Sensate Focus: Healing intervention used in sex therapy modalities

If you have ever talked to me about sex, healing sexual trauma, intimacy or anxiety reduction in sex you have likely heard me make mention of sensate focus. I believe it to be one of the most useful tools or interventions in sex therapy, and in emotional and intimate re-connection. So what exactly is sensate focus?

Sensate focus was originally coined an intervention by masters and Johnson in the 60’s. It is a intervention using touch to focus on sensory perception vs penetrative sex. A common analogy for it is sexual meditation. Couples are instructed to touch one another in a specific manner, sensually not sexually, to increase tolerance for touch, and decrease anxiety all while taking the pressure off penetrative sex and orgasm. I use it in many variations of its original form and have found it to be one of the most widely effective therapeutic intervention to date. In my counseling sessions I will offer instructions and insight as to how to best navigate the process of sensate focus to ensure when you try it at home it is the best possible experience. This can be used within the couple relationship, but it can also be effective to practice individually to increase body awareness and increase understanding of your own sexuality. If you are in my office and we are talking about sensate focus, you will often hear me say things like, “This is fail proof” or “You simply can’t do this wrong” I say this to clearly indicate that this is a very individualized experience and the entire purpose is to create awareness and decrease anxiety not increase it. So no need to stress if it feels odd, or foreign. It does for most people when they begin the practice.

Now that you have a general idea of what sensate focus is, and why it is used. Let’s go over some basics that I always talk about as I believe them to be very important to sensate focus and its effectiveness.

1. Schedule and plan ahead. This is so counterproductive to our busy lives and yet it is such a simple and easy way to prioritize what we need in life. Sensate focus is all about relaxation and mental presence. So plan ahead. Write a time and date into your calendar in which you have an uninterrupted 15 or 20 minutes. Allow for at least 5 minutes to prepare yourself, get washed up, make sure you are comfortable and the temperature is right. Talk about hard stops you may have with your partner before you begin. Schedule it consistently at the same time each week if possible so you know what to expect.
2. Get comfortable. This doesn’t just mean to through your jammies on and crawl into bed. Remember, this is meant to be sensual. Make sure you have a comfortable space to lay on, such as your bed. Use your tried and true relaxation techniques such as lighting a candle, turning music on, turning the lights down or using scented lotion or oils.
3. Set a timer. Use your phone or a kitchen time that allows for less distraction if possible to set the timer. I usually suggest that all technology is removed from the space to minimize distractions, however a timer is an essential component to ensure comfort and allow mental presence without checking the clock. I typically suggest that people start with 10 minutes, however if they feel very comfortable you can start with 15 or 20. We want this to be a sustainable exercise to do on a regular basis, so it shouldn’t be too long.
4. Lastly, I always suggest in couple setting for this to be done on separate days. This increases the likelihood that you aren’t worrying about what comes next and can truly relax into it. Spread the days our or put them side by side, but be sure to truly give your partner the time and attention that is needed.

Sensate focus in a wonderfully diverse tool that can be used in so many variations to fit your lifestyle and needs. If you want to learn more about sensate focus or seek counseling for sex or intimacy related concerns, call me today!

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