our mind—and gift ourselves that warm (or sexy, or reassuring) feeling we seek in others.

Although we may be alone, our self-touch ritual doesn’t have to be limited to skin-on-skin or self-massage, although it can if that is what brings you comfort. But if you are searching beyond that, experimenting with textures can help recreate specific pre-pandemic feelings you crave. Because touch has the ability to produce detailed and lasting memories, touching different textures can help people process past memories where they felt loved and validated.

Gift Yourself Sensuality 

Sexual touch is, for many, as essential as the air we breathe. In fulfilling that need during the lockdown, your palms and fingertips may have explored uncharted territories, and your bank account may be recovering from a plethora of playful new investment pieces. Both of those options provide a surefire way to experience pleasure, but they do not have to be the only way. Incorporating textures into your sensual self-care ritual can awaken your senses and provide your body with some much-needed novelty. Next time you’re on the verge of taking yourself for a ride, gift yourself sensuality by test-driving these textures:

Silk: It’s no wonder silk pajama sets and robes are marketed as luxe items—the lightweight fabric is known for its delicacy and luster. Next time you are getting intimate with yourself, throw on a silky nightgown and vow to do the exploring over the material itself, taking advantage of its ability to glide over the skin without causing friction. And, if you are the owner of a robe with a ribbon-like belt, run it against your body for a delicate, tingly sensation. 

Velvet: When you are trying to describe smoothness, velvet is one of the first textures that come to mind and its origin story makes it evident why. Back in the old days, velvet was made primarily from silk. While today’s take on velvet is a combination of synthetic and natural fibers, the texture itself provides the same luxurious sensation as it glides against your skin. 

Feathers: The satisfying texture of feathers has opened up a whole market of feather ticklers perfect for bedroom play. A feather tickler is an ideal device for taking a dip into the sensory stimulation pool. As you begin familiarizing yourself with it, run it against your pleasure points to awaken your body’s nerve endings. It will feel like an entirely new brand of touch. 

Gift Yourself Reassurance and Comfort

When it comes to comfort and reassurance, texture can take on a very personalized face. For some, touching a wool sweater can evoke memories that feel like a safe embrace. For others, that fabric may be cashmere. As a general rule, softer textures tend to be associated with fuzzy moments, while rougher surfaces produce discomfort and negativity. If your need for touch is rooted less in carnal pleasure and more in nostalgia or the need for familiarity and stability, first take inventory of your memories and remember the people and environments that gave you a feeling of security and ease. As the memories start pouring in, go through the five senses and try to recreate a multidimensional image of the scene: Was there a specific scent? A specific sound? A specific texture? If you can pinpoint it, self-soothe by recreating that tactile experience for yourself. 

If you’re having trouble digging into your personalized texture journey, or simply want some additional inspiration, the following options have been known to work on a wide range of people and may succeed in giving your body the feeling of comfort that it desires. 

Pinpoint a specific memory’s scent, sound, and texture. Self-soothe by recreating that tactile experience for yourself. 

Stuffed animal or pillow: It is not uncommon for therapists to encourage clients who describe going through a breakup or being used to sleeping with someone next to them to hold a stuffed animal or place a pillow between their legs and hold another one close to their chest to feel like they are being comforted. This advice need not limit itself to those experiencing heartache. Whether you’re simply missing a friend or are suffering from not being able to hug family in months, this strategy can help. 

Weighted blanket: Generally weighing between five and 30 pounds, weighted blankets use pressure to relax your nervous system, leading to an increase in mood and a lessened state of anxiety. Researchers have dubbed it as a valuable asset in your at-home therapy toolkit, helping provide a state of calm to restless bodies. 

Fleece: Putting on a fresh fleece sweatshirt is like enveloping yourself in a warm, soft hug. Perhaps this is the reason why many people have clear, joyful memories associated with the fabric and why, during the cold winter months, when the yearning for coziness grows tenfold, fleece is a bestselling texture for everything from pajamas to outwear. When you’re seeking the deepest possible layer of comfort, put on a fleece pajama, give yourself a big hug, and wrap yourself inside a blanket. 

And, a personal favorite, boobs: As humans, we associate bodily warmth with feelings of trust and joy. For individuals with breasts, the simple, effortless act of cupping them and giving them a cuddle can bring an instant level of warmth and comfort by releasing oxytocin, the feel-good hormone responsible for social bonding and comfort. 

Overall, textures like silk and fleece seem to be universally comforting, giving a feeling of calmness and safety. So, if your desire for tenderness falls within the instant gratification category, those two may be fantastic choices to start with. If you’re a journeyperson who likes taking their time (and, if there’s anything this pandemic has given us the gift of, it’s time!), then use this piece as a roadmap, each suggestion as a pit stop on the road to feeding your skin and intimacy hunger. Best of luck on your journey!

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