If you’ve ever put an ice cube in your mouth before sucking on your partner’s nipples, or given an erotic massage with warm oil, you’ve tried temperature play. This type of play can involve a wide variety of sensations and temperatures. If you’re interested in trying it out the first time, read on to learn more about what temperature play is, why some people enjoy it, and how to incorporate temperature play into your sex life safely.
Temperature play can heighten your sexual experiences
Temperature play falls under the umbrella of sensation play — any type of sexual activity that engages senses to heighten pleasure. “Temperature play is a consensual erotic activity where you and your play partner(s) use different temperatures, usually really cold or really warm/hot, for pleasure,” sexologist Marla Renee Stewart, MA, sexpert for Lovers tells O.school.
Temperature play can be much more than just playing with ice cubes or massage oil. “In the kink world, it can be those things, along with using other objects such as the heat from light bulbs or menthol/cinnamon products or spice on the genitals,” says Stewart. As with any sexual play, this type of play exists on a spectrum, from lighter, gentler sensations to the more extreme.
People enjoy it for a variety of reasons
For many people, it’s as simple as “enjoy[ing] temperature play because they like to feel something different on their skin,” says Stewart. Some might enjoy trying it out once in a while to add a new, exciting element to the bedroom. They might try gentler types of sensations, like using cold or warm lotion during sex. Others might view temperature play as central to their sexual experiences, employ it in BDSM scenes, using more extreme sensations, like dripping hot wax on the body. Stewart tells O.school that “extreme temperature actually signals endorphins because they are trying to regulate you back to homeostasis.” This extra boost of endorphins are “our natural pain reliever and mood shifter” or “happy hormone.”
4 Ideas for playing with heat
Playing with heat involves warming up things like toys, lube, oils, wax, and playing with them on different parts of the body. The warming sensation can range from something calming to something much more intense and painful.
1. Warm-up your lube
Heating up lube can be a great place to start if you’re new to temperature play. The trick to playing with warm lube is not heating it up too much, especially if you’re using it on genitals. Do not heat up lube in the microwave as it’s easy to overheat it that way. In an article on Lascivity, Kristina X suggests instead placing a bottle of lube in a hot cup of water for a few minutes and to test the temperature on yourself before applying it to a partner.
2. Heat a sex toy
To heat a sex toy, be sure it’s made of stainless steel or glass. You can heat them as you would lube — in a cup or pot of hot water, not boiling. Stewart adds that you can heat “glass, stainless steel, or some other product that relatively keeps temperature [by] wrapping it with a hot towel or wrapping it in a heater.”
3. Drink or put something warm in your mouth before performing oral
You can brew your favorite cup of tea and then go down on your partner for fun warming sensations. Mouths and genitals already tend to be pretty warm places on the body, so adding extra heat by drinking a hot beverage can intensify these sensations. Just be sure to take it slowly, and that your beverage isn’t too hot, as the genitals are one of the most sensitive places on the body.
4. Play with (body safe) wax
One way people enjoy playing with heat is through wax play. Wax play is “where you [use] the heat from the candle wax and drip it onto the skin” says Stewart. Rather than using everyday candles or wax, be sure to use body safe candles designed for temperature play as they melt at lower temperatures making them safer.
Be mindful of where you are dripping the wax. Stay away from any open wounds, and never get wax in the eyes, ears, mouth, vagina, urethra, or anus. Begin in less sensitive places on the body, like the arms or thighs (not inner thighs). If you do choose to use wax near the genitals, be very careful. The skin in the genitals are far more sensitive than other places on the body, and you want to be sure that you don’t get any wax inside the body.
You might also explore wax play by experimenting with the intensity of the heat by adjusting how far the candle is from the skin. The farther away the candle is, the less intense it will be, since the wax has more time to cool off before reaching the skin. You might also experiment with how much wax you drip at one time.
4 ideas for playing with cold
Playing with colder temperatures usually involves, you guessed it, ice. But it doesn’t always have to. There are lots of ways to play with cold sensations on various parts of the body.
1. Try oral sex with ice chips
Put ice chips in your mouth before kissing, sucking, or licking your partner(s). “Even doing something like putting ice in your mouth and sucking on your lover's toes can be a sensational activity,” says Stewart. To heighten things even more, try oral sex while ice is in the giver’s mouth. Or if you want to ease into this, you can take a few sips of ice water, and then use your mouth on your partner.
2. Run ice cubes along the skin
“People play with cold by using ice on the skin and gliding it across for some extended foreplay,” says Stewart. You can use your hands or mouth to guide the ice across your partner’s body. You might explore which body parts are more sensitive. For example, the wrists and neck both have a lot of blood flow close to the surface of the skin, making the cold sensation feel more pleasurable for some. The lower back might feel very different from the butt cheeks. Experiment to find which areas of the body feel best to you and/or partner(s).
3. Refrigerate your sex toys
Cool down stainless steel or glass toys by either refrigerating them or cooling them in a glass of ice water. Then use at will. Because the genitals are one of the most sensitive places on the body, if you’re going to use your cold sex toys on this area, just be sure to take it slowly and communicate during the process.
