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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. Initially, the emphasis is on touching in a mindful way for oneself without regard for sexual response or pleasure for oneself or one’s partner.
A sex therapist will usually guide the timing and technique of the sensate focusing. In the first stage, the couple may touch each other's bodies excluding breasts and genitals. They are encouraged to enjoy and become increasingly aware of the texture and other qualities of their partner's skin. Participants concentrate on what they themselves find interesting in the skin of the other rather than what they think the other may enjoy.
The second stage increases the touch options to include breasts. Sensation and gathering information about the partner's body is still encouraged and intercourse and touching of the genitals 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 pleasurable in terms of pace and pressure. Learning about the partner's body is still the goal rather than pleasure.
Further stages include the gradual introduction of genitals and then full intercourse. Orgasm is never the focus.
This is also used as a treatment for impotence in males, and arousal difficulties especially where anxiety is involved. Because of performance anxiety in men, the obsessional focus on the penis can result in impotence. The therapist will encourage the man to forget about his penis, and forget about his partner's genitals, 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 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.
The aim here is to 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, potency often returns. This works well for women too. Women report more sensation in their vagina, and lubrication.
- Van Hasselt, Vincent B.; Michel Hersen (1996). Sourcebook of psychological treatment manuals for adult disorders. Springer. pp. 348–351. ISBN 978-0-306-45144-7.
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- Weiner, L., & Avery-Clark, C. (2014). Sensate Focus: Clarifying the Masters and Johnson’s model Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 29(3), 307-319. DOI:10.1080/14681994.2014.892920
- Weiner, L., Cannon, N., & Avery-Clark, C. (2014). Reclaiming the lost art of Sensate Focus: A clinician’s guide. Family Therapy Magazine, 13(5), 46-48.