Sensual vs. Sensuous: An Intimate Look at the Difference

Updated May 31, 2022
Sensual (Woman With Cherry) versus Sensuous (Bride smelling flowers) With Definitions
    Sensual (Woman With Cherry) versus Sensuous (Bride smelling flowers) With Definitions
    Cherry: YakobchukOlena / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Bride: Tom Merton / OJO Images / Background: Tolchik / iStock / Getty Images Plus
    Used under Getty Images license

Would reading a sensuous story or a sensual story make you blush? Both sensuous and sensual relate to the five senses, but one is slightly more risqué than the other. Knowing the difference could save you some embarrassment in the future!

Making Sense of Sensual and Sensuous

The adjectives sensual and sensuous are often used interchangeably, and usually as synonyms of sexual. But while both words relate to the arousal of senses, only one has a meaning related to sexual.

  • sensual - relating to the senses, especially in a sexual way
  • sensuous - gratifying to the senses

Look at the words' suffixes if you get confused. The -al in sensual means "relating to," while the -ous in sensuous means "full of." A sensual painting may include a woman posing suggestively on a couch, while a sensuous painting may feature a bright bouquet of flowers.


How to Tell Them Apart

It's not too hard to decide which word you should use when describing a sexual situation.

  • Sensual sounds like sexual, and that's the correct word to choose. Think of sensual as a portmanteau (combined word) of sensory and sexual.
  • You can also think of the word consensual. When used to describe the mutual consent of two parties in an intimate context, consensual uses the word sensual, not sensuous.

Using Sensual in a Sentence

Sensual refers to the pleasure derived from a sensory experience, often in reference to sexuality. While it can technically refer to other contexts, its modern connotation tends to be more sexual. For example:

  • Romantic novels often include sensual scenes between the heroine and her love interest.
  • This movie has been rated R for sensual moments and dialogue.
  • The ice skating pair's routine reflects the sensual passion of the music.
  • Heather flirted with her date by eating her ice cream cone in a sensual way.
  • Many classical artists painted their nude subjects in sensual positions.

Using Sensuous in a Sentence

You'd use sensuous to describe a sensory experience that was totally fulfilling, but not in a sexual way. For example, an amazing dinner can be sensuous to your sense of taste, smell, sight, and even touch. Additional examples of sensuous in a sentence include:

  • The spa was a sensuous paradise of lilac scents, misty waterfalls and warm towels.
  • I love touring the sensuous meadow when the larks are singing and the sun shines down on my shoulders.
  • The author's sensuous descriptions made me feel that I was there on the beach myself, curling my toes in the powdery sand.
  • Drinking the fruity cocktail was a truly sensuous experience; Harry felt the sweet, icy liquid fill his mouth and cascade down his throat.
  • This year's Thanksgiving dinner was a sensuous banquet of juicy turkey, fragrant wine, fluffy potatoes and rich gravy.

Sensuality vs. Sensuousness

Another way to tell sensual and sensuous apart is to consider their noun forms. Sensuality sounds like sexuality; it typically describes a sexual or intimate experience. However, sensuousness refers to gratification of any of the five senses. You would not easily mistake sensuousness and sexuality — they only share the first two letters.

Sensory Experiences in Your Writing

Both sensual and sensuous describe a sensory experience, but only sensual also refers to a sexual feeling. Unless you're writing an erotic scene, you're probably looking for the word sensuous. For more advice on including sensory experiences in your writing, try out: