Sensate Focus

A person's hands on a topless man's back.

Sensate focus is a therapy technique that is commonly used to treat sexual problems such as female anorgasmiaerectile difficulty, and low sexual desire. More generally, it can help both men and women who have a hard time becoming sexually excited and reaching orgasm.

This technique is designed to reduce anxieties about reaching orgasm by focusing purely on what feels good to you and your partner(s). People often mistakenly believe that the “goal” of sex is to reach orgasm. When individuals get anxious about reaching that goal, they often miss out on the joys of simply being with their partner and taking the time to experiment with touching and feeling the many parts of their partner’s body.

Sensate focus is designed to increase communication between partners; each person gets the opportunity to slowly explore touching their partner’s body, listening to their partner as he or she tells what feels best. This technique is not limited to sexual therapy and problems; partners can participate in sensate focus at any time to strengthen their relationship, communication skills, and rediscover the simple joy of touch.

A person laying down topless. Another person is massaging their back.

The first step to practicing sensate focus is to set up the right environment. A couple might use candles, play soft music, take a bath beforehand, or do whatever else makes them feel relaxed and comfortable. Couples should undress. One partner – who we will call the ‘touchee’ – lies down on a bed (or other designated space) in a comfortable position, on his or her stomach, back or side. The other partner will take the role of the ‘toucher’. Later, the partners will switch positions.

The toucher begins by exploring their partner’s body. The toucher should not specifically try to sexually arouse the receiver. The toucher should merely explore, touching many parts of the receiver’s body, noticing the various textures and sensitivities. During the early phases of sensate focus, the toucher does not try to sexually arouse the receiver. This helps eliminate performance anxiety and the pressure of reaching the goal of orgasm. The receiver should make suggestions to the toucher, telling his or her partner what feels good and what is uncomfortable. The toucher should also remember to ask for feedback from the receiver. Remember that this exercise is about communication. After doing this sensate focus exercise for several minutes, the partners should switch roles.

The first few times that a couple practices sensate focus, they should not stimulate the breasts, genitals or anus, or attempt to engage in intercourse. Couples may also participate in simultaneous sensate focus, where each partner touches the other at the same time. Sensate focus can also be combined with a massage for an even more relaxing effect.

Two topless individuals hugging.

After several sessions of sensate focus, both partners are allowed to begin touching their partner’s sexually sensitive regions, such as their breasts and genitals. As each explores the other’s body, effective communication may help them learn what their partner likes best. Over time, both will gain skills in stimulating the other in new and exciting ways. These new skills tend to increase the sexual excitement of love making, and may help solve the problems of becoming aroused and reaching orgasm. As each partner learns what is most pleasurable to their significant other, they can incorporate what they have learned into their sexual encounters on a regular basis, and continue exploring various sexual positions and types of stimulation

Last Updated: 30 January 2012.