Communicating about sex — whether you’re with a new partner, already in a relationship, or diving into solo exploration — can be a challenge. At times, it can be difficult to articulate what we want in bed, what we might want to try, and what sexual activities might be off-limits. That’s why O.school developed the Spice Meter, a scale designed to help you think and talk about what turns you on, what you’re curious about, and where your boundaries lie.
How the Spice Meter works
Similar to the system some restaurants use to describe the spice level of food, the Spice Meter is designed to help you articulate what sexual activities you consider to be mild (one pepper), medium (two peppers), and spicy (three peppers). It can also help you ease into kink and BDSM safely and gradually, if that’s what you’re into.
O.school’s Spice Meter is based on three factors:
- How much training or education you need to try the activity
- Whether equipment (like sex toys or gear) is required
- Whether it’s stigmatized by society or seen as unconventional
The Spice Meter is subjective
Just as your food preferences don’t say anything about who you are as a person, your likes and dislikes in the bedroom should be completely judgment-free, too. One person’s “one pepper” activity could be “three pepper” spicy to another. For example, someone might consider “dirty talk” to be a mild “one pepper” activity they do all the time, while another might consider it a more adventurous “two pepper” activity they have to work up to. Remember, it’s always ok to withdraw consent at any time, take something off the table for a while, or decide that it isn’t for you. Keep that subjectivity in mind when reading through the examples below — and feel free to make the Spice Meter your own based on personal preferences!
Slightly spicier than vanilla sex, one pepper activities may take you a bit out of your comfort zone, but not by very much.
1. Training or education needed: None
No training is needed to try out “one pepper” activities. That said, you could always do a little research into other people’s experiences with “one pepper” activities for more ideas on how to expand the ways you engage.
2. Equipment needed. None
In general, one pepper activities don’t require anything but your imagination and a sense of curiosity. You may, at times, want to incorporate safe household items as props or use costumes if you’re planning to dress up. Generally, no specific toys, tools, or equipment is needed, however.
3. Taboo Level: Low
“One pepper” activities are largely seen as conventional by society. They are often talked about in mainstream media, and people may feel more comfortable talking about these activities casually with friends or partners.
One pepper examples
Determining which sexual activities specifically count as “one pepper” is totally subjective. That said, these activities can be a good way to ease into milder sexploration.
- Sensation play. Sensation play can help you to get in touch with your body and explore a wider variety of sensations throughout your body, beyond what we normally think of as “sexy parts.”
- Porn and erotica. Reading or listening to erotica and viewing different kinds of porn, either alone or with a partner, can help you to explore things you’re curious about.
- Sex games. Playing sex games like sexy truth or dare, hide-and-seek, or cards can be a lighthearted way to heighten an experience.
- Edging. Edging can help you learn more about what gives you pleasure and bring your orgasms to the next level.
- Dress-up. Experimenting with dress-up — costumes, lingerie, gender-bending outfits, or whatever makes you feel sexy — can help you to explore your fantasies, solo or with a partner.
- Mutual masturbation. Masturbating with a partner can be a hot way to explore vulnerability and help you and your partner learn more about how you each like to be touched.
- Watching yourself masturbate. Using a mirror can spice up solo sex.
- Dirty talk. Dirty talk is a playful way to explore fantasies and practice communication in the bedroom.
- Sexting. Sexting and phone sex can build anticipation or keep things hot when you’re apart.
“Two pepper” sexual activities fall on the medium scale in that they are slightly spicier than “one pepper” activities. They require a bit more education, equipment, and are seen as slightly unconventional by society.
1. Training or education needed: Low-Moderate
Two pepper activities may include light kink play and require a little training and practice before you’re ready to dive in. Online classes, books, and blogs are good resources for people curious about expanding their two pepper repertoire.
2. Equipment needed: Minimal
You might need some readily available equipment for two pepper activities, for example: a vibrator, a blindfold, or restraints.
3. Taboo level: Medium
In general, two pepper activities might feel a little more awkward to bring up with a partner and can have some stigma attached.
Two pepper examples
Here are some examples of what some might consider “two pepper” activities. Remember: If your “two peppers” is different from your partner’s — or different from what it was last month — that’s ok. Checking in on a regular basis can help you to stay in tune with what feels good to you now.
- Toys. Playing with a variety of sex toys can spice up solo or partnered sex.
- Light power exchange. Light power exchange lets you experiment with playing a submissive role, or with taking control. Power exchange exists on a spectrum, from mild to intense. Depending on how you play and your individual preferences, power exchange can be a one, two, or three pepper activity.
- Role play. Role play lets you explore a range of fantasies. Because it can take more practice and a higher level of trust than sporting a sexy outfit, and often involves some element of power exchange, role play can be a lot spicier than simple dress-up.
- Intro-level S/M: S/M stands for “sadism and masochism”— the enjoyment of giving or receiving pain. If you like sensation play and want to take it to the next level, you might want to experiment with incorporating more intense sensation in the form of hair pulling, spanking, and nipple clamps. Like power exchange, S/M play exists on a spectrum, and can also be a three pepper activity, depending on intensity.
- Light bondage. Bondage can be as simple as restraining your partner with a pair of soft cuffs. If you’re new to bondage (or even if you’re an expert) some training and practice are required to do it safely.
- DIY porn. Recording yourself during solo sex or making a sexy film with a consenting partner can help you to see yourself in a new light and unleash your inner porn star.
Three pepper activities take the heat to the next level and may take you or your partner out of your comfort zone.
