Sensate Focus Exercises: Improve Intimacy with Sensate Therapy

by | Sex and Sexuality Tips, Couples Therapy, LGBTQ Therapy, Nitasha Strait

Have you and your partner been wanting to find a deeper connection in the bedroom? Or, maybe your connection is struggling, and you are looking for a way to jumpstart your intimacy. Sensate focus therapy exercises for couples could be just the thing you are looking for! In this article, we will talk about what sensate focus is, give you sensate focus tips and techniques, and offer instructions to practice sensate focus.

What Is Sensate Focus?

Sensate Focus is a technique that has helped thousands of couples build on their connection, intimacy, sensuality, and sexuality. Masters and Johnson originally developed sensate Focus in the 1960s. Sensate Focus is described as a set of formulated exercises to help you establish safety within the relationship, learn about your own sensations and those of your partner, and free yourself from outside pressures. The following sensate focus exercises are our adaptation of the Sensate Focus practice.

Sensate Focus Tips

sensate focus exercisesAs you move forward in reading these tips on Sensate Focus, keeping these helpful foundational insights in mind will be helpful.
  • These exercises are meant for both partners involved to take responsibility for their own sexual needs and concerns. It should not fall on one partner to take the lead. It is a shared experience.
  • Be open to learning and growing. Sensate Focus is an enrichment program that helps you learn about your own sexual functioning through sensual touch.
  • Through learning and growth, keep an open mind to changing your personal attitudes about sex and sexuality.
  • Let go of preconceived notions about yourself and your partner. Any thoughts and emotions about performance should be left at the door. This isn’t about performance; it’s about enjoyment and the senses.
  • Explore new ways of communication with your partner. Learn nuanced ways your partner tells you they like something or when a change needs to occur.
  • Get excited about sharing roles, let go of your typical ideologies and behaviors that play out, and invite new, exciting ones into your sexual prowess.
  • Enjoy these exercises and what they can do for you and your relationship.

Sensate Focus Techniques:

Set yourself up for success with the Sensate Focus exercises by following these techniques:
  • Get plenty of rest before the exercises. Most people find themselves becoming quite relaxed by the end of the exercises (which is great!), but you don’t want to find yourself falling asleep. If that does happen, reschedule for another time that you and your partner are better rested and can be awake for the whole thing.
  • Eat lightly before the exercise. Oftentimes, when we overeat, we don’t feel our best in our bodies. Try not to let your over-full belly get in the way of your comfort and growth with your partner.
  • Reschedule if the two of you haven’t been getting along, you feel distant, or there is an elephant in the room. These exercises should be done during a time of respect and connection with your partner.
  • Make sure you have time to complete the exercises. Unless necessary, switch partner roles without taking a break and within the same session/day.
  • Set yourselves up for relaxation, comfort, and safety. Some people like to shower beforehand, and others like to light candles (unscented, as not to distract from the smells of one another) or play music (on low, as not to distract from the sounds of one another). The focus of the exercises is to focus on sensations of yourself and your partner through the exploration of smells, what you see, how you feel (textures, pressures, type of touch, etc.), what you hear, what you taste.
  • Discuss communication ahead of time. How will the receiving partner indicate to the giving partner that they enjoy what you are doing? Will you scale out the pleasure (1-10, 10 being the highest?), or will you use moaning, body movements, etc.?
  • Get creative! Before jumping into the exercises, find different things around the house you’re going to use throughout your time together. The last thing you want is to stop the exercise to find something you meant to bring. Think feathers, leather, rope, lingerie, music, candles, lighting, any other thing that can help you explore your senses!
  • The point of Sensate Focus is not to give your partner a massage (although that may be wonderful on another occasion) or to touch in a way that you think will make them happy/aroused/satisfied. Instead, the point is to take in various sensory experiences and notice what they feel like without any distractions or rules (shoulds, woulds, coulds).
  • Leave time in the end to discuss your experiences. Avoid comparing touching styles. There’s no reason to take the same approach to touch or use the same touching sequence; you are two different people with individual feelings, instincts, and perceptions.
    • How was it to be the receiver? What was your favorite part? What part did you want more of, less of? Where did you need change? Think about pressure, areas of your body, type of touch (did you enjoy feathers over leather, soft vs. hard, tapping vs. rubbing).
    • How was it being the giver? What parts of your partner did you enjoy exploring most? What did you want to keep doing? What did you want to move past? How was it listening to your partner’s needs – was it easy to follow along, or did you find yourself needing more guidance?

These exercises are typically done in stages over a period of several weeks. One person starts as the “giver” or “toucher,” and the other is the “receiver.” Partners then switch roles. Try to have one session where both partners get to receive touch in the same session. Eventually, you will reach the stage when there is mutual touching. If you do the exercises in the morning, you can enjoy other sexual activities in the afternoon or evening, or whatever timing works for you. The key is not to mix the exercises with your normal sexual activities.

Sensate Focus Exercises & Instructions Technique Steps:

Sensate Focus Exercise Step 1

sensate focus therapyFor 30-minutes, you will get the opportunity to explore your partner’s head from the shoulders up. This is a trust-building exercise as well as a safety and comfort exercise. You may use your hands or just your eyes and explore. Try to keep eye contact as best you can. You can talk, but minimally. This is more about connection through touch and eye contact than anything. If you find yourself wanting to laugh, let yourself. If you find yourself wanting to cry, let yourself. Please give in to any emotions that you have (as long as they’re safe for you and your partner at that moment). Do not go any further than your partner’s lower neck. You may choose to do this exercise fully clothed, in your undergarments, or naked. Ride the wave of emotions that will come over you. Pay attention to what you feel, where your thoughts take you, and how that drives your actions with your partner. Most of all, enjoy the time while connecting with your partner.

