Turned on by tickling

Turned on by tickling

By asandil Wednesday, February 15, 2012 - 18:38
“When I’m tickled, I get an erection. Am I normal?” The question came from a visitor to Love Matters’ Latin American website, Hablemos de Amor. Intrigued, we set out to discover more about the psychology of erotic tickling.

Some people just love to tickle and be tickled, leading Argentinean sexologist Adrián Sapetti told us. “Everything starts with the skin.”

For some people, tickling is a major turn-on. It can even give some ‘victims’ an orgasm, even if their genitals aren’t touched at all.

“My girlfriends tickled my whole body and I couldn’t move,” 18-year-old Modesto wrote to Love Matters. “Of course it happened with my approval. When they tickled my armpits, my chest, my belly and my feet, I had a very strong erection.”

Modesto says he hasn’t actually had sex yet, but his intense tickling experience was the closest he’s come to it. It actually made him ejaculate. “Am I normal?” he asked in an e-mail to Love Matters.

“Yes,” is the short answer from doctor and sexpert Adrián Sapetti, a board member of the Argentinean Society for Human Sexuality.

Tickle fetish

“Everything starts with the skin,” he says. It’s one of the most sensitive and erotic human organs. And of course it covers your whole body, so there’s plenty to stimulate. That’s why there’s nothing unusual about Modesto’s experience.

Tickling doesn’t necessarily have to lead to sex, says Dr Sapetti. In fact, it’s often done by young people who don’t feel ready for lovemaking, but who want to experiment with new and pleasurable sensations.

Tickle fetishism, when people get aroused by tickling, actually has a scientific name: ‘knismolagnia’. It’s quite harmless, Dr Sapetti says, as long as the ‘victim’ agrees to it.


It’s not hard to find websites featuring tickling, with ‘tickle fetish’ or ‘tickle torture’ photos and videos. The tickling scenes often show an atmosphere of relaxed fun among friends – not an openly sexual vibe.

Sometimes the victim is clothed, though they may also be sometimes scantily clad or completely undressed. Nearly always they are tied up. And they writhe and shriek with laughter as their feet or armpits are tickled.

Tickle fetishists may agree on a keyword the ticklee can use if the tickling really gets unbearable – in the way people sometimes do in less gentle forms of sadomasochism, or S&M, when the shrieks are of pain rather than laughter.


Among the stories in Dr Sapetti’s book Intimate Confessions are testimonials from people like Modesto, who have found themselves turned on by tickling games with friends. They’re usually too embarrassed to tell anyone about their feelings, the sexologist says.

But as long as everyone involved consents, a passion for in tickling or being tickled is nothing to be ashamed of, says Dr Sapetti. It can actually do you the world of good.

Erotic body map

“Tickling releases a particular amino acid in your brain which produces a feeling of pleasure, of excitement – and even an orgasm,” he says. And on an emotional level it produces a feeling of well-being, especially if it happens within a loving relationship.

Tickling can be done on any part of the skin: the armpits, the soles of the feet, the legs, the buttocks. “In fact any part of the skin can be ticklish. It depends on the structure of the individual, on the erotic map of one’s body.”


The vast majority of questions he gets about tickling come from men, says Dr Sapetti. It seems that men are more prone than women to having a ‘paraphilia’ – being turned on by a situation or object outside the standard range of sexual behaviour.

The reason isn’t exactly clear, Dr Sapetti says. It could be an effect of the male hormone testosterone, or the way the male brain is set up. It might also be down to social and cultural influences.

Are you turned on by tickling or being tickled? Leave a comment or e-mail us your story - anonymously if you prefer.

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I've loved being tickled since I was little. I had fantasies about it starting at age five, and the feelings of anticipation and submission and 'helplessness' I had as a kid are just like the feelings of arousal as an adult. I'm ticklish most everywhere, but especially on my feet. I can orgasm from having a particular spot on my feet stimulated in a specific type of tickle. Even without orgasm, having a lover tickle me or even 'threaten' to do so gets me aroused, every time. It's the most reliable form of foreplay for me, and the embarrassment aspect enhances my arousal. I read that the part of the brain which registers genital sensation is right next to the part of the brain which registers sensation on the soles of the feet. My theory is that some brains get those wires crossed, leading to arousal/orgasm. Regardless of why or how it works, I'm so lucky to have such an easy way to get aroused and orgasm. It's a wonderful secret to share with my lover.
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