Sensate focus therapy is one of the most well-known techniques used in Sex Therapy. It can be applied to almost any sexual dysfunction in men and women. It involves petting, massaging, intimate touch and foreplay – both sensual and sexual. Sensate focus helps you and your partner to get to know each other’s bodies better. It also helps you to identify the different sensual zones on your body and to become more self-aware.
Note that there is a difference between “sensual” and “sexual.” Sexual refers to the physical act of sex. Sensual takes into account all of the messages from your five senses (smell, taste, touch, sight, and sound) and puts them together in an all-encompassing experience. To truly enjoy sex, you and your partner need to learn to be sensual first, then sexual. We refer to this as “Outercourse” before “Intercourse.”
If you have been prescribed Sensate Focus Therapy by your doctor/therapist/sexologist, you can follow these steps:
Decide who is going to give (the GIVER) and who is going to receive (the RECEIVER) first. You can do this by flipping a coin if no one wants to volunteer. The person who gives first has to set the first date and time. It is VERY important that you stick to this first appointment. If for some unforeseen reason, you could not stick to the plan, you have to reschedule with a specific date and time again. Don’t wait for a time when you are both just spontaneously in the mood to do it – that is very unlikely to happen! You have to say: “This Wednesday at 20h00.” Be VERY specific. Do not wait for bedtime using your last little bit of energy for this exercise – it’s always a disaster!
The Giver has to create a romantic atmosphere with candles, music, scented oils – whatever you think your partner might enjoy.
Begin the session by de-stressing and getting your mind ready to be sensual. This might involve taking a quick nap, taking a long bubble bath alone or together, being on your own to fantasize, etc. The more you prepare yourself mentally for the session, the more exciting it will be.
You can do these sessions fully clothed, in your underwear or naked – whatever you and your partner are comfortable with.
When you are ready, the Giver starts to explore the body of the Receiver by stroking lightly and firmly, massaging, caressing, kissing and blowing on the Receiver’s entire back, arms, chest, abdomen, legs, neck and face for twenty minutes.
The Giver is not allowed to touch the breasts or genitals of the Receiver or to kiss the Receiver on the mouth. Kissing on other parts of the body is allowed. A minute or two of passionate kissing is advised after the session, if you feel up to it.
The Receiver is allowed to use sounds to let the Giver know how he or she feels, but no words. It is a good to let your partner know that you are enjoying the moment by the sounds that you make, if you are comfortable doing so.
During this exercise the idea for both the Giver and the Receiver is to become aware of the sensations involved in being touched. Focus on exactly what your partner is doing and what are you enjoying about it. To stay in the moment, it sometimes helps if you tell yourself: “He/She is gently stroking my arm with his/her fingertips. It feels good. I find it relaxing/arousing/erotic”. Don’t put pressure on yourself to find everything your partner does arousing or erotic. Some things might even just be neutral or even mildly unpleasant. It is okay. If you find something uncomfortable, just move your body slightly – don’t say something negative!
If you are one of those very few people who are able to orgasm without breast or genital stimulation, go for it! If you can’t, complete the session by just holding each other until the arousal subsides.
After the session, get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and tell each other what you have enjoyed about the session. This is the first time you are allowed to use words and you should mention five positive things about the session. The Receiver should go first and then the Giver should also mention five positive things about the session. It is very important to not mention negative things or things you did not like, only positive things. Your therapist will ask you about these things during the session – it is the most important part of the exercise!
Some people find it helpful to draw a body map and make notes on it for example: Neck: kissing, thighs: light touch, lower back: gently blowing, etc. This helps you keep a record of what your partner likes in order to use it when you make love after you have completed your sensate focus therapy.
You can switch roles on the same night or set a date for another night where you will switch roles. It is extremely important that the person who was the Giver during this session, is the first Receiver during the following session. You must take turns to set the date, time and scene.
Do not have sex! There is method in the madness – trust this very well-researched therapy process!
If you are struggling to fit in two sessions a week, it may be saying something about your priorities… We usually recommend a follow-up with your therapist within two weeks.