10 Ways Sex Is Different for Highly Sensitive People

A highly sensitive person in bed with their partner

Highly sensitive people are more in tune with subleties around them — including when it comes to sex.

Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are greatly in tune with everything from their environments to their bodies. Compared to non-HSPs, they are acutely aware of things like how sugar affects them, their caffeine and alcohol limits, how much sleep they require (hint: more than non-HSPs), and when they need a break to destress. This sensitivity can make it difficult for others to understand us, especially if friends and loved ones are less aware of subtle shifts in their own bodies. 

And sex is no exception.

Sexual intimacy is an important part of connection for many HSPs. But it’s also different from those who are not highly sensitive. Here are some of the main distinctions to underline, whether you’re an HSP yourself or in a relationship with someone who is highly sensitive.

10 Ways Sex Is Different for Highly Sensitive People

1. HSPs prefer love and commitment with their intimacy.

HSPs, especially highly sensitive women, often prefer a committed relationship before getting too physical. In many cases, they wait until they love their partner. 

A sensitive person might have trouble jumping into a sexual relationship that doesn’t have a strong emotional connection. According to the results of a survey done by Dr. Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, HSP women said they didn’t enjoy sex as much with someone unless they loved them. 

Of course, everyone is different, and that doesn’t mean highly sensitive people can’t have casual sex. But what we know so far has shown us that HSPs tend to need an emotional bond with their partners to truly relax and feel safe in the experience.

2. We might avoid sex due to overarousal.

Even if an HSP enjoys sex, they often need to be in the right headspace to initiate or agree to it. 

Highly sensitive humans are overstimulated in many ways throughout the day. By the time we’ve handled work stress, dealt with work traffic, done household chores, planned out dinner, and been exposed to tons of daily life stimuli, engaging in sexual activities might feel like way too much. 

If you’re an HSP who has had a particularly stressful or busy day, the act of making love might not seem appealing. HSPs might prefer cuddling or watching a good Netflix show (actual “Netflix-and-chilling”) over sex, the latter of which can feel like a rollercoaster on a busy or emotional day.

And the day might not seem “busy” compared to normal standards. HSPs have overactive minds, and we can become exhausted just from processing social interactions or being around too much noise. Many HSPs view sex as wonderful and even magical — we just need time and space to get in the right mood.

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3. When HSPs are in the mood, subtle cues are best.

Research shows HSPs have higher positive emotional reactivity than non-HSPs. We experience positive emotions intensely, including the feelings and emotions associated with arousal. 

If touch is too rough or their partner comes on too strong, HSPs may shut down rather than stay engaged. The sudden flip can be frustrating until both parties learn that more is not always better. (Communication is key!)

Small suggestions (rather than strong, explicit cues) turn an HSP on — such as from a gentle touch, a compliment, or a smile from across the room. When a partner knows this, it can make sex — and the moments leading up to it — incredible for both the sensitive person and their partner.

4. The difference between pleasure and pain is a fine line.

HSPs experience everything more intensely than non-HSPs. If something doesn’t feel quite right, it can become painful or uncomfortable. Sensitive people might need to be more communicative with their partners to note sudden or overwhelming feelings. This is just another reason that HSPs might prefer sex with someone they love — because love (hopefully) comes with trust and being comfortable enough to share openly.

HSPs might also worry about expressing when something becomes painful. Maybe they think they shouldn’t be overwhelmed or can tell their partner is enjoying the experience and don’t want to interrupt it. However, this is also why HSPs need partners who listen and can be sensitive to their unique needs.

5. Transitions are so important.

A recent study suggested HSP brains feel things deeply, even “at rest,” after emotionally stimulating experiences. It takes us more time to get back into normal life after something that has us feeling all sorts of ways. 

In the same way, after sex, we might need time to appreciate the moment before we move into the rest of the day (or night). For some, that might mean cuddling or speaking softly with your partner, or just lying quietly.