For the Giver: What do you see? What do you feel? Where is your attention drawn? How do you find yourself wanting to touch them?

For the Receiver: What is it like having your partner explore you in this way? What do you notice about yourself? Where do you want them to touch? What feels good, what feels uncomfortable? How is it keeping eye contact?

Step 1A – If you chose to stay clothed during this exercise, repeat the exercise but this time, remove your clothing and be completely naked with your partner.

Sensate Focus Exercise Step 2

Each of you is going to spend at least 30 minutes exploring the other. Feel free to use your hands, lips, tongue, feather, scratcher, etc. If you use your mouth in any way, you do not have permission to try to make out with the person, touch their genitals, or any other activity that would fall into the typical “sex” category. You do have permission to kiss their shoulder and knee and feel the difference between the two. You do have permission to lick the cress of your partner’s back and see how that feels for you and them. Have a conversation prior to starting the exercise to make sure the receiver doesn’t have any limitations. Remember, the goal of the exercises is to create safety and trust. As you move forward in the stages, the idea is that some of these limitations will decrease or go away due to established safety and trust. Each of you should be naked, but this is based on what you feel comfortable with. Wherever you start, we will build on that in each of the stages. Both the front and the back of the receiver should be explored. Make time in the end to discuss your experiences.

STAGE 2A- If you chose to stay clothed during this exercise, repeat the exercise but this time, remove your clothing and be completely naked with your partner.

Sensate Focus Exercise Step 3

Each of you is going to spend at least 45 minutes exploring the other. Feel free to use the “props” you brought (e.g., feathers, leather items, soft blanket, etc.). This time you are allowed to explore your partner’s genitals and breasts (aka erogenous zones). You are not allowed to use your tongue or replicate any action that would be, or is similar to, oral or manual genital manipulation. Again, have a conversation prior to starting the exercise to make sure the receiver doesn’t have any limitations. Each of you should be naked for this exercise. Again, create time afterward to discuss what your experiences were. What is it like for your partner to touch you? Which touches do you enjoy the most? What was your least favorite part of the exercise? What did you want more of, less of?

**During each of the prior stages, feel free to take turns trying a “hand riding” technique as a means of nonverbal communication. By placing one hand on top of your partner’s hand while being touched, you can show how and where you would like to be touched by indicating more or less pressure, faster or slower pace, or a change to a different spot. The goal in providing your partner with this feedback is to give them some guidance, not to control how they are touching you.**

Sensate Focus Exercise Step 4

This time instead of taking turns, you are going to mutually touch one another at the same time. The stages before in Sensate Focus were about experiencing your own sensations where you got to lay and take it all in; this stage is about practicing more natural, or real life, forms of physical interaction with one another. Each partner will shift attention to a part of their partner’s body and away from watching their own response. Experience negotiation where you may want to move your partner’s body, or they may want to move on their own. Again, feel free to use props for this exercise. You can also use different body parts and include genitalia and breasts. Like the other stages of Sensate Focus, you’re going to pay attention to the sensations, but this time focus on your partner’s sensations. Do they enjoy something, do they want you to move to a different spot, do they want a different type of touch? This stage should be done while both partners are naked. As usual, no matter how sexually aroused you feel, sexual intercourse, oral and digital manipulation are still off-limits. Remember, Sensate Focus is about enhancing the sensual dimensions of your relationship.

Sensate Focus Exercise Step 5

Here you will continue with the mutual touching of one another while moving into positions that feel more like intercourse. You can start with whatever position you’d like. Here are some suggestions of common positions: female-on-top position; male-on-top; side spoon. Without inserting the penis/dildo into the vaginal canal, you can rub each of your genitalia against one another. Physical arousal is unnecessary here, but if it happens, let it. Once you both feel as though you have a good sense of your own experiences in this position, try a new position. Try 2-3 positions for about 15 minutes each, or until you both feel you have a good sense of the sensations from each of the positions. Again, do not put the penis/dildo into the vaginal canal. If physical arousal to the point of ejaculation/orgasm occurs, that is okay. You should continue doing each of the exercises/positions after ejaculation/orgasm if one or both of you feel as though you each have a good sense of the positions’ sensations.

Sensate Focus Exercise Step 6

Start out this stage of Sensate Focus the same way you did in stage 5. Once you feel comfortable in that position and have a good sense of the sensations, you may progress to putting the tip of the penis/dildo into the vaginal canal. You should still focus on the physical sensations and stop or move back to non-genital touching if either partner becomes orgasm-focused or anxious. This is not about “finishing”; this is about prolonged sensational enjoyment and feeling one another. It’s okay if one or both of you do not ejaculate/orgasm. That is not the focus of Sensate Focus. Continue this exercise for as long as each of you would like. Come to the decision to stop together.

You have now finished The Sensate Focus Exercises.

  • Note that ejaculation/orgasms and making out are not the primary goal in all of the stages! However, if you both wish to proceed to this stage of arousal after completing the exercise in the assigned stage, you are welcome to do so.
  • Some couples enjoy repeating stages prior to moving on to the next one. If that is the case, do so as many times as you’d like! You may notice something different each time, or you may want to try a variation of something you did the last time. Experiment with it. Most of all, have fun!

We hope that you enjoyed your time with your partner exploring your sensuality. If you feel you need more guidance, please feel free to give us a call at 267-495-4951 or visit our relationship therapy & counseling page for more information.

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