Ta-tas. Boobies. Chi-chis. Gazoongas. Sweater puppies. So many words to describe such delightful parts of the body. For as many words as there are for breasts, there are just as many opinions about them — and just as many people who have some sort of feelings about their boobs. When it comes to sexy time, everybody relates differently to breast stimulation. Some folks like it whisper gentle. Others don’t get excited until you bust out the rope and riding crops. But no matter where on the intensity scale you lie, breast play can be a lot of fun, either as foreplay or the main event.
“For men and women, any type of foreplay that involves touching and showing shared caring intimacy helps with the release of oxytocin and other ‘love’ hormones,” Dr. Steve McGough, associate professor of clinical sexology and director of research and development at Women and Couples Wellness, tells Bustle.
There’s no wrong way to perform breast play — ultimately, how you play with boobs is up to what turns you and your partner on. That said, few folks ever get a crash course in how to touch breasts for maximum pleasure, which means we might often skip over the subtle, delicious sexiness in pursuit of more crotch-oriented activities. That’s why I integrated plenty of tips for fun breast play in my book Girl Sex 101. Working in intentional, skillful breast play can help reassert sex as a full-body experience, and add delicious variety to your makeout and sexy time sessions.
Here’s how to get started.
1. Know Your Anatomy
First things first — understand your breasts. What we consider the nipple is actually made up of three parts: the areola (the whole area of darker flesh), the sulcus (the small division between the areola and nipple), and the nipple (the raised part where milk comes out when lactating). As for the breast, it’s a mix of fatty tissue, lymph nodes, and a bunch of nerves. Where the breast attaches to the torso is called the “root.”
Small breasts, for example, may have more concentrated nerve endings due to a smaller surface area, which means they may be more sensitive and responsive to touch. All breasts, regardless of size, have the same number of nerve endings. In fact, a 2020 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that breast size had no impact on the amount of estradiol or testosterone the person had, which means that the hormones affecting sex drive were no different people with big and small breasts.
2. Ask Permission Before You Touch, Squeeze, Or Lick
Some people may have complicated feelings about their breasts or chests. Some people may only like their breasts stimulated by certain people or may prefer to leave all the action below the belt. As with any sexual situation: Ask first, and see what’s OK. And if something’s off the table, move onto another area of their body that feels good.
“Consent is essential for any kind of touch or sexual play with a partner/s,” certified sex educator and body acceptance advocate Elle Chase tells Bustle. “Always, and continuously, check in with your partner so you’re certain that everyone is having a good time and wants the touch they are receiving or giving.”
3. Check In Often
Sensitivity varies dramatically from person to person. For some, rough is never enough. For others, merely blowing on a nipple will cause sensory overload. A nice way to check in is by integrating a tease: Kiss or lick the nipple gently before moving away. If your partner makes a clear noise, then you have the info you need. If not, ask, “Did you like that?” or “Want more of that?”
“Let your partner know what feels good so that he or she can do more of it,” says Kelli Young, a certified sex therapist in Toronto, Ontario. That means use your words, make those appreciative noises and gestures, and guide your partner in how you like to be pleasured. “Constructive feedback is important,” she says. “But be sure to avoid harsh criticisms — that’s a real buzzkill!”
4. Get Inspiration From The Genitals
Sometimes the way a person likes their clitoris stimulated is similar to the way they like their nipples played with. If someone has a super-sensitive clit that doesn’t like direct contact, try gentle, generalized touch around the areolae. On the other hand, if you’re dealing with a clit only a Magic Wand can properly serve, nibbling and sucking the nipple may be very much on the menu.
After all, just like clitoral stimulation, breast and nipple play can cause orgasms. Not only are nipple orgasms a thing, but they can also increase the likelihood of other orgasms. As Carol Queen, a staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, previously explained to Bustle, the dual arousal of breast and clitoral erogenous zones can lead to a blended orgasm. “Stimulating two erogenous zones together adds to arousal, involves more nerves, and make orgasm easier to achieve and stronger,” Queen said.
5. Shake Things Up
Try kissing, stroking, and licking your partner’s breast while pointedly avoiding the areola and nipple. If your partner wants direct nipple stimulation, this tease can be a delightful turn-on. If your partner doesn’t want nipple contact, touching the rest of the breast can feel wonderful on its own. And if your partner is really into nipple play, try using a free hand to mimic the motions your mouth is making, using your lips on one nipple and your hand on the other.
