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sensate focus

Sensate Focus: What Is It & How It Works?

Sensate Focus: What Is It & How It Works?


Have you ever heard of sensate focus? It is a technique that improves intimacy and communication around sex between partners, while also reducing sexual performance anxiety, and abandoning any sexual pattern that doesn’t serve a couple. The sensate focus technique was developed 60 years ago by Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson and involves a series of touching exercises a couple completes in one sequence. 

The goal of sensate focus is for partners to let go of the expectations and judgments around mutual touching, and rather focus only on the sensory aspects of touch, such as texture, temperature, and pressure. Master and Johnson created this technique to help couples relax and be more mindful of the sensual touching experience, without the burden of preconceived ideas of what should occur. 

Also known as mindful touching or non-orgasm-focused touch, the sensate focus has proved to help improve intimacy and quality of sex life for many couples, especially those who have issues with body image, desire, arousal, orgasm, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation. 

You will find many variations of this technique, yet the founders have outlined it as a process that involves five steps. 

1. Non-Genital Touching

The first step requires both partners to be clean, unclothed, and well-rested. If they don’t feel comfortable being naked, they can choose to wear comfortable clothes that are not restraining them in any way. One partner is the toucher and the other one is the receiver in the first step of the sensate focus. Halfway through the initial steps, the partners will switch roles, so both of them can experience what it’s like to be the toucher and the receiver. 

The receiver will lie down in a position that feels comfortable for them, while the toucher touches them anywhere on the body which is not breasts or genitals. The idea is to enjoy the sensuality of touch instead of using it as a tool for sexual arousal or stimulation. Even if one partner or both of them become sexually excited, they should resist the temptation to have sex because it leads to the same sexual partners. The founders of sensate focus suggest 15 minutes as the maximum time to explore all the sensations touching and being touched can arise in a person. 

2. Genital and Breast Touching

In the second step, the partners will continue with the same structure, however, the genitals and breasts are no longer “off limits”. Partners are still focused on exploring which sensations they feel when immersed in the power of a touch, instead of sexual stimulation. In other words, the toucher shouldn’t spend more time touching the genitals and breasts than any other body area. One of the partners will likely become aroused in this step, yet they should continue with the technique, instead of turning it into a sexual encounter.

Here, the couple can utilize the hand riding technique, which allows them to use their hand to give nonverbal cues like slightly increasing the pressure. If using this technique, the receiver must sit in between the legs of their partner to feel even more connected.

3. Adding Lotion or Lubricant

In step three, you will repeat everything from the previous step, only with the addition of oil or lotion when touching the body and a lubricant for the genital touching. The founders of the sensate focus believed that adding lotion or lubricant improves sensory awareness by altering the medium of touch. 

The important thing to know is that the oil or lotion used for body touching mustn’t be cold, so you should warm it before you dive into exploring this technique or simply warn it in your hands before putting it on the receiver’s body. 

4. Mutual Touching

Now, both partners will be allowed to touch each other at the same time. There are no more roles, and both can be the receiver and the toucher at once. The basic principles from the third step stay, however, when mutually touching each other, partners should resist their desire for sexual intercourse. Instead, they should continue with the mindset of noticing all the sensations and feelings of touch.  

Also, couples can now use their lips and tongue to touch each other, yet still without kissing or oral sex. This ensures they don’t go back to their old sexual patterns and discover a completely new level of sensuality and connection caused by sensory appreciation.


5. Sensual Intercourse

Masters and Johnson coined the term “sensual intercourse” to describe the last phase of sensate focus. Throughout the entire technique, the couple was focused on building a new level of awareness when it comes to touching. Ergo, they shouldn’t revert to their old sexual behaviors, which were often mechanical and orgasm-driven. 

Partners should continue practicing mindfulness when sensually touching each other by becoming aware of the temperature, texture, and shape of their genitals. They might decide to insert and remove fingers or penis into the vagina several times before continuing. Some couples choose to vary their breathing and observe how it affects the sensations, while others might decide to continue with touching. Whichever the choice, both partners should stay aware of the magic of touch and all the physical sensations it awakens in them. 


By abandoning your old sexual patterns and behaviors, you are able to connect on a new level with your partner. As most sex and romantic partners start touching each other as foreplay that aims to lead to sexual intercourse. Sensate focus allows us to explore how we feel about the touch and how our partner is reacting when we touch them.

This strengthens intimacy and sexual connections between partners, and more importantly, it helps them to discover new dimensions of their sexuality. It breaks the limits of sex only being the same series of actions, typically only orgasm-driven. And introduces a new way of understanding how powerful touching our loved ones can be in itself. 


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