Sensate focusing

Sensate focus or sensate focusing is a term usually associated with a set of specific sexual exercises for couples or for individuals. The term was introduced by Masters and Johnson, and was aimed at increasing personal and interpersonal awareness of self and the other's needs. Each participant is encouraged to focus on their own varied sense experience, rather than to see orgasm as the sole goal of sex.


A therapist will usually guide the timing and technique of the sensate focusing. In the first stage, the couple may touch each other's body to the exclusion of breasts and genitals. They are encouraged to enjoy and become increasingly aware of the texture and other qualities of their partner's skin. Intercourse and talking is disallowed. Participants concentrate on what they themselves find interesting in the skin of the other, not on what they think the other may enjoy.

The second stage increases the touch options to include genitals and breasts. Sensation and gathering information about the partner's body is still encouraged and intercourse is still forbidden. The participants then use a technique of placing their hand over their partner's hand in order to show what they find pleasureable in terms of pace and pressure. The toucher's interests as far as learning about the partner's body are still the goal rather than the 'touchee's' pleasure.

Further stages include the gradual introduction of orgasm and then full intercourse.

Sensate focus is also used as a treatment for impotence in males, especially where anxiety is involved. The perceived problem is that the patient is primarily concerned with his penis: what it is doing and how it is feeling, and is not paying enough attention to the rest of his body or that of his partner. Because of performance anxiety, the obsessional focus on the penis results in impotence. These men appear to be relatively ignorant of the potential for sensual possibilities in the rest of the human body and to be focused on orgasm as a goal. The therapist will encourage the man to forget about his penis, relatively speaking, and instead concentrate on the sensual possibilities available in the feel of his own and his partner's skin, hair, mouth, body, (breasts), etc.

Contact with the penis is 'forbidden' and the only sexual contact that is 'allowed' is sensate focusing: sessions of interaction with the partner during which only the non-penis aspects of sex are explored: touching, talking, hugging, kissing, and so on. This includes not only touch but taste, sound and hearing, as partners are encouraged to talk to each other, to express emotion and to encourage each other.

This gradually leads to the man have an appreciation of a whole new set of sensual possibilities, leading to a reduced concentration on the penis and its tendency to be the male's dominant concern. Patients often report an improvement in their sex life generally with less anxiety. As the man reports increasing awareness and attention paid to these holistic sense aspects of sex, potence often returns.

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