6. There’s More Than Just The Nipple
When it comes to breast play, your first thought might be to go straight for the nipple, and that’s fine as long as your partner likes it — but it is by no means the only thing to pay attention to. For example, some people may find their nipples are too sensitive, but stimulating the areola can be just as arousing.
"You can stimulate the nipple in a variety of ways, and it doesn’t have to be direct stimulation," sex educator Lola Jean previously told Bustle. "You can target the nipples from an outside approach, meaning providing sensation to the areola or just outside the areola, drawing blood flow inwards as well. This can be done with fingers, mouths, or other tools."
7. Explore Different Sensations
Try getting the nipple wet with your saliva by licking and sucking it, then blow gently to create chilly tingles. Experiment with different sensations — cold water or an ice cube on the breast can feel amazing, too.
Another option: Exploring sensory play. “Sensory play is the practice of removing one or more of your senses to increase the sensation of the remaining senses in the bedroom,” Kenna Cook, sex educator and pleasure professional at O.school, tells Bustle. “This means using blindfolds or headphones to block out noise and light while your partner caresses your body. Removing sight and sound from an intimate experience heightens your sense of touch.”
8. Try Some Teeth (But Ask First)
Nipple biting should start exceedingly gentle. To get a sense of what your partner likes, always ask them to help you figure it out, as Chase explains. “If given the go ahead, start very light,” she says. “Ask your partner how that feels and if the pressure is OK.” If they want, you can then slowly increase the pressure. Ask your partner to tell you when you’ve reached their edge. This can give you a great range of what feels good so you know for the future how much is too much.
9. One Breast Or Two — It Doesn’t Matter
You may think that if you’re spending a long time on one nip at the expense of the other one, you should take a trip to the other side. The truth is, though, focusing on both boobs as opposed to one isn’t necessary, as Chase explains. “It’s really individual preference.” If your partner does enjoy both breasts being paid attention to, then make sure you alternate. This will allow the first one to reset and be more in tune with a range of sensations.
10. Know Your Hormonal Cycle
For people who menstruate, the tissue of the breast can feel different based on where you are in their cycle — it’s called cyclical mastalgia. This is usually a day or two before your menstrual cycle (for trans women, it’s usually a day or so after you’ve taken your hormones), but it can also occur at different times. Use extra care on these days because the tissue is often tender and painful.
“During a person’s menstrual cycle, the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise and fall,” says Chase. “For some people, right before and during their period, milk ducts can enlarge and make the breasts swell. This can cause tenderness. For most people, this tenderness is normal. But, if you’re experiencing pain in your breasts that concern you, always get it checked out by a healthcare professional.”
11. Everyone Has Different Sensitivities
While breasts are truly full of yummy nerve endings, those same nerve endings will have different reactions to sensations. “Some folks don’t like the feeling of their breasts being squeezed firmly,” says Chase. “It’s either not enjoyable or downright painful and can cause bruising.”
While some people may be into deep touching and squeezing, others may find that most of the pleasure comes from the surface only. If that’s the case, lick, pinch, and stroke away, but keep the breast where it is, and keep your mouth and hands focused on the surface rather than kneading deeply, which can cause bruising and discomfort.
12. Don’t Ignore The Chest
While nipples tend to get most of the attention, the whole breast can be a bounty of sensation. Explore the crease on the underside of the breast. Try kissing your partner’s rib cage on their sides. Give some love to their clavicle, cleavage, and even the top of their armpit.
“Try two different touches or strokes, and ask your partner what feels best. Touch two different parts of their body and ask what they like the most,” suggests Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex therapist and psychotherapist in San Francisco, CA.
13. Get Playful
Think vibrators are just for genital sensation? Nope. A vibe on the nipples can feel amazing and be a great warm-up to sex. Because the breasts don’t have any internal openings, they can be safer to experiment with food play than the vagina, which can lead to infection. “Pleasure happens in your body,” says Marin. “The best way for you to enjoy yourself more in the moment is to pay close attention to the sensations you’re feeling.”
In other words: See how that whipped cream bikini really feels. Put ice cream on the chest and lick it off. Experiment tracing an ice cube around the nipples. See what works, see what doesn’t, and you can always take a sexy shower after.
14. Get Curious About Pierced Nips
Pierced nipples may require some quick education prior to playing. First things first, new nipple piercings should be avoided during sex while they're healing, which can take up to a year, according to professional piercer Starr Ellis of Nine Moons. "This may mean some creativity with positions to avoid them," Ellis previously told Bustle.
