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The Best Sensate Focus Exercise in 8 Steps (Sexual Therapy Guide) 

Steffo Shambo

Updated on Oct 31, 2023
sensate focus exercise

Tired of digging up your sex drive like it’s a buried treasure? Here’s how to add fireworks to the bedroom: sensate focus exercise. 

Sensate focus is the Gandalf of sexual healing. Your libido will go from “You shall not pass!” to “You shall not fail to climax!”

All jokes aside, listen up because this is a proven technique backed up by science. 

From stage-fright erections to lost-in-translation arousal signals, all your sexy-time issues can be solved. 

Traditional sex therapy does give us a raw deal, focusing mainly on the nitty-gritty—erections, arousal, wetness, and orgasms. 

Don’t get me wrong, those are great—but they’re just part of the story. 

The most effective solution is a holistic health approach. And that’s what sensate focus is all about.

What Is Sensate Focus Therapy?

Sensate focus therapy is a structured, step-by-step approach to solving sexual intimacy problems. This framework was developed by a team of sex expert researchers known as Masters and Johnson. 

Masters and Johnson set out on a mission: to help individuals and couples facing intimacy issues. 

The main idea was to focus on the sensory experience of physical touch to help overcome sexual dysfunction. Mindful touch and nonverbal communication are the core pillars for couples to overcome bedroom hurdles. 

Here’s an example. 

A couple might start with non-genital touching. Each partner takes turns touching the other’s body: arms, legs, torso, you name it. The receiver pours their full attention on the sensation of the touch, not the sexual arousal of being touched.

As couples continue to practice over time, they can progress to more intimate touching. This leads to improvements in intimacy slowly but surely. 

By tackling your intimacy problems step-by-step, you’ll find that you’ll be able to concentrate better on the sensory experience. The performance will come as a natural byproduct over time once you begin to get more physically comfortable being with your partner.

The Work of Sexual Pioneers: Masters and Johnson

masters and johnson book

I cannot write about this exercise without paying tribute to its two creators: Masters and Johnson. Both now passed away; they deserve full credit for developing this powerful exercise.

Masters and Johnson were true pioneers of sex research. In the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, they conducted the first-ever, and to date the biggest, study on human sexology. Their research won multiple awards. It is now held within the internationally famous Kinsey Institute. At this time, their work was truly groundbreaking.

If you need more in-depth information on this topic, I highly recommend the book, ‘Sensate Focus in Therapy: The Illustrated Manual’ by Linda Weiner and Constance Avery Clark. Some ideas in this article are also inspired by their work and, of course, Masters and Johnson. I owe great gratitude to both authors.

The Benefits of Sensate Focus Therapy

Sensate therapy has potent sexual healing factors for men and women. To be specific, here are the conditions that sensate focus therapy can help eradicate for good: 

In other words, sensate focus therapy can treat sexual dysfunction. It’s a type of sex therapy that works for males and females. 

In both sexes, it can restore comfort during sexual activity. Sensate focus also brings about unparalleled levels of intimacy and love between partners. 

Years ago, I used this sensate focus to heal my intimacy issues. This is one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about the topic.

Do sensate focus exercises actually work?

The sensate focus exercise has shown roaring success. It has been used for over 30 years since its development in the 1970s.

In 2016, a study was published citing an 83% success rate in the offices of sex therapists. This is on the higher end of the average of 50-90%. So, it is indeed a very effective treatment.

The high success rate is probably because it is a holistic therapy rather than a reductionist. Holistic therapies tend to cure. Reductionists tend only to mask symptoms.

Sensate focus has also been helpful for many people. These people have come from a wide variety of backgrounds and sexual orientations. 

Therefore, it can help anyone regardless of the following personal factors: 

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Lifestyle

What is sensate focus exercise?

The sensate focus exercise is a therapeutic technique focused on the physical touch between partners. However, this physical touch of bodies is performed non-sexually so that you can become more attuned to the physical feelings and pinpoint your comfort zones. 

Performing this exercise requires two things: 

  • Mindfulness
  • Guided touch 

Sensate focus exercises require you to shift your focus away from sexual activities. 

