In the wonderful world of sexuality, almost anything is possible. Almost anything can be sexually arousing to someone, anywhere. We humans are complex creatures, and our ability to use our imaginations never ceases to amaze.
Think about what turns you on. You might think about things like oral sex, hand sex, a good set of breasts, maybe a little spanking, bondage, tickling. Wait. What? Tickle? People get aroused by tickling? Like my eyes are watering, I can’t breathe, I want to crawl out of my skin because I’m tickling so intensely?
Yes. Tickling can be sexually arousing for some people. In fact, in some cases, it can manifest as a cornerstone of a person’s overall sexual template. “For most people who engage in erotic titillation, pleasure is often a by-product of the interplay of physical and psychological elements,” says Dr. Nazanin Moali, sex therapist and moderator of the event Sexology Podcast(opens in a new tab). Hmmm physically and mentally you say? Make us curious.
Misinformation about kink and fetishes is rampant on TikTok. Therefore, it is important that you get your kink education from reputable sources.
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We’re not here to spoil anyone’s taste. We are sexual explorers. So let’s dive in and get down to the basics of the wild and wonderful sexual interest in tickling. What makes tickling so hot? How does it fit into the topic of BDSM when you really work yourself out? Can it be more than a “sexual interest” and a literal “can’t live without living” fetish?
Oh, we’ve got the goods. This way. And bring your feathers.
Understand the science of tickling
If you’ve ever been tickled (and not aroused by it), you may have a hard time imagining how someone could be aroused by that feeling. If we break down what tickling actually is and its purpose in a non-sexual context, we can begin to get the picture.
The intensity of a tickle sensation is an evolutionary survival tactic. Tickling usually triggers fear, which is part of our biological survival strategy against threats. “Tickling is a complex sensation. Tickling can raise awareness that something is crawling/moving on your skin,” says Moali.
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When something dangerous crawls on you, your body feels it as a tickle, so you know you need to take action. For example, if you’re being stalked by a spider, a tickling sensation would be a very quick alert that you need to wipe that motherfucker away real quick before it bites you.
Laughter is part of this biological defense system. That’s why we laugh when we’re tickled. We “laugh, which seems to indicate joy, but internally it’s common that we actually feel varying degrees of discomfort,” explains Sarah Melancon(opens in a new tab)PhD, sociologist, clinical sexologist and resident expert at The Sex Toy Collective.
How Tickling Can Lead to Sexual Arousal.
Tickling can induce anxiety, which can be very sexually arousing for some people. Sexual arousal and anxiety arise from the same foundation—physiological arousal. Tickling falls under the pain-pleasure realm of emotions, which are closely linked in the brain. The intense and overwhelming feelings that tickling brings can feel like a life-threatening situation. Your nervous system doesn’t know how to distinguish between a real threat and a perceived threat. Your biological response to the perceived threat to your life causes your adrenaline levels to spike, which can lead to sexual arousal.
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According to Melancon, arousal can also arise from the anticipatory nature of tickling. We don’t know when it’s coming, so our senses are on high alert. Research on tickling(opens in a new tab) even found that anticipating being tickled activates the same parts of the brain that light up when we are actually being tickled. It’s so intense up in the old noggin.
Tickling, which is generally perceived as extremely unpleasant, becomes an extremely pleasurable and erotic experience.
A tickle session can even lead to a climax. “Some people can orgasm just from tickling,” Melancon tells us. The tickling is so pleasurable that you can literally cum. Great, isn’t it?
The dom/sub dynamics in a tickling scene.
But it’s not all about the sensation, folks. It’s about the fundamental level of a BDSM scene: the dom/sub relationship. Tickling is about giving and receiving power in a safe and consensual way. “There is a power dynamic between the giver and the receiver that can foster a deep sense of intimacy and vulnerability,” says Moali. The dom/sub dynamic is an essential part of a tickle scene.
The tickler/ticklee takes on the dominant or submissive role.
It’s important to note that in order to become fully aroused, we need to feel secure. This means that while we may experience a biological fear response, we need to know that we are rooted in true safety with our Dom (or Tickle Top/Tickler). We need to feel that our partner respects our boundaries and stops when we get a safe word out.
Tickling as a kink or fetish.
While tickle play isn’t always about the classic BDSM situation of slap play/bondage/leather, it’s possible under the BDSM umbrella. I mean, we’re talking about getting aroused by tickling. This is really perverted stuff! “The official terminology for tickle fetishists is knismophilia,” says professional kinkster. Mistress Kye(opens in a new tab). Although she tells us it’s one of the more “obscure” fetishes, it’s not entirely uncommon.
“The official terminology for tickle fetishists is knismophilia.”
Ticklekink vs Tickle Fetish: What’s the Difference?
A kink is when someone takes pleasure in a “typically” non-sexual object, action, sensation, etc. Think leather sex, spanking, praise etc.
A fetish is the object, action, or sensation needs be present to reach the peak of sexual arousal. That would mean that tickling has to be on the menu for you to fully enjoy a sexual experience.
The reasons for a tickle fetish are very different. “It could be about sentiment, others could be about the power dynamics of being held or being held back,” Moali explains. “For some couples, it’s about acting out a certain fantasy that tickling might play a part in.”
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Plus, hooking up can be about experiencing childish playfulness, Moali tells us. It can be about creating a scene where fun and play are experienced. These people “enjoy the endorphin rush while being playful, physical, and silly at the same time,” Kye adds.
I think we all remember being tickled as children, no matter how good or bad those memories are.
How tickling scenes can unfold.
Melancon says the following motivators drive tickle scenes:
Tickling as Consensual Punishment.
Tickling as an opportunistic part of the game. Someone is already tied up and tickling can lead to a feeling of helplessness.
Tickling as embarrassment or humiliation.
Tickling is an extra layer of sensation that holds someone back and the tickling adds to the experience
“Some people enjoy tickling as part of foreplay, which leads to typical sexual activities like intercourse. Tickling may or may not involve nudity,” says Melancon. Basically, it plays out in many ways and is very subjective from person to person.
In some extreme cases, tickling can become “tickle torture,” says Melancon. This can manifest itself in many ways, but usually involves the tickler being tied up and being forced to “endure” the tickling as part of the scene. Of course, like all scenes, these scenes are heavily negotiated.
Tickle torture “can involve a variety of toys aimed at specific parts of the body,” says Kye. “A personal favorite of mine is the electric nipple brush. The toothbrush endures such an intensity that it becomes painful – so good pain.”
Conclusion: Like it or hate it, tickling can be a great source of erotic power for some people. And you know what? This is completely right. Everyone enjoys what they enjoy. What happens between consenting adults is nobody’s business. Live, laugh, tickle.