And that goes the other way, too. HSPs can rarely jump right into something stimulating without proper transitions. Sex might feel like a mountain to climb unless there is a buildup — like time to get in the mood. Telling your partner this can help, as well. For some people, that might mean planning for sex on a specific day or time when you don’t have too much going on before or after. While it might not sound that sexy, the waiting can actually be exciting for both parties! (Plus, it can help reduce overwhelm for us HSPs.)

6. HSPs are sensitive to their partner’s sexual needs.

Research shows that HSPs are often very empathetic because they’re highly in tune with others’ emotions, and that extends to the bedroom. A sensitive person wants their partner to have a good time, and they might avoid sharing their own needs — or discomfort — to make the other person happy.

HSPs pick up on subtleties, like body language, even in bed, and they often know if someone is uncomfortable or not feeling the situation. They might even pick up on cues before their partner is sure what they need. This can make sensitive people very attentive and caring lovers. At the same time, sensitive souls might need to voice their own needs more, especially at the beginning of a relationship, if their partner is less intuitive.

“For HSPs, communication becomes a big part of the emotional connection and intimacy with enjoyable sex,” Dr. Aprile Andelle, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked with HSP clients, tells me. “So, sexy talk with a partner, and being open and honest about what you do or do not enjoy, will be a plus.”

7. Variety is not always necessary.

According to Dr. Aron, HSPs “find sex to be more mysterious and powerful than non-HSPs.” At the same time, they prefer routine when it comes to their sex lives. They’re already enchanted enough by the sexual connection and might not feel the need to “complicate” things.

Also, sensitive souls often prefer to take it slow and build up to pleasure. While media might portray great sex as intense with over-the-top orgasms, HSPs may get more fulfillment from subtle movements and slow and steady paces. Too much, too fast can even hurt or have the opposite effect.

8. Distraction might derail things.

Sounds, sights, or even thoughts that creep into the situation might distract an HSP from sex.

If they’re worried about a social interaction earlier in the day, they hear the neighbor mowing the lawn outside, the sheets are too scratchy, there’s too much light (or not enough), etc., it can make it difficult to stay in the mood and enjoy the moment. 

“As an HSP, it’s 100 percent okay to take initiative with sex and ‘set the scene’ of the environment, such as lighting, music, and aesthetics, to manage stimuli,” says Dr. Andelle. 

Partners of HSPs might also use this fact to help set the mood! Ask the HSP what they like (and don’t like), and have fun preparing the perfect conditions. After all, environment is so important to HSPs and can really have an impact on their mood and comfort levels.

9. Overstimulation? No, thanks. Slow and steady is best.

Sensitive people of any gender, including HSP men, can easily become overstimulated. As a result, highly sensitive people might need to stop if they become overly overstimulated during sex and can’t enjoy the moment. 

“HSPs are more likely to focus better on arousal with ‘slow down sex’ rather than quickies, where each party takes their time with touch and sensation,” says Dr. Andelle. So, HSPs, slow and steady is often the place to start.

10. That post-sex emotional hangover…

Even good experiences can feel like a lot for HSPs.

Studies have shown that both males and females experience what’s known as postcoital dysphoria (PCD), or crying, after sex. HSPs tend to cry more easily in general, so if they have intense emotions after a lovemaking session, the experience is completely normal. They might have a strong emotional reaction because they’re happy, satisfied, or just overwhelmed with the whole thing. (This is just another reason we sensitive types need time to decompress from the experience before getting back to life.)

HSPs’ Empathetic Natures Can Make Them Great Sexual Partners

Sex can still feel like a taboo topic, but it’s an important one to talk about, especially concerning HSPs, because our experiences can be different from the norm. Pleasure, preferences, and desires can be complex and exciting for everyone. And for sensitive people, there can be even more layers to what works best. 

But HSPs can (and deserve to!) enjoy sex just like everyone else, and our empathetic natures can make us great lovers. We often just need partners who understand our needs, our concerns, and the need for communication about our differences. 

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