It’s been around for a long time. Some 50 years or more. Most sex therapists have heard of it. Many other therapists know it sounds familiar. It may ring a bell for you. But what is Sensate Focus?
Sensate Focus is a sex therapy technique that is very simply this: mindfulness practice using touch. You know how mindfulness practice helps you stay focused on the present moment by having you pay attention to sensory information? And how the sensation may vary depending on which type of mindfulness practice you are doing? How mindful meditation uses sounds like a mantra? Or, in yoga, your breath? How mindful hypnosis involves visual images? Or in relaxation training imagined visual images?
Sensate Focus uses the exact same principles as all these other mindfulness practices but emphasizes touch instead of sight or sound. You pay attention to the three dimensions of touch: temperature (cool or warm); pressure (hard or soft); and texture (smooth or rough). This helps you stay in the here-and-now by giving you touch sensations on which to focus rather than on the anxious thoughts and feelings that are causing or worsening your sexual problem.
Managing anxiety by focusing on sensations
If you think about it, you can’t pay attention to temperature, pressure, and texture and, at the same time, be so worried about whether you are doing the right thing to help you or your partner become turned on. You just can’t do it. True, your mind can jump back and forth pretty quickly, but if you keep refocusing over and over again on touch, you will not be able to stay as distracted by all your sexual anxieties. Just like with meditation or relaxation training, if you keep bringing your mind back to (in their cases) the sound of your mantra or the visual image of your safe place, you will eventually get more absorbed in the sensations in the present moment and less consumed by all your concerns from the past or about the future. Then Mother Nature can take over and voilá! Desire, arousal, and orgasm will be more likely to occur.
So many sexual problems are the result of worries over what has happened in previous encounters, or what is supposed to happen in a few minutes in a particular intimate interaction. Staying focused in the here-and-now on touch sensations may help resolve these anxieties and improve intimate connections. This is what Sensate Focus is all about!