Sen·su·al·i·ty: the enjoyment, expression, or pursuit of physical, especially sexual, pleasure.
Can y’all smell the roses from the sensual season we’re living in? The fact that the “soft life” is a whole movement is a new awakening to a generation that has access to healing and sensuality like no other! I’m in awe and appreciation that individuals across the globe are allowing themselves to step into what has often been perceived as feminine energy and making it their own self-soothing daily practice.
As I was researching this subject matter, I noticed the word “sensuality” is often misunderstood as being something amplified sexually via romantic bonds and not as much individually, which does more of a disservice to us than helps us. The more attuned you are to yourself in solitude, the better you are to have that sensual pleasure amplified with another person in any capacity.
Sensuality is something we should challenge ourselves to do every day, being mindful of the sounds around us, examining our thought processes and feelings, and discovering sensuality in a physical manner alone in different ways.
Here are expert tips on how to be more sensual in your every day life:
1. Practice mindfulness by really tuning into your five major senses.
According to licensed mental health counselor and co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, Richard M. Siegel, Ph.D., "'sensual' simply means ‘of the senses’-- sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch.” And because we live in such a fast-paced world, constantly multitasking, barely focusing on one thing at a time, it’s very easy to lose a sense of all the things we’re seeing, smelling, touching, tasting, and hearing because we’re always on the go. Exploring our sensuality daily means constantly challenging yourself to be curious about anything and everything you come across.
Mental health/drug and alcohol therapist Joella Smith states, “I always suggest my clients take at least five minutes when you wake up to use your senses (listening to the birds outside, stretching/rubbing body aches, watching the sunrise, etc.). The goal, just like mindfulness, is to find pleasure in being in the moment by using all your senses. Being kind to oneself, loving our bodies, and practicing self-love daily will make us all more sensual people.”
Being in tune with our sensual selves has everything to do with challenging ourselves to be present and fully engaged with everything we do consistently. As they say, "Self-love is the best love." Meditation teacher Kirat Randhawa echoed a similar sentiment, “An element of developing sensuality with self is to practice receiving yourself just as you are - in all of your emotional states - with loving awareness. This receptivity is integral to restoring a sense of wholeness and releasing the fear of what we might encounter if we turn inward. Pleasure is a beautiful way to soften into our hearts and bodies while feeling resourced and supported to navigate anything that may arise.”
2. Engage in sensuality through meditation.
There is nothing like a little one-on-one time with yourself, where you can go to a safe place and release it all through stillness. “Meditation is a practice of becoming deeply familiar with yourself and your moment-to-moment experience with tenderness,” states Randhawa. “What is more sensual than befriending the self with such openness? When we practice this awareness in meditation in relation to how we receive the breath and the different sensations and thoughts and practice softening into those experiences irrespective of our expectations, we cultivate an opening of the mind. This is key to identifying the different aspects of ourselves and rest there with more ease. It allows for a balanced indulgence.”
"Meditation is a practice of becoming deeply familiar with yourself and your moment-to-moment experience with tenderness. What is more sensual than befriending the self with such openness?"
Also, for anyone that has a rough time with mediation because they feel like they can’t pause their mind, I highly suggest using the Calm or Liberate app that provides guided meditation to help zero in on tuning out your thoughts and following the background noise (examples is like the sound of waves or rain drops) all while actively listening to the instructor's voice. If you find stillness difficult, even with guided meditation, trying out movement meditation could be more helpful.
3. Be more sensual through breathing techniques.
Breathwork is a skill set we should all learn because it’s an amazing self-soothing tactic that helps regulate our physical and emotional well-being. There are several different types of breathwork techniques; Randhawa recommended “the five-count box breathing technique to simply restore clarity in the mind and presence with the body -- you inhale for five, pause for five, exhale for five, and pause for five...and continue this for a few minutes. It allows one to experience a more spacious feel of the moment and awaken to the beauty that is here right now.”
