Sensate Focus

Sensate focus is a therapy technique that is commonly used to treat sexual problems such as female anorgasmiaerectile difficulty, and low sexual desire. More generally, it can help both females and males who have a hard time becoming sexually excited and who struggle to reach orgasm. If a couple chooses to do sensate focus, they must concentrate on both their partner and themselves rather than having the focus centered on one partner. For couples who are having difficulties, this allows them to focus on the sexual problem and to work together to overcome it.1

How Sensate Focus Reduces Anxiety

This technique is designed to reduce anxieties about reaching orgasm by focusing purely on what feels good to you and your partner. People often mistakenly believe that the "goal" of sex is to reach orgasm. When individuals get anxious about reaching that goal, they often miss out on the joys of simply being with their partner and taking the time to experiment with touching and feeling their partner's body.

Sensate focus is designed to increase communication between partners; each person gets the opportunity to slowly explore touching their partner's body, while listening to their partner as he or she explains what feels best. This technique is not limited to being used as sexual therapy and fixing sexual problems; partners can participate in sensate focus at any time to strengthen their relationship, to build their communication skills, and help couples rediscover the simple joy of touch. Another technique that can be used is called spectating, which can also be beneficial for both parties as they allow themselves to feel their own body to discover what they want. Men and women in many cultures are frequently seen as responsible for different sexual roles, so each partner may be prone to concerns over inadequacies based on societal pressures about gender. Using spectating allows for reflection for each partner, and once this is finished the aspect of sensate focus comes into full effect.2

Steps to Practicing Sensate Focus

The first step to practicing sensate focus is to set up the right environment. Sensate focus experiences should be individualized for the couple, just like intercourse should be individualized to meet the needs of the individuals involved.3 A couple might use candles, play soft music, take a bath beforehand, or do whatever else makes them feel relaxed and comfortable. Couples should undress. One partner - who we will call the 'touchee' - lies down on a bed (or other designated space) in a comfortable position, on his or her stomach, back, or side. The other partner will take the role of the 'toucher'. Later, the partners will switch positions.

The toucher begins by exploring his or her partner's body. The toucher should not specifically try to sexually arouse the receiver. The toucher should merely explore, touching many parts of the receiver's body, noticing the various textures and sensitivities. During the early phases of sensate focus, the toucher does not try to sexually arouse the receiver. This helps eliminate performance anxiety and the pressure of reaching the “goal” of orgasm. The receiver should make suggestions to the toucher, telling his or her partner what feels good and what is uncomfortable. The toucher should also remember to ask for feedback from the receiver. Remember, this exercise is about communication. After doing this sensate focus exercise for several minutes, the partners should switch roles.

How to Highlight the Positives of Sensate Focus

The first few times that a couple practices sensate focus, they should not stimulate the breasts, genitals, or anus, and they should not attempt to engage in intercourse. Couples may also participate in simultaneous sensate focus, where each partner touches the other at the same time. Sensate focus can also be combined with a massage for an even more relaxing effect.

After several sessions of sensate focus, both partners can begin touching their partner's sexually sensitive regions, such as their breasts and genitals if they feel comfortable doing so. As each explores the other's body, effective communication may help them learn what their partner likes best. Over time, each partner will gain skills in stimulating each other in new and exciting ways. These new skills tend to increase the sexual excitement of love making, and they may help solve the problems of becoming aroused and reaching orgasm. As each partner learns what is most pleasurable to their significant other, they can incorporate what they have learned into their sexual encounters on a regular basis, and they cancontinue exploring various sexual positions and types of stimulation.



  1. Weeks, Gerald R., et al. A Clinician's Guide to Systemic Sex Therapy. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.
  2. Wiederman, Michael W. “‘Don’t Look Now’: The Role of Self-Focus in Sexual Dysfunction.” The Family Journal, vol. 9, no. 2, 2001, pp. 210–214., doi:10.1177/1066480701092020.
  3. Lipsius, Steven H. “Prescribing Sensate Focus without Proscribing Intercourse.” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, vol. 13, no. 2, 1987, pp. 106–116., doi:10.1080/00926238708403883.

Last Updated: 17 February 2019.