While certain bits of anatomy (ahem, genitalia) are well-known as sites of sexual pleasure, getting turned on doesn't have to be limited to below the belt. Other areas of the human body have a high concentration of nerve endings, so they're particularly sensitive to touch, pressure, or vibration. These so-called "erogenous zones" can contribute to sexual arousal—think of them as the road map to a happy ending.
According to Monica Geller of Friends, there are seven erogenous zones on a woman's body, but the exact list (for any gender) remains up to speculation. Still, while everyone is a little different when it comes to getting turned on, people generally agree about which erogenous zones are most pleasurable.
The human body's erogenous zones might seem like a topic worthy of a Cosmo article, but this information matters for several reasons. Knowing these "hot spots" is a plus for both your partner and yourself—who would say no to a boost in sexual satisfaction? Identifying different erogenous zones also may improve sexual health; some research suggests that stimulating different spots may produce different reactions in the body. For example, touching the vagina appears to set off the release of the feel-good hormone prolactin, while the cervix may be involved in controlling muscle tension during sex. Understanding erogenous zones is also important to make sure that people undergoing gender reassignment surgery or breast augmentation don't lose significant sexual function. Women's clitoris, vagina, and cervix mapped on the sensory cortex: fMRI evidence. Komisaruk BR, Wise N, Frangos E. The journal of sexual medicine, 2011, Jul.;8(10):1743-6109. The assessment of sensory detection thresholds on the perineum and breast compared with control body sites. Cordeau D, Bélanger M, Beaulieu-Prévost D. The journal of sexual medicine, 2014, May.;11(7):1743-6109.
All this being said, more research is needed to determine the precise effects of stimulating different areas of the body. In the meantime, might we suggest a little personal experimentation? Get started with the guide below.
The Erogenous Zones on the Female Body
A runaway winner for the title of "Body Part Contributing Most to Sexual Arousal," the clitoris is extremely sensitive. (Hello, nerve endings!) Research shows that stimulating the clitoris is the fastest and easiest way for many women to orgasm. For the most part, pressure and vibration are the way to go; research suggests light touching doesn't always have the same effect.
Heard of the famous mecca of sexual pleasure that is the female "G-spot?" Yeah, researchers are pretty sure that doesn't actually exist. The interior of the vagina, however, does contain nerve endings, and women report that deep stimulation leads to more intense orgasms. The outer edge of the vagina, on the other hand, tends to respond to light touch.
The cervix, located at the lower end of the uterus, has its own feel-good nerve pathways. In fact, some research suggests that the vagina, clitoris, and cervix all respond separately and distinctly to sexual stimuli. Nerves in the cervix respond most to pressure stimulation, but light touch has been shown to elicit a response as well. Women's clitoris, vagina, and cervix mapped on the sensory cortex: fMRI evidence. Komisaruk BR, Wise N, Frangos E. The journal of sexual medicine, 2011, Jul.;8(10):1743-6109. Hysterectomy improves sexual response? Addressing a crucial omission in the literature. Komisaruk BR, Frangos E, Whipple B. Journal of minimally invasive gynecology, 2011, Oct.;18(3):1553-4669.
4. Mouth and Lips
A recent survey found kissing to be more important in relationship-building than in sexual arousal. But another study suggests that many women rank the lips and mouth highly as erogenous areas. Who says it can't be both?
According to a large international survey of women, both the nape and back of the neck are among the top 10 erogenous zones. One study found that the neck is very sensitive to light touch, especially (oddly enough) among people with low body fat. Another study found that women with spinal cord injury can get pretty turned on by neck stimulation alone.
6. Breasts and Nipples
While both men and women may like to look at breasts (for evolutionary purposes, apparently), they're not just for show—they play a role in sexual arousal as well. Turns out nipple stimulation sets fireworks off in the same region of the brain that processes sensations from the clitoris and vagina. Just as with the clitoris, pressure and vibration are generally the way to go. Women's clitoris, vagina, and cervix mapped on the sensory cortex: fMRI evidence. Komisaruk BR, Wise N, Frangos E. The journal of sexual medicine, 2011, Jul.;8(10):1743-6109. The assessment of sensory detection thresholds on the perineum and breast compared with control body sites. Cordeau D, Bélanger M, Beaulieu-Prévost D. The journal of sexual medicine, 2014, May.;11(7):1743-6109.
Ears are super sensitive to touch, probably due to a large number of nerve endings. Although there's no science yet to say why ears are erogenous, it seems to be a fairly common consensus that they are.
The Erogenous Zones on the Male Body
While this one's pretty obvious, it's worth noting that both survey and lab-based scientific experiments demonstrate that penile stimulation significantly contributes to sexual satisfaction. And while this can be a sensitive subject, circumcision doesn't appear to decrease sensation or sexual satisfaction.
2. Mouth and Lips
Highly sensitive, male lips respond to light touch, temperature, or pressure. Kissing also triggers a release of hormones involved in intimacy—especially oxytocin, the so-called "love hormone." Pucker up!
Ranked No. 3 (behind penis and lips) in ability to produce sexual arousal, the scrotum is one of men's most notable erogenous zones. Lots of nerves mean that this area is super-sensitive to touch. However there's no research to back up what sort of touch works best, so you might have to resort to a slightly-less-than-scientific source instead!
While touching the neck doesn't appear to be quite as much of a turn-on for men as for women, it's still ranked pretty highly on the erogenous zones list. The neck has great sensitivity to low-frequency vibration, making it a prime spot for light erotic touch.
As with women, men rank nipples as a definite hot spot. While male nipples don't appear to serve any real purpose (they're basically by-products of evolution), that doesn't mean they're totally useless—they still have plenty of nerve endings!
The perineum (the area between the anus and scrotum) is hooked up to perineal nerves, which help convey sensations of sexual pleasure from the genitals to the brain. In other words, if you're not familiar with this area, it might be worth your time to get acquainted.
Highly sensitive to touch because of a high number of sensory receptors on the skin, the ears are ranked just behind the scrotum for body parts that help men orgasm when touched or otherwise stimulated. Self-ratings of genital anatomy, sexual sensitivity and function in men using the 'Self-Assessment of Genital Anatomy and Sexual Function, Male' questionnaire. Schober JM, Meyer-Bahlburg HF, Dolezal C. BJU international, 2009, Feb.;103(8):1464-410X.
While sexual arousal seems like a highly individual sort of thing, people generally tend to agree on which spots get their motors running. These so-called "erogenous zones" are linked to feelings of sexual arousal—stimulating these spots can ramp up feelings of sexual pleasure and make sex more satisfying. The list above describes some of the most common zones, but it is by no means exhaustive. The best way to find out what you and your partner like? Communicate, experiment, communicate some more, and repeat.
Originally published August 2014. Updated April 2016.