By: Riley Fortier, M.Ed.
CW: mention of body dysmorphia and disordered eating
Circles of Sexuality
The circles of sexuality were created by Dennis Daily in 1981 to show a more holistic approach to sexuality. Daily created this model for a strengths-based approach to social work for client’s sexual wellbeing. The “circles” or categories of sexuality are: sensuality, intimacy, sexual identity, sexual health and reproduction, and sexualization. The following categories and descriptions have been slightly adapted from Daily’s original 1981 framework.
This blog is going to focus on the first circle of sexuality, sensuality. To learn more about the other aspects of sexuality, check out my previous blog HERE.
Sensuality involves the level of awareness, acceptance, and enjoyment of our body or others. Sensuality can include things like:
- Skin hunger
- Visual or auditory stimuli
- Sexual response cycle
- Body image
Skin hunger, also known as touch depravation, usually happens when a person experiences little to no physical touch from other livings things (like humans and pets). Specifically, this occurs when a person experiences a lack of positive touch (like a high five, a hug, cuddling, sexual acts, etc.).
After prolonged, positive physical touch, your brain releases oxytocin, which is sometimes known as the “happy chemical.” When someone goes without positive physical touch, they can have a lack of oxytocin, which can lead to deep feelings of (a usually subconscious) need for physical touch.
The term “skin hunger” became more popular in online spaces after March of 2020 when folks who were social distancing and self-isolating began to realize how much they need and miss physical touch. In this instance, things like: a heated/weighted blanket, taking a warm bath, and self pleasure/touch could be used as substitutions.
Visual or auditory stimuli
Visual or auditory stimuli are great ways to get in touch with your sensuality. ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response) is a great example. Many people enjoy listening to different sounds, crackling, popping, cutting soap, long fingernails clicking, someone eating, etc. that just make people feel good. Not usually sexually (although that can be true too). Other auditory stimuli like music can be an example of auditory sensuality. Auditory stimuli could also be steamy voice notes from your lover to help you get in the mood.
Other visual stimulis can include: nude and/or erotic sculptures or other artwork and porn (although this is both visual and auditory!).
Sexual response cycle
The sexual response cycle refers to the physical and psychological changes that a body experiences when becoming sexually aroused through sexual stimuli or sexually stimulating activities (like masturbation or sexual intercourse).
The most common is the four stage model, which includes: excitement/arousal, plateau, orgasm, and resolution. (This can and will be its own blog dedicated solely to the sexual response cycle so I’ll keep it brief here).
Body image is the perception one has over their body. This plays into sensuality because when folks more positive body image, they might feel feel sexier, hotter, or more desirable, etc. more often.
On the flip side, more negative body image can impact someone’s sexuality with things like body dysmorphia, gender dysphoria, or a low libido or sexual desire.
Fantasy is a great way for folks to explore! Fantasy can be role playing in games or it can be sexual fantasies that never make it out into the real world. Often, people have deep-seated fantasies that can arise as young as childhood and can carry over to adulthood. One of my favorite stories is a friend of mine always tying up their friends with jump rope during recess, and this ending up being a bondage kink in their adult life.
Fantasy can be a really safe way to explore new or scary scenarios, and can be a fun way to aid in masturbation or self-pleasure.
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series titled, “Circles of Sexaulity: Intimacy”.