late Middle English (in the sense 'sensory'): from late Latin sensualis, from sensus (see sense)
The words sensual and sensuous are frequently used interchangeably to mean ‘gratifying the senses’, especially in a sexual sense. Strictly speaking, this goes against a traditional distinction, by which sensuous is a more neutral term, meaning ‘relating to the senses rather than the intellect’, as in swimming is a beautiful, sensuous experience, while sensual relates to gratification of the senses, especially sexually, as in a sensual massage. In fact the word sensuous is thought to have been invented by Milton (1641) in a deliberate attempt to avoid the sexual overtones of sensual. In practice, the connotations are such that it is difficult to use sensuous in this sense. While traditionalists struggle to maintain a distinction, the evidence from the Oxford English Corpus and elsewhere suggests that the ‘neutral’ use of sensuous is rare in modern English. If a neutral use is intended it is advisable to use alternative wording.