You can see it, you can feel it — nice, slow lovemaking where all you do is focus on your sensations.
Sex therapists are all about it. Whether your sex life is in a rut, has become routine or has been sabotaged by a sexual problem, becoming sensate-focused can renew your sex life as you rediscover each other.
A series of behavioral practices, sensate focus exercises offer variety and increased personal awareness through basic touch.
They will challenge your beliefs and assumptions about what makes for a rewarding sexual exchange. They will put you in a new mindset, one that will expand your capacity for erotic pleasure.
So what does this approach involve? And what makes it so incredibly effective?
Originally developed by sex researchers Drs. William Masters and Virginia Johnson, sensate focus exercises involve each partner paying increased attention to their own sensations when stimulated. Developed for couples in sex therapy, these exercises have helped lovers to overcome issues like performance anxiety, rapid ejaculation, lack of orgasm and erectile dysfunction.
Whether you are in therapy or simply want something different in your sex life, any couple stands to gain from focusing on no more than their sensations.
The benefits of sensate focus include:
— Discovering new types of touch;
— Spine-tingling sensations;
— Increased comfort with physical intimacy;
— Better awareness of your lover’s body, as well as your own;
— A strengthened relationship;
— No fear of failure;
— Better sex communication;
— Heightened sexual excitement.
Lovers gain from these non-demands and pleasuring exercises, losing themselves in the moment with what feels good when sexual anxieties diminish. Instead of making sex goal-oriented, they enjoy the experience of being with one another, touching and feeling each other’s bodies.
Sensate focus exercises are about enjoying physical contact to the fullest without trying to arouse each other. These highly structured touch activities are done in several stages over time. When working with a sex therapist, they are tailor-made to a couple’s specific issues. Lovers find reassurance because the approach is gradual. They feel freed because there’s no pressure to produce a response from either partner.
Not to be mistaken as a form of foreplay, sensate focus is the main experience. Couples in therapy are usually advised to abstain from having intercourse while focusing on the physical sensations triggered during sensate play.
This not only alleviates anxiety and mental distractions that lead to sexual difficulties, but offers up a greater awareness of the wide range of stimuli that encompass all of the senses.
— Breasts and genitals are off limits for the first few sessions.
— Verbal feedback is limited unless you’re uncomfortable or in pain.
— Do not try to elicit sexual response (but don’t sweat it if it happens).
— After each session, be sure to process the experience.
When pursuing sensate focus exercises, set aside at least 60 uninterrupted minutes in a warm bedroom. You may want to enhance the setting with soothing music and candles. If it helps, take a bath (or anything else that relaxes you). Take your time, over several “dates,” to explore the following:
Once your partner has assumed a comfortable position, begin by touching and stroking your lover’s naked body for 10 minutes. As you work your way front and back, head to toe, use your enjoyment as a guide. As you touch your partner’s figure, notice the texture, contours, warmth...
Now allow your partner to do the same to you, fully focusing on the sensations of being touched by your lover and your reactions to it. In either case, try to be as quiet as possible, so you do not take away from your awareness of physical sensations.
Take turns massaging each other for another 20 minutes each (in later sessions, this can include the breasts and groin).
Touch and explore your bodies at the same time for 20 minutes, focusing on the touch, not sexual excitement.
Building upon the exercises of Session I, you are allowed to touch the breasts and genitals now. Start by touching other parts of your lover’s body first, emphasizing physical sensations, before gradually working your way to the sex organs.
Take turns “hand-riding,” a nonverbal technique where the partner being touched places his or her hand over the giver’s to indicate the desired touch. This could be fast or slow, using more or less pressure, or moving to a different area. If needed, the receiver can explain desired touch. The giver should, however, still largely guide efforts.
This stage is all about mutual touching, making the interaction more natural in the touch exchange. Simultaneous touch also allows partners to focus more on each person’s body instead of paying attention to one’s own response. Couples should communicate what they enjoy and want sexually, without getting caught up in the goal of achieving orgasm.
If the couple is dealing with a sexual disorder, they should work with a sex therapist to determine if more exercises are needed to focus on physical sensation. Lovers, however, will get to a point where they can proceed to full intercourse without any problems.
By establishing new ways of relating to each other, partners may find themselves having some of the best sex of their lives!
Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."