Instead, you concentrate on the more profound physical experiences, not how horny you are. By doing so, you’ll be able to reflect deeply and understand your emotions, thoughts, and natural body responses. 

Over time, you’ll unlock the ability to touch more intimately. This restores normal libido levels in one or both partners—hence the word ‘sense-ate’ – that is, emphasizing the use of the senses.

The underlying premise of this exercise is that a lack of sexual desire or libido comes from anxiety or discomfort related to sexual intimacy. Masters and Johnson predicted that the mind would quieten, discomfort reduced, and libido, therefore, be restored.

The bottom line: the sensate focus exercise is about restoring the libido through sensual touch.

Sensate Focus for Erectile Dysfunction

Can’t get the little man up? There are probably more reasons why you can’t than you might expect. 

Maybe you get thoughts that make you anxious in the bedroom. Or, perhaps it has more to do with self-image. Either way, sensate focus helps you tackle the issue by doubling down on the sensory experiences to ease your inner turmoil. 

This mindful approach addresses the psychological barriers contributing to erectile dysfunction. 

Moreover, this aligns with Tantra because there’s more emphasis on presence and forging a strong emotional connection.

Sensate Focus for Restoring Libido

Having little to no sexual desire can feel devastating. It quite literally blocks sexual intimacy. 

Although it might feel like the end of the world, it’s a very doable condition to improve. 

Redirect your focus to something more meaningful. Shift away from those thoughts of failure, such as the following: 

  • Why can I never please her…
  • Am I not good enough…
  • She probably doesn’t deserve me…

Sensate focus brings a deep connection with yourself and your partner. And, like tantric breathing, it forces you to relax. 

Entering this stress-free zone helps you unlock the missing puzzle to reach a fulfilling sexual experience by being in tune with your deepest desires. As a result, this can lead to a healthier libido. 

8 Steps to Perform the Best Sensate Focus Exercise 

Here is the step-by-step guide to perform the most effective sensate focus exercise: 

  • Craft the physical scene
  • Caress without the genitals involved
  • Touch the breasts and genitals
  • Non-sexual genital look and self-look
  • Feel your partner
  • Touch each other in the straddle position
  • Penetrate in the straddle position
  • Combine penetration and stillness
  • Note the physical feelings of active penetration

OK. 

Enough chit-chat. 

You will intuitively know if you need this information or not. 

Let’s get straight into the spicy details below.

Step 0: Craft the physical scene

candle lit in different sizes in the bedroom

Before we start the exercises and begin touching, we must set the environment.

The physical space should be calm, quiet, and private. Make sure that you will not be disturbed. Get rid of all distractions. 

With a calm physical environment, you’re more likely to be more in tune with your senses and surroundings. 

Here are a few ways to go the extra mile: 

  • Light some candles
  • Play soft music 
  • Burn incense

Your love life is a delicate flower. It needs nurture, care, and utmost attention. Treat it as such.

Tend to your internal environment

A crucial aspect of sensate focus is mindfulness. 

You must be able to both identify and manage distractions at all times. This requires a great deal of presence of mind. 

Relax your inner voice. Focus on the present moment. 

Be one with the sensations you are feeling right here, right now. If this means you need to deal with a few work emails or order the weekly shop beforehand, do it. Being in your body rather than in your head is vital.

Prepare to pay attention to his or her body language during this exercise. Nonverbal communication is your primary way of talking to each other.

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Step 1: Caress without the genitals involved

man holding womans leg sensually

The first step of this couple’s sex therapy technique is a conscious touch of each other’s bodies. 

However, your genitals are not going to be involved. This means no sexual touching. 

One or both partners can be lying down. For this step, I would personally suggest that the receiver of touch lies down and the giver sits next to them. This implies a certain level of trust and surrender implicit to sensate focus.

The giver of touch gently touches the receiver’s body. Both partners focus intently on the physical sensations of giving or receiving the touch—changes in skin temperature, texture, and the feeling of hair or hair follicles. 

Attention is placed on the intricacies of the felt sensations.

The receiver should not touch the giver in return. They only receive. Their focus should be one hundred percent on their embodied experience.

Take your time with this step. In fact, with all of the steps. Particularly while giving, don’t rush. 

Your partner will feel it. The point of the exercise is mindfulness. No one was ever mindful when they rushed through things.

