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Can Sensate Focus Help Your Sex Life?


A couple decides to try sensate focus.

In a study of 1,000 US relationships, 34% of relationships reported being dissatisfied with their sex lives. Sex isn’t a one size fits all scenario; it often involves deepening a mutual connection and understanding each other in an intimate way. If you would like to enhance your sex life, read on to find out about sensate focus therapy.

What Is Sensate Focus?

Sensate focus was developed by William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the 1960s. Since then, sex therapists use this staple sex therapy technique to help couples overcome sexual difficulties and enhance their sexual encounters.

Sensate focus involves touching exercises to help deepen the intimate connection between partners. This also helps the individuals be less in their head and more in their bodies.

This is why sensate focus is helpful for individuals that struggle with performance anxiety. Many times, the partner will become anxious or worried about intimacy. They are unsure if they can satisfy their partner. This can leave them stuck in their head during intercourse rather than being in the present.

When partners can become more embodied, and get out of their head during intimacy, the focus on mindfulness and the body make room for more pleasure. As you focus on mindfulness and sensation, your sensory experience is enhanced.

This therapy does not only help with mindfulness and sensation. Sensate focus can also help with individuals who struggle with erectile dysfunction, arousal disorders, dissociation, painful sexual intercourse, orgasm disorders, and more.

How Does Sensate Focus Work?

Sensate focus takes touching exercises that can either be done alone or with a partner.

Here is the process of the Masters and Johnson sensate focus exercises. You can do these stages one after the other or spread them out over time, practicing each a few times before you move on. Your therapist can help you decide the best route to go.

Stage One

In stage one, partners take turns touching each other’s bodies and kissing, except for the breasts and genital areas.

The point of this step is not to cause arousal or sexual intercourse but to purely explore one another’s bodies and experience the sensation of touching. You are focusing on the way your partner’s hands feel on your body.

This type touch can be however you want, as long as it stays out of the breast and genital area. You might want to try different levels of pressure and cadence to see what feels best for you.

You and your partner can develop a signal of the body language to express if there is something that makes you uncomfortable or if they do something you do not like. This could be a hand signal, or a word, whichever you prefer.

Practice doing this for about 20 minutes each, taking turns touching the other’s body and focusing on the sensation of your partner’s hands.

Repeat this stage two to three times a week before moving onto the next stage, and only move forward if you both feel ready.

Stage Two

Stage two begins with going over stage one; then, you can start exploring the breast and/or genital areas.

While you can start genital touching, it is important to remember that the goal is still the same. It is not to lead to orgasm or sexual arousal, only to focus on the sensation of touching and enhancing your intimate connection.

This will work the same as stage one, where you take turns doing it, and work toward staying embodied and attuned to yourself and your partner. Refrain from intercourse.

Repeat this stage two to three times a week before moving on to stage three, for as many weeks as needed, until you both feel ready to move to the next stage.

Stage Three

Stage three begins with stages one and two, then proceeds to engage in mutual touching. Rather than taking turns touching each other, you will explore each other’s bodies at the same time.

While you do this, you are to avoid touching that would lead to orgasm. Even in the event that you both are sexually aroused and want to move forward, your goal is to avoid that and continue focusing on just enjoying each other’s touch. Do not engage in intercourse in this stage. It is important to hold back from intercourse, so as to teach your bodies about implicit trust.

Repeat this stage two to three times before moving on, and do so only when you are both ready.

Stage Four

Stage four begins with running through stages one, two, and three. After you proceed through all previous stages, you can get into a sexual intercourse position without actually continuing on to have sexual intercourse.

In this position, move your bodies together so your genitals rub against each other without any penetration. Notice how you feel, physically and emotionally.

Once you repeat this stage two to three times a week, and you can move on to having sexual intercourse when you both are ready.

Do not take having sexual intercourse as a cue to ignore all previous stages. Instead, focus again less on the arousal and intent to orgasm and more on the senses, temperature, feelings, etc. of the intercourse. Embodiment improves pleasure.

Other Help

Sometimes, when beginning the process of sensate focus, it can be helpful to explore the use of hand riding.

Hand riding involves taking your partner’s hands and guiding them throughout your body. This lets your partner understand what parts of your body you like to be touched and how to touch them.

This will increase awareness on both ends of what you both like and how you should proceed.

Furthermore, as stated earlier, make a signal, so your partner understands what you don’t like. Take this a step further by also discussing after each session how it went and what you liked vs what you didn’t like.

When you increase the communication between you, it can create a more enriching outcome.

How Does This Help?

Sensate focus therapy helps in reducing performance anxiety, restoring a safe presence, and increasing each partner’s satisfaction.

It lets you into understanding your partner and their likes and dislikes on a whole new level.

Sensate focus helps you eliminate performative sex and deepen the connection you already have. It takes the pressure off of having sex and expectations and puts the mindset on the sensory experience of being together.

If you struggle with sexual dysfunction, sex therapy can assist in helping you overcome it and reaching sexual satisfaction.

Working with a certified sex therapist to guide you in this practice and give homework assignments will especially be helpful through the process.

Homework assignments can help you understand the therapy better and continue to deepen what you have with your partner.

Sensate focus therapy can improve your sexual life and deepen the emotional and physical intimacy between you and your partner.

How Do We Start?

If you think sensate focus therapy will help your relationship, you can start today. Deepen your connection, let go of your expectations, and increase your sensual awareness.

Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your goals and needs today.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Dr. Kate Balestrieri is a Licensed Psychologist (CA, FL, IL + NY), Certified Sex Therapist, Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, and PACT III trained Couples Therapist. She is the Founder of Modern Intimacy. Follow her on TikTok and IG @drkatebalestrieri and the Modern Intimacy team on IG @themodernintimacy.



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