4. Deepen your journey to your feelings and senses through writing.
It’s our words that paint every scenario we envision or go through, and it’s our words that help us dive into understanding our feelings more. Exploring your feelings on paper or even in your notes section on your phone can aid in profoundly exploring sensuality. Writing and creative expression coach Nkem Chukwumerije states, “In order to get to a place where we are writing from a place of freedom, and true connection to our inner worlds and outer surroundings, we must have a connection with our sensual selves. This means, for instance, when writing a scene depicting the breeze in the air, as readers, we want to know what kind of breeze that is and how it feels to feel that breeze. So, as a writer, we must relax our minds, wander outside into the breezy early afternoon, and sit in the center of a near-empty park, allowing the breeze to stroke our skin. We must feel each molecule of air as it dances with our face, arms, body and begins to articulate just how this feeling touches us.”
Reading has been my favorite hobby since I was a little girl, and I’ve always noticed the best stories are depicted through minuscule detail to make you feel like you were there. Coming home to your sensuality is paying attention to the details surrounding you in slow motion. “After we feel, we can conjure up words to articulate that feeling and translate it onto the page where readers will not only read about the breeze but feel the same breeze we felt because we took the opportunity to be present with our embodied senses and write from that magical place."
She adds, "I often use the phrase 'experiment, explore, and allow' when it comes to writing because when we desire to express ourselves, I believe it must start from a place of pure possibility, freedom, and flow, and what better way to access what is and what can be than through our senses?”
5. Indulge in your sensual self through dancing.
There are so many ways to come home to self, and dancing is a cure in its lane. When I’m in a funk, I turn on some of my favorite tracks and dance in my mirror and speak to my insecurities and make jokes about them, as Issa did in Insecure. It sounds lame, but it’s so soothing to have fun in emotional turmoil; we’re the most adaptive mammals on this planet, but change isn’t always easy to walk through, so it’s best to find a way that works for you to come home to yourself.
“Coupling somatic practices – such as yoga, qi gong, dance, EFT/tapping – with remembering the narratives about our bodies or intentional emotional feeling can be extremely powerful in healing both emotional blockages, and ailments/dis-ease in the body," states Chukwumerije. "When we practice becoming present in our bodies and aligning our emotional experience to our embodied experience, we can access more and more of our sensuality. Life is then never the same.”
6. Explore your sensuality further through sexual self-pleasure.
I know before reading this article, most people associated the word “sensual” with "sexuality," but I hope that after indulging in all this new information, you have a better understanding of exploring your sensuality in a multifaceted way. Smith echoes a similar sentiment, “I believe too much of the discussion about sensuality revolves around sex rather than the pleasure we actually feel from what we experience from sex. Sex, however, almost always involves some level of sensuality. But one can experience and become sensual in numerous other activities that may give us that same level of pleasure. For instance, 'having an orgasm in our mouth' (when something tastes good) may do the same for our endorphins and overall sensuality as having an actual orgasm (sex).”
And though I didn’t want to put sexual sensuality at the top of this article, I did want to highlight that sexual exploration with self is one of the highest forms of fulfillment you can experience sensually. Randhawa states, “I believe that sensuality originates from within, stemming from our relationship with ourselves. And when we can be present, open, and nurturing towards the self, we can extend that to others. Sensuality is a state of pure openness and receptivity, and offering this to ourselves can help us share it with others, and experiencing it with others can help us strengthen this connection even more with ourselves in turn.”
"Sensuality originates from within, stemming from our relationship with ourselves. And when we can be present, open, and nurturing towards the self, we can extend that to others."
And I could share my own testimony reflecting on her words; for years, I used to be very irritated with sexually pleasing myself because of emotional turmoil I didn’t know how to work through at the time and shame around current fantasies I’d have. But I’ve challenged myself to talk it through in therapy and with close friends, and I never felt so liberated and excited to explore myself sexually, with toys and all. And it’s made sexual intimacy with another person heightened because I finally have so much autonomy of myself sexually.
Women are such fascinating and unique beings when it comes to sexual exploration, and I highly encourage watching the docuseries,The Principles of Pleasure, which is all about exploring female sexuality, and watching Sex, Love, and Goop which gave amazing tips on exploring sensuality through partnership.
