The Truth About What Turns People On

The thing about turn-ons is that many people assume they’re deep, dark secrets. In reality, though, most turn-ons have already been imagined, fantasized about, and even enacted by someone else — often someone completely unexpected.
Where does sexual arousal come from? It might be entirely chemical. In 1995, the famous sweaty T-shirt experiment led by Claus Wedekind, PhD, demonstrated that women are most attracted to the pheromonal smell of men with immune systems that are the most different from their own — and, therefore, those who will supposedly produce the most genetically viable babies. Think sweat is a weird turn-on? In 2008, a study showed that women listening to car engines revving experienced an enormous spike in testosterone, the hormone most associated with arousal.
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Whether sweat or sounds, whether hardwired or not, it's clear that turn-ons are a wide and varied garden of delights. So, let’s take a look at some of the most glorious.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Vic, 33, straight man
“I don’t really talk about this that much, because as a man, it’s weird to want to be dominated by a woman. But, I want to be tied to the bed, have her sit on my face, even force me into anal. I want her to take complete control of the situation from beginning to end — tell me what to wear, the whole business. Even just a woman talking in a stern voice can give me chills.”
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Rylyn, 35, lesbian
“Honestly, armpit hair. I hate it when women shave. Not just armpit hair — all hair: leg hair, pubes, you name it. Hairy women after they go for a run are pretty much my favorite in the entire world. I once begged my girlfriend to not shave her armpits before we went to a fancy, formal dinner, because I wanted to sneak off into the bathroom and make out with that little smell of sweat under her evening gown.”
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Stephen, 31, “Kinsey 2”
“My biggest turn-on is being crushed, actually. By women. I love the idea of being very small and them being very large and hovering over me and squashing me flat. Like, I’m breathing heavy right now even typing about it, because I can imagine how the weight of their body would settle onto me and make me struggle a little bit. My first girlfriend was a heavy lady, and gorgeous in every way, and she used to try and make me mad by sitting on me so I couldn’t go anywhere...until she realized how much I liked it. Then, she stopped, unfortunately for me.”
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Sarah, 29, straight woman
"Food. Eating food, washing dirty dishes, watching someone else eat. A man eating something with his fingers and then licking them off just reminds me of what his tongue might do to me, and I get so wet. Enjoying food is a great sensual experience because there's taste and smell and presentation...like seeing someone naked for the first time."
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Emma, 21, lesbian
"Feet are a huge turn-on for me. Not a fetish, like I need high heels to orgasm or something, but I love when my partner puts her toes in my mouth or lets me put mine in hers. It sends a bolt of lightning straight to my clit, like a direct line from the foot to my pussy. I figure there are ass-lovers and boob-lovers — why not foot-lovers?"
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Jake, 41, straight man
“I like to be a woman. Imagine I’m a woman. Be treated like a woman. I ask my girlfriend to treat me like a lesbian and dress me up in her underwear and makeup. I think it would be amazing to actually BE a woman for a day and have sex, just to see what it was like. I’d probably never even leave the house — just spend all day staring at myself in the mirror and making myself orgasm and inviting everyone I could think of over to play with my boobs. I don’t want to actually be a woman anywhere else but in the bedroom, but I sure love it there.”
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Sabrina, 27, bisexual
“I love age play. That’s what people call it in the BDSM community: It’s when you pretend that one of you is a little kid and the other one is an adult. Some people get really into the whole diapers, pigtails, baby-talk thing, but I like to pretend to be a very young teenager just struggling with my sexuality for the first time. It’s in no way about pedophilia, because we’re consenting adults; we’re just pretending to do something taboo, and I can surrender control to my partner. I guess it’s a little submissive, but I think of it as just another facet of my personality. It’s who I am. I like burritos, I like playing the piano, I like age play.”
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Erica, 39, straight woman
“I’ve never told anyone but my partners this, but I like watching guys pee. It’s especially hot if they have a problem peeing because their hard-on is getting in the way. The combo of a naked man putting on a show for me and the body-fluid-messy thing — it all adds up to the perfect storm of sexiness.”
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