Sensate Focus

Sensate Focus Part 1

Sensate Focus is one of the main techniques used to cure sexual problems without using medication. It is a gentle way to improve a couple’s sensuality and spontaneity whether they experience sexual difficulties or not.

Sensate Focus was developed by William Masters and Virginia Johnson, who were key figures of psychosexual therapy in the 1970s.

As such this technique is tried and tested and has benefited thousands of couples. It is a behavioral program which involves a couple completing homework assignments in the form of structured touching.

A Brief Introduction to Sensate Focus

The basic idea is that a couple sets a limit to their sexual contact for a while, or whilst doing the exercises, and take turns touching each other in specific ways.

For example, in the first stage a couple will be asked to have one partner experience touch and the other give it for twenty minutes, before swapping over and doing another twenty minutes.

The agreement at this stage is that touch is allowed all over the body, but must not include the genital regions and breasts. It is agreed that sex does not go any further and that if one or both partners get aroused, he or she does not take things further.

After several weeks of practice a new limit can be set, such as touching the sexual regions of the body, but again no attempt at intercourse is allowed.

Aims of the technique

Sensate Focus works because it eliminates performance pressure for both partners by setting a clear limit to sexual behavior.

It means that the man involved (if it’s not a lesbian couple) will not need to become erect or turned on, or perform in any other way, and the woman (if it’s not a gay couple) will not need to feel aroused. It’s especially useful for controlling premature ejaculation.

The exercises give both partners time to fully experience their bodies, to listen to their physical sensations and to be playful and relaxed with their partner, rather than feel inadequate or worry about whether they are going to perform or not or feel overwhelmed in some way.

For the partner who is giving the touch, Sensate Focus can mean freedom to really explore the partner’s body and to develop a familiarity and sense of ease with it. There is no pressure on him or her to stimulate the partner to become more aroused.

A big part of the exercises is for the receiving partner to verbalize and tell the other how things feel and how he or she wants to be touched. For many people it is extremely difficult to verbalize during sex what they would like from each other.

Sensate Focus allows people to start communicating about their needs whilst things are only getting sexual gradually.

Sensate Focus is an ideal technique to overcome performance pressure, anxiety, a sense of disconnectedness with your body or the impact of sexual trauma. It’s used to deal with psychosexual problems such as sexual aversion, erectile problems in men and problems with orgasm in men and women.

Sensate Focus can also be a great thing to do when you want to develop your sex life, even if there are no pressing issues you need to attend to. It is a way of enriching a couple’s life and developing greater intimacy and ability to communicate desires.

Sensate Focus: The Exercises


First off, Sensate Focus is a powerful technique, which strictly speaking has been designed to be used while a couple is in sex therapy. Although there isn’t anything dangerous about the exercises, a lot of emotional stuff may come up between you and your partner once you start on them.

Any other issues which may be there in your relationships – such as power dynamics or the legacy of each person’s emotional history – may surface when you start. Please assess whether your relationship is strong enough to tolerate the extra issues which may surface before you attempt Sensate Focus with your partner!

If you have doubts, consider entering couples therapy first, or seek out a qualified psychosexual therapist. A therapist can guide you through Sensate Focus and act as a resource and buffer for any issues which may surface. You can find a qualified practitioner via The British Association for Sexual and Relationship Therapy or AASECT in the USA.

Ground rules

  • A couple needs to set specific ground rules for Sensate Focus to work. These need to be mutually agreed on and understood. If the ground rules are not followed Sensate Focus won’t work!

  • During the exercises there is a ban on sexual intercourse and at the start also on genital touching. If a partner gets aroused, he or she can masturbate if necessary after the Sensate Focus session is completed, on his or her own. No attempt should be made to involve the partner in intercourse (i.e. please do not even ask!).

  • Set up time to do the exercises at least twice weekly. Setting aside time without stress or pressure to do other things is essential. Start off by spending 20 minutes on the exercises, increasing to 60 minutes in total per session over the next 4 weeks.

  • At the start do not talk during the exercises, unless your partner’s touch is uncomfortable or painful and you need to let him or her know. Do not have conversations during the exercise about other, unrelated matters, i.e. anything that isn’t happening just right now between the two of you. Later you may want to have the receiving partner to verbalize how it feels being touched, but again, stick with talking about what is happening right here, right now for you. Otherwise conversations will distract you from your own sensations.

  • It is all about tuning into your own experience rather than pleasing your partner. The partner giving touch may want to take time to explore and touch without any intention to make the other person feel any particular way. The emphasis is even greater for the receiving partner: your task is to take in the touch without even trying to give anything back!

  • The exercises are all about learning to stay with your body and with yourself. If that turns out to be quite difficult for you, don’t worry. This is all about learning. Instead of getting worried, approach difficulties with curiosity. Isn’t it interesting that you start planning your shopping for the next day when your partner strokes your back?¬†Give yourself time to ponder what that may mean, how you feel at that point, and so on.

Sensate Focus Exercise Plan

Sensate Focus is laid out in a series of stages, which slowly increases the intensity of sexual touch. Stage 1 involves no sex and no genital touching.

Stage 2 includes genital touching and starts to explore this area more, however intercourse is still not allowed. Stage 3 includes penetration, i.e., if a penis is involved it can now be placed in a vagina if one happens to be around and its owner is happy with that. During this stage, movement is slowly incorporated to result in thrusting to orgasm.

With each stage really take your time! Please do not rush through the program, even if you feel you are OK with the preceding stage. If you rush you may encourage performance pressure, which invalidates the whole project.

If you move on to the next stage and you feel it is too difficult, simply come back to the previous stage and practice some more. You can also discuss with your partner after the exercise is over how things are going and what may have happened to make the next stage difficult. Only move on to the next stage if both of you agree!

If you are struggling with the whole thing, consider getting advice from a qualified therapist. Keep communicating with your partner after the session is over about how the two of you are doing with it.

This entry was posted in sex therapy. Bookmark the permalink.