7. Let go of your negative thoughts and discover your truth as a sensual being.
It took such a long time for me to accept that I’m a highly sensitive individual and that nothing is wrong with that. I was often gaslit as a child, which is one of the major reasons I often overthink my thoughts and feelings because I feel like they aren’t valid. It wasn’t until getting myself into therapy that I was actively ready and willing to deal with this super-soft part of myself. And taking that approach has been a game-changer because I’m better equipped to work through my emotional turmoil and support others with their issues instead of repeating the same cycle because I didn’t know myself at such depths.
Smith mentions, ”It’s all about how we feel in our bodies, so feeling at the maximum level helps. This is often tough, though, as some of us battle intrusive thoughts and avoidance patterns that prevent us from truly 'feeling.' Letting go of the negative thoughts, appreciating every day, getting out of our head, and emotionally being in tune with what’s going on will help others explore personal sensuality.”
All in all, exploring sensuality on a daily basis should be something we actively try to fit into our schedules in some form or another because no one can soothe us like we can soothe ourselves. No one can feel all that we are going through like we can, so take a deeper dive with self-exploration; your mind, body, and spirit deserve it.
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Ajeé Buggam is a content writer and fashion designer from New York City and an alumna from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She specializes in writing about race, social injustice, relationships, feminism, entrepreneurship, and mental wellness. Check out her recent work at Notes To Self
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Janelle Monáe's Reveals The Real Reason Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Tuxedos
Singer and actress Janelle Monáe exemplifies how change can be a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation.
Monáe, who rose to fame in 2010 following the release of her debut album, The ArchAndroid, captivated fans' hearts with her powerful vocals, catchy tunes, and style. Around that time period, when various female artists were known to wear provocative ensembles on stage, the "Tightrope" songstress set herself apart by wearing her signature black and white suits and continued to do so for almost a decade.
In the later years of her career, after the release of her studio albums The Electric Lady in 2013 and 2018's Dirty Computer, many began to notice the shift in Monáe's artistry and fashion, which some widely praised.
Although the now 37-year-old rarely addressed the reason behind the transformation over the years, that would all change when Monáe sat down with radio personality Angie Martinez on her IRL podcast earlier this month.
During the interview, Monáe --who was promoting her latest album, "The Age of Pleasure"-- opened up about her mental health struggles, how she would cope, and why she chose to live in freedom.
Janelle On Why She Stopped Wearing Her Signature Suits All the Time
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In the May discussion, the "I Like That" vocalist revealed she suffers from anxiety, which she claimed would occur around "winter to spring."
Monáe added that when she has her bouts with anxiety, she tends to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Further in the interview, the "Lipstick Lover" singer disclosed that her emotional eating habits caused a weight fluctuation and that she could no longer fit into the suits she once wore earlier in her career.
Monáe explained that even though she tried to diet and exercise to return to her smaller figure, she ultimately stopped and made peace with herself with the help of therapy because she acknowledged that she isn't the same person she was nearly a decade ago and shouldn't try to be even if it was a highly "celebrated" version.
"I'm petite, but it can get thick... When I couldn't fit them suits anymore, and I was like, 'Oh my God, what is going on?' I would be dieting, running, or exercising, trying to fit into [it]. I'm just like, 'No. No, we're here. This is where we are.' We [are] not about to be utilizing life trying to be an old version of ourselves. No matter how celebrated that version of me was. I'm here. I'm here," she said.
Janelle On Freedom
As the topic shifted to freedom and what that meant to Monáe, the "Primetime" vocalist shared that in this new era of her life, she enjoys it because she can boldly express herself however she wants and honor who she is as a person right now.
Monáe also revealed that she had found ways to become a better artist and the best version of herself because of her freedom.
"What is the new version of freedom? What does that feel like? That's usually when I feel the most free is when artistically, I can honor exactly who I am right now," she stated. "I feel most free as a human when I can honor exactly who I am right now."
Monáe's fourth studio album, The Age of Pleasure, is set to be released on June 9.
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