Why Some People Get Turned on by Being Tickled

Knismolagnia is a fetish where people get aroused by the sensation of being tickled, tickling others, or watching someone get tickled.

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May 14 2018, 4:21pm

Photo by Vegterfoto via Stocksy. 

“Knismolagnia” is a fancy name for a lesser-known sexual fetish: arousal by tickling. It comes from “knismesis,” a term for “light” tickling that doesn’t typically induce laughter coined in 1897 by psychologists G. Stanley Hall and Arthur Alliń. “Heavy” tickling, which is intended to produce laughter, is called “gargalesis.” (Try incorporating that into dirty talk.)

What is this tickling fetish, exactly?

As you may remember from childhood, tickling is a form of stimulation produced by light touch on sensitive parts of the body, including the armpits, collar bones, feet, stomach, ribs, behind the knees and elbows, the inner thighs, and so on. In a fetish context, Knismolagnia may be part of a kinkster’s foreplay or it may be the entire play. Nudity or overt sexual activity doesn’t even have to be involved. Some people with the kink can orgasm from tickling alone. And people can be turned on by being tickled, being the tickler, or just watching others getting tickled.

Fun fact! According to Urban Dictionary (not always a reputable source, but feels appropriate here) an armpit-specific tickle is called a “douhini.” And armpit fetishes in general are known as “maschalagnia.”

Modern kinksters might take knismolagnia up a notch (or several) by reimagining the art of tickling altogether and inducing the sensation with a feather, vibrator, electrical current, or the strategic placement of insects, arachnids, or shelled gastropods such as snails. As with all kinks, the limit is your imagination!

Still, when talkin’ ticklin’, the most common form occurs with human fingers.

What makes tickling a fetish?

Good question! Author Violet Blue, who wrote The Fetish Sex Guide, defines a fetish to be when an “object, manner of dress or specific scenario takes on a magical quality, has deeper meaning, and becomes part of [someone’s] favorite sexual experiences—or are sometimes absolutely required for satisfying sexual release.”

While tickling may not seem too far from traditional foreplay, it’s the extra sexiness imbued in the act that makes it a fetish. You know, when tickling really turns you on. According to psychology, that’s considered “atypical” behavior, but then again so are most things that aren’t married, heterosexual, missionary position sex, so.

But, why do people get so turned on by tickling?

“Laughter is infectious,” as one woman who tried knismolagnia expecting to not like it wrote on SheKnows, “It was joyful to watch another human being chortle nonstop.”

As with other types of sensation play (see our How to Sex guide to figging), tickling typically gets people off simply because they’re aroused by the physical sensation. In its more benign forms, any kind of teasing caress can be considered a “tickle.” And it engages our body’s largest organ: the skin.

In domination/submission scenarios, ticklers may enjoy the feeling of control and the ability to make the tickled squirm, and the tickled may enjoy the feeling of helplessness—restraints and blindfolds are used to enhance the powerless element of the scene and also for safety reasons (more on that below). Some submissives, especially those who are tickle-averse, may especially relish the torture-like aspect of being tickled.

How common is it to be aroused by tickling?

Like most fetishes, it’s difficult to gauge how common tickling is because it’s not documented in any kind of scientific way. Plus, even when there are sex surveys, things like stigma, shame, taboo, and sexual puritanism in general tend to result in people lying about what they do in bed.

But, if you search “tickle porn” on the web, 600,000 hits come up. So, that’s one kind of indication. Among them is OnlyTickling.com, which features a photo of two lingerie-clad women tickling each other’s feet and bursting into laughter on its homepage. There’s also a dating site for tickle enthusiasts called TickleDates.com, “the best tickle dating site”—which it can definitively say, because it appears to be the only one. Not to be left out, OkCupid has a “singles interested in tickling” tag, which you may peruse at your leisure.

There is also an investigative documentary, Tickled, which premiered at Sundance in 2016, about the extremely shady-sounding world of “competitive endurance tickling,” which may or may not be a kind of tickle porn in itself.

Is intense tickling totally safe?

The safety risks of tickling are fairly small, since no fluid is exchanged, and one cannot be permanently scarred or damaged from it—with the exception of, perhaps, getting involuntarily elbowed in the face by a ticklee responding reflexively. (This is easily fixed by ensuring that ticklees are restrained or blindfolded first.)

There have been an extremely small number of recorded cases of death by laughter, but, as i09 notes, none of the people who died this way were “in good health, so it doesn't appear that laughter alone can kill anyone.”

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Also rare but possible: Too much laughter can make a person faint or trigger cataplexy, which makes someone unable to move their muscles. And if a person can’t stop laughing, they may have a “gelastic seizure” (gelastic simply means laughing).

Not at all the same thing, but one time I laughed so hard at my mom trying to figure out a digital camera that I pulled a muscle in my back and then accidentally took way too many muscle relaxers, which not only didn’t work, but made me incredibly stupid for 48 hours. So, try not to do that either.