NOTE: whether giving or receiving, note any sexual anxiety or discomfort. Be present with it. Notice it. Allow it. Uncomfortable feelings should subside the more you practice sensate focus.

Step 2: Touch the breasts and genitals

hands from behind touching breasts

The same guidelines for this step exist as for the first. Be present in your body. Take note of any unpleasant thoughts or feelings.

In this step, your partner’s presence strengthens as the touch becomes more intimate. The sexual experiences start to get stronger. 

Take note of exactly how you are feeling. What thoughts are going through your mind?

  • Not sure what to do with your partner’s labia? Notice that uncertainty. 
  • Feeling shy to insert your fingers into the vagina? Make a note of that uncertainty, too.
  • Are you feeling nervous? Reflect on that feeling, including where that nervousness stems from. 

Again, turn your attention to the embodied experience—things like texture, smell, warmth, and heat.

As the receiver, if you experience anything physically uncomfortable, you can move your partner’s hand away. However, do this sparingly. 

Be aware of the difference between physical and emotional/mental discomfort. Sensate focus therapy aims to be with our emotional or mental discomforts and move through them.

Step 3: Non-sexual genital look and self-look

couple sensually love making on the bed

The next step is called the ‘clinical look.’ Here, mutual touch can become a challenging step between the giver and receiver. 

This step involves one partner first looking at the other partner’s genitals. Not in a sexually aroused way. But in a curious, taking-it-all-in way. Then, they look at their own genitals. And then they swap over.

Note: for many people, this can bring extreme discomfort and resistance. This is normal! Having your partner go down on you is one thing, ensuring the height of a steamy sexual encounter, which involves their face coming close to your nether region. 

It is a whole different kettle of fish to have them take a clinical look at what you’ve got going on down there and then for them to watch you do the same. 

But our mindset has all been conditioned by society, especially when it comes to our genitals. 

We see genitals as dirty, bad, shameful, unclean, or ‘off limits.’ Many of us have never even familiarized ourselves with our genitals. Some of us can even carry heaps of heavy, debilitating sexual shame. 

In a way, you’re forced to confront your feelings of discomfort and fear. But this is all the more reason to do it.

Step 4: Feel your partner’s body

woman teasing her man on the bed

Shift the gears of the physical interaction slightly. This is where the receiver is invited to begin feeling the giver.

At first, the touching should exclude genitals and breasts. But when the time feels right, the touching can move on to these areas.

Now, the touching here can be of any kind. Rubbing, sliding, and gliding the penis against the vagina is OK. But intercourse is out of bounds.

You can sit facing one another. A tantric sex position works as well, like the yab yum. Or, you could simply be lying down or even standing. Whatever feels good, comfortable, and accessible to both of you.

Both partners should pay close attention to the physical feelings arising from touching their partner’s body. You should also focus on the feeling of your partner exploring their own body. 

How you feel your partner is entirely up to you. 

You could go at a faster or slower pace whenever you feel right. And feel free to add more or less pressure whenever it feels right.

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Step 5: Touch each other in the straddle position

couples lovemaking inside the tent

One partner positions themselves astride the other. There can be touching of the genitals, except no penetration.

This takes place in the female on top position. After all, it’s the most comfortable. Moreover, it requires minimal muscle engagement. There is no hip movement either, as this will lead to sexual arousal.

As with the other steps, both partners should be mentally and physically present. Acknowledge any resistance or discomfort that comes up. Notice it. Don’t judge it. 

If we don’t fight against the rip tide, it will eventually bring us to shore. This is how we move through uncomfortable emotions and feelings. Such a metaphor can be applied to other areas of life, too.

Step 6: Penetrate in the straddle position

woman on top sex position

After taking the time to fully feel your way through step five of the sensate focus exercise, it is time for penetration.

NOTE: you do not necessarily need to go through all of the steps the first time. You can spend weeks on each step if required.

Insert the penis slowly. 

Don’t put it all in straight away. Take your time. Pay attention to all the details within every minute of the building sensation. Simply observe and feel without judgment.

Step 7: Combine penetration and stillness

couples sensually love making

Fully insert your penis into her vagina. Focus on the physical feeling.

