Queering Sensate Focus

What is Sensate Focus

The aim of Sensate Focus is to build trust and intimacy within a relationship, helping those in it to give and receive pleasure. Its emphasis is on positive emotions, physical feelings and responses while trying to reduce any negative reactions.

The exercises are designed to help overcome fear of failure and to build a more satisfying intimate relationship in which all partners feel able to ask for what they want and to be able give and receive pleasure.

Sensate Focus not a race to an end. The goal is enjoyment and pleasure. Enjoy the journey rather aiming towards any specific destination.

Orgasm is never the aim of sensate focus and care should be taken to avoid actions that would lead to orgasm while doing the sensate focus exercises.

One of the keys to making sensate focus work is not mixing the exercises with other sexual activities. So do not try to go from the sensate focus to other sexual activities. For example: if you do the exercises in the morning, you should wait until the afternoon or evening before engaging in other sexual activity.

History

Sensate focus exercises were developed by sex therapists Masters and Johnson. They can be used by anyone seeking to explore a new kind of intimacy.

The Exercises

Turn Taking

In each session, people take different roles.

The ‘giver’ role will touch the receiver. Take plenty of time to explore the receiver’s body. If there is something you would like to try, don’t be afraid to suggest it. You may want to only have one giver at a time. If you use more than one giver, each giver should only use one body part to touch the receiver.

The ‘receiver’ role is touched by the giver. There should always only be one receiver.

The ‘watcher’ role is applicable if more than two people are participating in the session, and does not get involved in the session beyond being physically present and watching. They may use the chance to carefully watch the receiver’s reactions to the giver’s actions.

When everyone has agreed they are ready, everyone can switch to a different role.

Stages

These exercises are typically done in two steps or stages over a period of several weeks.

The second stage builds on the first, so you should always start at first stage and work through to the second stage. Whether you change roles during each stage or complete both stages and then change roles is up to you. It is also fine to have a completely session without changing roles and then do a separate session with the roles reversed. As long as everyone is being both a giver and a receiver at some point during your sessions. It’s best to find what works for everyone involved in the sessions.

How long you spend on the exercises is up to you, it is recommended that you spend at least 10 minutes per person per stage. Often, the slower you take it, the more you will get out of it. As you add stages to sessions the whole session will gradually get longer, so a whole session of exercises can last from 20 to 60 minutes and upwards.

You should ideally try for two or three sessions per week, spread over six or more weeks. Continuous reinforcement is needed to overcome negative reactions to intimacy.

Touching

During early sessions the giver should not touch the breasts, genitals, buttocks, or tops of the legs. You may find that wearing underwear helps to make clear where you should not touch. If someone becomes aroused, this is okay, but they should not try to have an orgasm. After a number of sessions you may want to mutually agree to include some or all of these body parts. It is better if they are introduced as everything except genitals and then moving onto including genitals after if mutually agreed after several more sessions. It is important to focus on the whole body though and not just the parts that are considered intimate.

Pre-Session

Before each session, you should agree which roles will be taken by each person, and how the roles will change during the session.

Communication

As talking during the sessions should be kept to a minimum, it is important to discuss how to make the sessions safe and consensual for everyone before the session begins.

Before the session begins, you should read though all the stages of the exercises and discuss them with everyone participating, as there may be things that someone is uncomfortable with or unable to do. This allows everyone to take part without having to worry about upsetting anyone or becoming upset.

You should consider both where you are comfortable being touched, and how you are comfortable being touched. Some people may find they cannot be touched in certain places (for example, some people with chronic pain), or cannot tolerate certain types of touch (for example, some people with autism). This should be communicated to everyone involved before any touching begins if possible, or as soon as possible if not.

Setting

It is important to be able to relax for these sessions. Make sure to choose a time and place that is comfortable for everyone involved and where you won’t be disturbed. Spaces can be enhanced to make them as pleasant as possible by choosing music, lighting, and aromas to suit everyone.

Remember to turn off or silence devices like phones, tablets or computers to prevent disturbance from them. If it’s necessary, lock the door to avoid unexpected interruptions.

Safety - Stopping

There must be an agreed signal that can be used by anyone to bring the session to a stop if they are unhappy. For many people, this just means agreeing that saying ``stop’’ always means that the activity will immediately stop. If there is a chance that someone involved may be unable to do this (for example, if they are ever unable to speak), you must agree a sign that will immediately stop the session.

Post-Session

You might find it useful to talk about your experiences afterwards, e.g. ‘I really liked it when you…’

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Stages

Stage One

In stage 1, the giver touches the receiver’s body. The goal is to experience the sensation of touching, not to try to sexually arouse your partner.

The giver can 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. Experiment with different sensations and types of touch, such as kissing, rubbing, squeezing, or tickling. Take pleasure in experiencing the texture, form and temperature of the other person’s body.

You may find that using your non-dominant hand (the hand you do not write with) when taking the giver role is helpful. You may also want to use body parts other than hands to touch (e.g. your lips, feet, nose, etc.)

During this phase, you should talk if anything becomes unpleasant or painful, but otherwise avoid talking.

Stage Two

In stage 2, the receiver indicates to the giver how they would like to be touched. The aim for all roles is to learn how the receiver likes to be touched, not to arouse them sexually. You should try different degrees of pressure and types of touch.

The receiver should indicate verbally whether something is pleasant or unpleasant, make appreciative noises, or place their hand over their partner’s hand in order to show what they find pleasurable in terms of location, pace and pressure.