Sensate focus is a caressing technique developed by Masters and Johnson, to promote intimacy in relationships, without pressure or expectation. Over the course of several weeks pleasurable touch is explored with increased intimacy, moving from non-sexual touch, to gradual genital stimulation.
Sensate Focus can help with:
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Lack of sex drive or mismatched sex drive among partners
- Performance anxiety
- Establishing greater intimacy and connection in a relationship
- Difficultly achieving or experiencing orgasm
- Establishing trust and safety, which is especially helpful for those with a history of trauma
Sensate focus is NOT:
- a means to an end goal such as orgasm, or done with the intention of pleasing your partner or being pleased per se. Sensate focus is not a massage.
- While sensate is focus is a lot like mindfulness ( tuning into the present moment without judgement) there is one distinction, which is that a special emphasis is placed on pleasure. Pay special attention to the pleasant sensations that you feel.
commit to devoting at least two, one hour sessions per week, on Sensate focus. When you first do the exercise you may start small with 20-30minutes devoted to the activity. As you move to touching the back and full body you’ll want to increase the time committed to the exercise to the full hour.
Generally it is best to schedule this time with your partner and not engage in the activity on a whim.
Set up a relaxing environment: turn your phone on silent, use candles, incense or essential oils, turn off the TV, play pleasant music. Keep pets outside of the room.
Do not engage in substance use during this activity.This is important because the purpose of sensate focus is to stay present.
Baby steps, take it slow: I only recommend focusing one phase per week. if need be, you can always return to a previous phase, if you are not ready to proceed to the next. These guidelines are just suggestions and can be adapted. Generally when I work with couples, we process each phase in therapy before transitioning to the next.
The first time you do the activity, try not to talk during it. If something does not feel right, guide your partners hand to where you prefer to be touched. The second time you do the activity, you can start including positive verbal communication particularly from the receiver.
some examples: “It feels good when..” “I like it when you..” “I would like it if you…”
The Goal of Sensate focus is taking pleasure in small sensations, and staying in the present moment. Notice when your attention moves outside of the the present moment and kindly bring it back to your body.
Set a timer for 30 minutes or more. Choose who will be the giver and who will be the receiver first. After the 30 minutes are up, switch roles.
Prior to the activity, if there is any area you do not want to be touched, communicate this with your partner, but you are allowed to change your mind.
After the activity is done, talk with your partner about how it felt and what you enjoyed.
* Giver, notice what you feel as your touch your partners body and pay attention to the different sensations and textures. E.g. Is their skin warm or cold? Soft or hard? What feels particularly pleasant to touch?
* Receiver, stay tuned into the present moment by noticing what you feel as your partner touches you. Pay particular attention to what feels good.
* Notice when your thoughts start to wander outside of the present moment, kindly bring them back to the activity.
* Be curious about the emotions that arise during the exercise. Are you feeling anxious? Aroused? Excited?
* In the initial stages, these sessions should NOT lead to penetration or sex.
Phase 1 Hands, Face or Feet
During this session you are completely clothed. You choose either your hands, face or feet to be touched by your partner for the duration of the exercise.
Phase 2: Full Body Back, avoid genital
Begin to include the full body of your back. You can be clothed or naked, which ever is preferred. Avoiding the genitals.
Phase 3: Full Body Back and Front, avoid genitals
You may want to increase the length of the activity. Spend at least 15 minutes or more per side (front/back) of each partner. Do not touch the breasts, genitals, or upper groin. Remember not to forget the sides of the body!
If you can’t switch roles during the a single session, schedule different times of the day or week for who to be the giver and receiver.
Phase 4: Full Body start to include the genitals
During this phase, you will continue to explore all parts of the body, but start to include the genitals. While you may touch the genitals, just pass through and don’t “hang out” there. You are welcome to start using your mouth to kiss or lick the body if you’d like, and your partner is okay with it.
Start using Lubricant.
Remember, men have nipples too. Feel free to caress them
If a man, or person with a penis, becomes erect, start touching other areas of his body. You can return to the penis after the erection subsides. This is particularly important if there is erectile dysfunction, because the goal is to get used to gaining and losing an erection. Without pressure, you can become confident in your ability to gain an erection again after it’s lost.
Phase 5: Full Body with penetration
You may want to increase time spent on the exercise.
You may begin to involve penetration with the fingers. penis or sex toys.
The receiver can decline penetration by guiding their partner to where they prefer to be touched, or sharing what they they would like instead. “I would like it if you…”
Remember to keep including all of the body, and not to focus exclusively on penetration or genitals. Don’t go straight to the genitals, take your time to get there.
See how it simply feels with the finger, toy or penis inside the vagina. The first time you do this exercise and insert the penis in the vagina, there should be NO thrusting. Allow the penis to stay held in the vagina, when the erection is lost, start focusing on other areas of the body.
If orgasm just so happens to occur that’s fine, but it is not the goal of the exercise.