Sensate Focus and How to Effectively Use It with Your Partner

Oct 2, 2023

Therapist doing online therapy Telehealth

Many couples experience challenges with sex and intimacy for various reasons. For many of them, sex therapy provides a safe and supportive setting to address a variety of intimacy concerns, such as low libido, erectile dysfunction, sexual performance anxiety, or body image issues.

What is Sensate Focus?

Sensate focus is a technique that sex therapists use to help couples and individuals address various sexual difficulties and improve sexual intimacy. It involves a series of intimate touch exercises that teach a person how to overcome mind-wandering and be mindfully present in their body during sex.

Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson developed the sensate focus technique, also known as mindful touching or non-orgasm/arousal-focused touch, in the 1960s.

The idea behind sensate focus is that couples may improve their closeness and lessen anxiety by participating in non-genital and genital touching. This strategy develops a deeper connection between partners by stressing sensations and conversation rather than sexual performance or orgasm.

So, instead of focusing on your expectations and judgment about what should happen, the sensate focus exercise encourages you to focus entirely on sensory characteristics of touching, such as pressure, warmth, or texture.

How to Use Sensate Focus with Your Partner

A trained sex therapist typically guides sensate focus. So, it would be best if you contacted a sex therapist in your area who can help you understand the technique, adjust it to your needs, and guide you through the process of sensate focus.

However, if you feel confident enough to try it on your own, here are a few tips to get you started. You can do the exercises alone or with your partner, lasting 10–15 minutes to an hour.

Sensuality vs. Sexuality: How to Practice Mindful Touching

Sensuality involves experiencing pleasure through the senses, in this case, the tactile sensations, without necessarily involving sexual desire or activity. Sexuality, on the other hand, is about sexual identity, desires, and performance. It often involves getting sexually aroused and getting intimate with others.

So, instead of sexual performance, sensate focus is about sensuality or feeling pleasure through tactile experience. No matter how aroused the pair becomes, they are urged to set boundaries to touch in various stages of sensate focus.

So, here is a guide on how to use sensate focus with your partner, step by step.

Create a Comfortable Setting

Create a secure and comfortable environment and remove distractions to help you both relax and focus. Ideally, both partners should be undressed, but if this is not possible, wear loose and comfortable clothes.

Establish Open Communication

Open communication and vulnerability are essential to sensate focus exercise. Before you start, discuss your needs, concerns, and goals with your partner. Be honest and ensure you’re on the same page before touching.

Open dialogue fosters trust and support, allowing you to unwind and tune into each other.

During this stage, decide who will be the toucher and receiver throughout the first phase of each activity. The roles should be switched halfway through each step of the exercise.

Step 1: Non-Genital Touching

Sensate focus should begin with non-genital touching and stroking. So, set boundaries and focus on touching all other body parts except the breasts and genitals. This is necessary to emphasize the significance of sensuality vs. sexuality in touch.

Take turns exploring one another’s body while focusing on sensations such as temperature and texture of the skin. Be mindful of each touch and emphasize sensual awareness and the pleasure of contact rather than sexual arousal.

Step 2: Genital and Breast Touching

At this point, progress to genital and breast touching, but without expecting sexual performance or orgasm. Abstain from kissing and intercourse at this stage. Again, focus on sensory tactile experience and your sensations of touching and exploring your partner’s body.

Step 3: Adding Oil or Lotion

By adding oil or lotion, you can increase your sensory awareness. Be sure to use it warm, though.

Phase 4: Mutual Touching

You are encouraged to touch each other to work on mutual pleasure and satisfaction at this stage. However, stay focused on noticing the tactile sensations and feelings of physical contact.

Phase 5: Transition to Intercourse

If you feel comfortable and aroused, you can have sexual contact with your partner at this point. However, continue practicing mindfulness by focusing on the texture, shape, and temperature of the intercourse experience.


Sensate focus is a method that sex therapists use to help their clients increase closeness and deal with various sexual issues. Through intimate contact, people learn to pay attention to their bodies without judgment or pressure.

A qualified sex therapist can help you understand the technique and guide you through sensate focus exercises to break patterns of sexual performance anxiety and learn how to enjoy intimacy.

Let’s connect soon so we can set up a consultation.

Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is a certified AASECT individual and couples sex therapist in Los Angeles, CA. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented therapy services to the Los Angeles and Century City community. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.