People who have nipple piercings may also experience more intense sensations and have specific ways they want them played with. As with any breast play, ask before you dive in and be receptive to feedback from your partner. If you have pierced nips, trial and error can help you assess what works for you. Try stimulating your breasts on your own while you masturbate so you can see what feels good.
15. Experiment With Pain And Pleasure
Nipple play can be popular in the BDSM world. Nipple clamps can be a fun accessory to experiment with due to the pressure and pain they can provide. As with any new toy, go slow, have a safe word, and be prepared to abandon the activity and go back to something you both enjoy. Browsing toys and accessories together and trying a few options can be sexy in itself, regardless of whether the experience is a one-time only experiment or something to add to the repertoire on the regular.
“When you try new things together, you are creating shared experiences that are new and exciting,” dating coach and licensed marriage and family therapist Pella Weisman tells Bustle. “That shared excitement is a way to have both closeness and stimulation.”
16. Dress Them Up
From lingerie to pasties to temporary tattoos, breasts can be a lot of fun to dress up — and the turn-on that comes from showing off can be intense for you and your partner. “Humans are visual creatures, and we like seeing our partner’s bodies in action,” says Marin.
Sexy breast play can start with visual cues. Play around with looks that make you feel sexy — from a sheer bra to a shirt with no bra to a teasing temporary tattoo. If you want, do a striptease or show off. It can be silly or sensual, but the main point is to play, have fun, and create a fun experience for you, your partner, and your chest.
17. Experiment On Your Own
Part of knowing what turns your breasts on is becoming familiar with them on your own. "What scientists call 'sexual breadth' is strongly related to sexual satisfaction, so exploring ways of broadening your sexual behaviors may improve your sex life," Dr. Nicole Prause, Ph.D., of the sexual biotechnology company Liberos, previously told Bustle. "And there are more active or passive methods for identifying and exploring new sexual activities."
The next time you’re getting down with yourself, take some time to explore your breasts. Touch them, caress them, play with your boobs, and see how your body responds. Not only will you be able to give your partner specific feedback, but you’ll have fun, too.
18. There Is Such Thing As Too Rough
While BDSM and experimenting with mixing pain and pleasure can be enjoyable, just know that there is such a thing as pushing it a bit too far. After all, your body does have its limits. “Regular nipple play that gets so rough you're getting scabbed and bruised can actually cause internal scar tissue and de-sensitization," Mal Harrison, director for the Center for Erotic Intelligence, previously told Bustle. "We're talking permanent nerve and tissue damage.” Even if you or your partner like this a little on the rougher side, be mindful of how it’s affecting your body.
19. If You Don’t Like It, Don’t Push It
Some people may find different amounts of pressure on and types of interaction with breasts and nipples, and some people may not find any pleasure in it at all — and that’s OK. Even if you do feel sensation, you may not necessarily enjoy it. "Nipples range in sensitivity, and that doesn’t just mean they require different levels of intensity to feel pleasure," Lola Jean said. "For some, nipple sensation isn’t pleasurable at any level of sensitivity. Meaning, just because you can feel it doesn’t mean it feels good." Everybody has different preferences when it comes to the ways they are comfortable being touched. If breasts aren’t for you, it’s no biggie.
Levin, R.J. (2006). The breast/nipple/areola complex and human sexuality, Sexual and Relationship Therapy. Reader in Psychology. 21:2, 237-249, DOI: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14681990600674674
Kościński, K., Makarewicz, R., & Bartoszewicz, Z. (2020). Stereotypical and Actual Associations of Breast Size with Mating-Relevant Traits. Archives of sexual behavior, 49(3), 821–836. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-019-1464-z
Dr. Steve McGough, associate professor of clinical sexology and director of research and development at Women and Couples Wellness
Elle Chase, certified sex educator, author, and body acceptance advocate
Kelli Young, Toronto, Ontario-based certified sex therapist
Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations
Kenna Cook, sex educator and pleasure professional at O.school
Vanessa Marin, San Francisco, California-based licensed sex therapist and psychotherapist
Pella Weisman, dating coach and licensed marriage and family therapist
Dr. Nicole Prause, Ph.D., founder of Liberos
Mal Harrison, director for the Center for Erotic Intelligence
Lola Jean, sex educator
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