4. Experiment with cold food
Ice cream, smoothies, popsicles, and other cold foods can be a fantastic way to play with temperature and other senses, like taste. Licking ice cream off your partner’s chest, testicles, or lower back stimulates temperature for the receiver, as well as the giver, and also heightens the giver’s sense of taste at the same time. When involving food play, it’s important to check in about allergies and to keep food, especially dairy products, away from the genitals.
Further enhance temperature play with toys
If you'd like to enhance your temperature play further, or incorporate it into a BDSM scene, it can help to mute the other senses, such as sight and hearing. You can incorporate BDSM or kink sex toys, or even some household items. For example, you might try adding in a blindfold, noise-canceling headphones, or restraining your partner to the bed with light rope play. This can help you pay even more attention to the feelings on your skin. You can try different methods of enhancing temperature play separately or together.
How to get started with temperature play
If you plan to try temperature play with a partner(s), communicate boundaries, safe words, and consent. Take turns talking about things that are a hard no, things you’re not sure about, but might be open to trying, things you know you want to try, and what body parts are on or off limits. Boundaries, wants, needs, and desires may change throughout the experiences, so check in with partner(s) often before, during, and after. Choosing a safe word that signals you’re approaching a boundary and a safe word for when a boundary has been crossed and you need to stop, can be a useful tool. Here are a few things to keep in mind before getting started with temperature play.
Consider what you want to feel
Are you interested in hot or cold play? How intense would you like the sensations to be? Is there a certain part of your body you want to focus on? How do you want to feel during the experience— relaxed and soothed, humiliated, played with, etc.? Considering questions like these can give you a better sense of what props you will need and the dynamic you will create with your partner(s).
Have props and items at the ready
When it comes to temperature play, props can range from ice cubes, cold water, and heating pads you might already have at home. You could also buy items, such as body-safe candles, massage oils, and stainless steel or glass sex toys.
Determine what you’ll need based on which toy you’re using and the temperature you want to play with. If you want to try a glass dildo and cold temperatures, for example, you’ll either want to use a refrigerator or a glass of ice water nearby. If you’re interested in heating lube, on the other hand, have a warm cup of water ready.
Understand potential risks and warning signs of trouble
If you’re a beginner, starting with gentler temperatures — especially when it comes to heat — can help you avoid any potential safety issues. But if you’re trying wax play, for example, it’s important to use body safe wax or candles, instead of everyday use wax, as they are less likely to cause a burn. If you’re exposing yourself or your partner(s) to intense heat, like playing in a hot tub or very hot room, monitor each person for flushed cheeks, headaches, and other signs of dehydration, heat stroke, or fainting.
Know how to care for potential injuries that may occur
Injuries like unwanted burns can be avoided if you take precautions. However, when you’re playing with heat, burns do become a risk. Stewart suggests having a first aid kit on hand. “Make sure that you have a burn kit if you are going to engage in play with hot temperatures. For something that might be too cold, having a heated blanket or warm blanket nearby will be helpful.” If a burn does occur, immediately remove the hot item from the body, and find a way to cool the skin down, for example, by running it under cold water, or putting a cold towel on it. Then cover the burn with a bandage, gauze, or clean cloth. You should seek medical help if the burn is infected, there is extreme blistering, pain for several hours, or it is a second degree burn.
Experiment on your own body first
This can help you understand your likes and dislikes and help you communicate those things to a partner if/when you are the receiver. Doing self-tests is also good practice before administering heat or cold safely. If you’ve heated lube or massage oil, for example, test the temperature on yourself to make sure it’s not overheated. Remember that certain body parts are more sensitive, so even if the temperature feels okay on your hand and leg, it could feel very hot on your partner’s genitals, so proceed with caution and check in often.
Intensify temperatures gradually
If you’re trying temperature play for the first time, start with something basic that doesn’t take much training, for example, going down on your partner with ice chips in your mouth, as opposed to something like wax play.
No matter the activity you’re trying, take it slowly by starting with a less intense temperature on parts of the body that aren’t as sensitive. For example, the butt, thighs, and forearms are not as sensitive as places like the nipples, genitals, wrists, or neck. You might start by using a slightly warmed toy on your partner’s thigh and slowly making your way toward the genitals. The receiver can then communicate if they’d like a little more heat added or if they would like you to apply or keep temperature away from certain body parts.
Before beginning play, talk about the kind of aftercare that might be needed. Stewart says “Showers are great aftercare for temperature play because you can have a warm or cold temperature depending on the play.”
You might also consider having a hot or cold liquid ready, in case your internal core temperature needs to be tended to, adds Stewart. And being prepared with blankets, lotion, a first aid kit, or other things that can soothe the body and skin can be nice aftercare for temperature play. “As always, emotional aftercare should be used as well by checking in about what went right and what you would change for the next time” says Stewart.
The bottom line
Temperature play can be a great way to heighten your senses and pleasure. If you’re not sure where to start, think about whether you want hot or cold sensations and explore toys and techniques from there. Remember to start slow, practice on yourself first, and do your research so you understand how to perform it safely.