1. Training or education needed: Moderate to extensive
Safe three pepper play often requires training and education. It can also encompass alternative relationship structures that require extensive communication, practice, and negotiation.
2. Equipment needed: May require equipment
While you don’t necessarily need equipment for three pepper play, it can involve ropes, gags, and other bondage gear, as well as impact toys like whips or paddles, and a variety of other tools and toys.
3. Taboo level: High
Many three pepper activities are considered weird or extreme. People who are into three pepper activities may have experienced shame around their desires or felt worried about being judged.
Three pepper examples
Engaging in “three pepper” requires even more communication around consent and boundaries. Because these activities may take you out of your comfort zone, consider also establishing a safe word to signal a hard “stop” at any point during play.
- Threesomes or group sex. A threesome or group sex can be a one-off experiment, or lead to deeper exploration of alternative relationships. For some people, this may seem like no big deal, but we put it on the three pepper list because of the extensive communication and trust-building required.
- Public sex. For some people, the risk of getting caught during sex is a thrill. Public sex is considered very spicy by many people because of the risks involved and the level of communication and trust you need to have with your partner.
- Pegging. For lots of folks, particularly queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people, strap-on sex and anal play aren’t kinky — they’re just sex. Many cisgender-heterosexual men, however, have been socialized to feel that their butts are off-limits and may feel that just buying the equipment needed can be taboo. That’s why we included it on our “three pepper” list.
- Voyeurism and exhibitionism: Watching others during sex is a huge turn-on for some people, but to do it ethically, consent is crucial. That’s why visiting a sex club or sex party, or participating in swinging, are three pepper fantasies worth exploring for people who want to watch or be watched.
- Heavier BDMS: At the three pepper level, this can involve intense power exchange and BDSM punishment scenarios, such as elaborate rope bondage, whipping or flogging, humiliation, and more.
- Cuckolding. Cuckolding is a fantasy that requires extensive communication, trust, and safety precautions to pursue.
How to use the Spice Meter with your partner
You can use the Spice Meter to describe how you feel in the moment (“Sexting is a one pepper activity I’d be willing to explore, but phone sex feels like it’s two peppers, and that’s too spicy for me right now,”) or collaborate with your partner(s) to come up with a shared “menu” of activities and their corresponding spice ratings. You can also create your own personalized menu to share with potential partners.
If a partner wants to explore a fantasy or kink that is out of your comfort zone, you could respond, “Thanks for sharing. I might consider trying that in the future, but for now I’d be more comfortable sticking with one pepper activities. Maybe I’ll feel differently after we’ve had a chance to experiment a little more.” Or: “I know that role play (sexting/dirty talk/mutual masturbation) has been a regular part of your sex life and that you consider it a one pepper activity. But it’s new to me, and feels more like a two pepper activity, so I need more time to ease into it.”
You can use the Spice Meter to learn more about a partner and encourage them to open up about their own desires. For example, you could ask something like: “I’m curious about trying spanking. For me, it feels like a two pepper activity. How spicy does spanking seem to you?” Or: “What’s the spiciest thing you’ve ever done, and why did it feel that way to you?”
The spice meter can also be part of a relationship check-in. If you feel like your sex life is in a rut, or you want to deepen intimacy with your partner, you could say something like: “I’ve enjoyed exploring one pepper activities with you, and would really like to experiment further. Would you be into trying some two pepper activities?” Or: “I am craving some spicier play. Are there any two or three pepper activities that appeal to you?”
Why the Spice Meter can be a useful communication tool
We asked O.school readers what feelings come to mind when thinking about communicating desires and boundaries in the bedroom. Their answers included “openness,” “respect,” “trust,” and “energizing”— but also “challenging,” “scary,” “fear,” “unnerving,” and “rejection.” For many people, talking about sex can be hard, especially if you’re in a new relationship, new to sex, or haven’t had much practice exploring your likes, dislikes, and boundaries. The Spice Meter can help give you a template for describing desires and limits in a nonjudgmental, neutral way.
Elizabeth Dell, a sex educator and the founder of intimacy app Amorous, tells O.school: “Like training wheels when you are learning to ride a bicycle, a template for talking about sex can help keep the conversation ‘upright.’ Having a framework, especially one that both partners use, can ensure that important topics are discussed (i.e. both desires AND boundaries). A structure can also help balance the conversation so each partner has space and time to share.” She adds that communicating in a neutral way about what feels spicy to you individually can help “frame discussion around what feels good to each partner (rather than whether a partner is doing it ‘right’).”
Sex educator Susan Milstein, PhD., tells O.school that having a template for talking about sex can help people feel that they “have the right words, and can help the conversation flow.” She adds that “People may fear talking about things like wants or likes/dislikes because they’re afraid they’ll be judged. Having a structure can help them to feel more confident to have those conversations.”
“Sex and all topics about physical pleasure have a long history of being a taboo subject,” Susan Harrington, LMFT tells O.school. She continues that preparing to talk about potentially challenging subjects beforehand can help you to “know yourself as well as your partner(s) more intimately, feel more confident, grow in your ability to be curious with and of others, and build in your ability to be trustworthy and trusting of others, as well as of yourself.”
The bottom line
Everyone can benefit from more communication tools to help them describe their desires and to navigate varying wants and needs within relationships. Having the Spice Meter in your personal communication toolkit can help you to define what brings you pleasure, what you may be willing to explore, and where your boundaries lie. Best of all, the Spice Meter is totally subjective and fully customizable. Whether your wants and needs change over time, or you’re exploring something new, it can serve as a template to help make potentially challenging conversations easier and more fun.