Erogenous Zones: Different Strokes for Different Folks?

Perhaps this sounds familiar…

You’re with a new partner & things are getting steamy. But your moaning is halted by wet, squishy noises (of the non-sexy variety) as you wonder why his/her tongue is inside your ear. Or maybe you once lightly touched the back of a partner’s knee expecting a sexy shiver. Instead you got accidentally kicked because they found it insufferably ticklish.

Somewhere, at some point in time, most people have heard about erogenous zones: those wonderful little areas on your body that just seem to burst with erotic potential when touched.

Countless magazine and web articles generalize our unique sexual experiences and boast certain spots as the “best” or “most surprising.” And though a “one size fits all” approach is rarely, if ever, a good idea,  some scientific backing to their method does exist. A recent study by Turnbull, Lovett, Chaldecott, and Lucas has reported surprising similarities across differences in age, race, and even sex.1 (A man’s penis is not his only erogenous zone, folks!)

Let’s start with what we know.

Erogenous zones come in two types: specific & nonspecific. Specific erogenous zones are those that are located on hairless skin that has lots of nerve endings close to the surface. These areas are perhaps what we think of as the most universal & obviously sexual, including the lips, penis, and clitoris. On the other hand, nonspecific erogenous zones have a normal concentration of nerves and can occur anywhere. Nonspecific erogenous zones probably vary a bit more between individuals. However, Turnbull et al. found that a majority of people receive greater stimulation from some areas (neck, thighs, ears) than others (hands, wrists, feet). And there are certain spots (elbow, nose, kneecap) that generally aren’t considered very sexual at all.

We still must keep in mind that just as not everyone agrees on the most delicious food, we can’t expect everyone to agree on the most sexually stimulating spot either. Although you can generalize and say “well, most people like chocolate” you might also know at least one person who much prefers broccoli.

So where does that leave you when you’re trying to navigate a partner’s body? Is there any one tip that can be applied to everyone?


Some people fear that by asking questions, they will seem sexually inexperienced or it will “ruin the mood,” but what it really does is show concern for someone else’s pleasure. I’ll dedicate another post to the various ways of approaching these sorts of delicate conversations, but for now, don’t be afraid to ask your partner which areas of their body they enjoy having touched and how they like to be touched there. (The “how” can make a huge difference. The same person might prefer soft kisses to one spot, a firm caress to another, and light pain somewhere else.) A discussion like this is also the perfect time to find out if there are any spots that your partner hates having touched, so that you know what’s off limits.

It may be that you or your partner aren’t sure where your own unique erogenous zones are. If this is the case, you can suggest that the two of you explore each other’s bodies together. Then you can take that “one size fits all” article, snip out the parts that are off limits, and mentally make note of some interesting ways to explore the places that both of you have agreed upon.

The awesome thing about this advice? It’s not just for new couples! I’m still finding new tricks that work on my partner of 3+ years. Spending time simply touching each other, with no further expectations, can be very pleasurable. Plus, sometimes an individual’s erogenous zones may change. For example, a common side effect of some hormonal contraceptives is breast tenderness. This change in a woman’s body may turn her nipples into centers discomfort instead of pleasure. The most important thing is that you both feel safe and comfortable enough to let the other know if a touch is amazing, upsetting, or anywhere in between.

And if one of you still ends up getting kicked, at least you’ll be able to laugh about it together instead of suffering in embarrassment alone.

1. Turnbull OH, et al., Reports of intimate touch: Erogenous zones and somatosensory cortical organization, Cortex (2013),

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