This is more than just sexual intercourse. Why? Because you’re focusing on the sensations that you’re experiencing. Instead, think of it as sensual intercourse, a multi-sensory experience. 

Sensate focus therapy asks that you spend some time physically connected. Take pleasure in the many forms of physical and emotional sensations you’re experiencing.

Step 8: Note the physical sensations of active penetration

Feel settled in? That means you can start moving with each other. 

The woman can start rocking her hips. The man can also start thrusting or moving his woman’s hips for her. 

Again, pay close attention to the physical feelings. The whole experience should focus on the sensual rather than the sexual.

An Alternative Sensate Focus Exercise for Individuals 

You don’t always need a partner or sex therapist to guide you. Here’s how to practice sensate focus alone:

  • Find a private space where you can sit, stand, or lie down comfortably 
  • Close your eyes 
  • Inhale and exhale deeply 
  • Touch different parts of your own body, from arms to legs and torso
  • Use different types of touch: soft and hard
  • Visualize the touch and focus on its sensation

To make this twice more powerful, activate your chakra levels like the Swadhisthana Chakra.

Practicing Sensate Focus Exercises to Fix Sexless Marriages

Over 20% of marriages are sexless. And this is the number of married couples who are brave enough to even report as sexless. The actual number may be even higher. As a sex and relationships coach, countless men have come to me with this problem.

Being in a sexless marriage can tear apart a person’s confidence. It causes extreme emotional damage. 

The partner who is frequently turned down can feel unwanted. They may even believe that they are unloved and unattractive. Then, the partner doing the turning down can feel guilty, pressured, and confused.

Mismatched libidos cause conflict, guilt, and upset. But the issues don’t stop there. 

The problem also means that both partners are missing out on the benefits of regular, joyful, loving sex. 

I have written countless times on the importance of regular sex for a harmonious relationship, whilst Taoism and Tantra have for centuries considered regular sex as the elixir of life. Without mutual touching, a relationship will eventually wither and die.

Of course, some relationships are meant to end. In such cases, a lack of sex is a symptom of a broader problem. It is attributable to incompatibility or pent-up resentment. Those relationships would end eventually anyway, with or without regular sex.

But for many couples, there is no pent-up resentment or incompatibility. 

Resentment only comes from having mismatched libidos. Everything else in the relationship works well. These are the couples who would benefit the most from sensate focus therapy.

Conclusion

Still feeling like your libido has left the chat while your partner is still typing? 

I get it. But it doesn’t have to be that way forever. Not unless you don’t mind spending another night on the couch, which the answer is most likely no. 

Now, I don’t just throw around ancient wisdom like some kind of sexual Gandalf sex therapist.

So, do you want the grand finale?

Then, I strongly encourage you to watch my free tantric sex training in your own interest. This is where you’ll get all the tools you need to build your dream sex life. 

In my free training, you’ll also learn techniques from the ancient systems combining Taoism and Tantra. Both of these have a very similar approach taken by Masters and Johnson in sensate focus exercise.

FAQ

What is an example from a sensate focus exercise?

An example from the sensate focus exercise is a non-sexual hand riding over the partner’s skin. The sole purpose is to explore your partner’s body and give them different sensual experiences. 

What is the sensate focus exercise for?

Sensate focus exercises primarily aim to help couples heal modern intimacy issues, such as a lack of sex or loss of passion during lovemaking.

What are the Masters and Johnson’s sensate focus techniques?

The sensate focus techniques are a series of touching exercises designed to bring fire back into the bedroom. They include genital touching and non-genital touching, along with penetration with and without movement, alongside several other mutual touching exercises.


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Steffo Shambo

Steffo Shambo

Men's Tantric Relationship Coach

I am the founder of The Tantric Man Experience™, a pioneering transformational coaching program for men. With over 1500 hours of certified tantra training in India and Thailand and 7 years of experience helping hundreds of men worldwide save their marriages and reignite passion in their love lives.

I have over 8 million views on YouTube and have been featured on VICE and Newstalk Radio for my life’s work - helping men unleash their full masculine potential.

My holistic FLT method seamlessly integrates ancient tantric philosophy with my modern expertise in relationships, sexuality, dating, and men’s health.

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