What are the stages of sensate focus therapy?

Jan L. Shifren, MD
Reproductive Endocrinology
Sensate focus techniques progress through several stages. The sex therapist will provide a detailed individualized scenario for the couple to follow at each level, but here is an overview.

Sensate focus I. To start off, you're encouraged to spend about a half-hour per person caressing each other's naked bodies front and back, from head to toe, but avoiding the breasts and the genitals. You and your partner take turns being the giver and receiver of pleasure so you can concentrate fully on each sensation and your reaction to it. However, if this creates too much anxiety or is too intimate for the couple, the therapist may recommend beginning simply by holding hands or giving each other back rubs. During these initial exercises, the emphasis is on the giver touching in a way he or she enjoys (and that is pleasurable to the receiver as well).

Sensate focus II. These exercises incorporate the lessons from sensate focus I, but the focus expands to the kind of touch the receiver wants. He or she takes an active role in explaining or showing his or her partner what kind of touch is enjoyable. Partners still take turns being the giver and receiver during each session.

Sensate focus III. Building on the previous sessions, these exercises expand to include touching the breasts and genitals, but not exclusively. The couple is encouraged to continue focusing on the sensations involved and on communicating what they enjoy and want sexually, rather than the goal of orgasm.

Sensate focus IV. At this point, the couple is allowed to enjoy mutual touching and stimulation to the point of orgasm. If all goes well, the couple can proceed to intercourse.

Depending on the needs of the couple, the sex therapist typically uses other behavioral techniques and treatment strategies.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.