Sensate practice (or sensate focus) is a healing and deeply connecting touch practice that helps couples practice touch and sensation in new ways.
Sensate focus (or sensate practice) was developed by pioneering sex researchers Dr. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson in the 1960s. Their research showed that anxiety made sex challenging for many of their clients. They developed this touch practice to give lovers a new way to experience touch and intimacy. But don’t let the vintage of this practice put you off: simple, mindful touch like this is the foundation of a lot of my work, and it’s how lovers rebuild connection and discover new things about each others’ bodies.
Sensate practice is a simple touch practice for couples. The goal of sensate practice is to inspire playfulness, curiosity and presence in your relationship. The only goal or outcome is the practice itself. Sensate practice is not meant to be an arousal practice—in fact, I would suggest NOT moving into sex right away. For many people, especially for many women, it can be deeply healing to experience non-sexual intimacy with a partner without the expectation or need for sex.
Non-sexual intimacy is really important in a relationship to build and deepen connection, from which sexual experiences can originate—but for most people, the connection needs to come first. And yes, for some people, the idea of not having sex right away will be challenging, and that’s fine. The practice is to stay in the moment of pleasure and connection, and that can be enough (for now). Sweet, connecting practices like this can help build your emotional bank account, which is foundational to a good relationship.
How to Do Sensate Practice, Phase I
When I recommend sensate practice to my clients, it’s always with the goal of curiosity and exploration. This practice can be really helpful for couples that feel disconnected or distant, and can be really healing if there has been miscommunication about sexual desires and needs. Proceed with Phase I (with all your clothes on) in service of deepening your intimacy.
- Phase I is a G-rated practice! Keep your clothes on, and don’t touch any erogenous zones.
- Decide who will be giving and receiving first, and set a timer for five minutes (you can do longer timers once you’ve experienced it a few times).
- Sit across from each other in a comfortable seat (sit on pillows or whatever you need to be comfortable for the duration of the practice). The giving partner will touch the receiving partner from head to toe for the duration of the timer. Once the timer goes off, you will switch roles.
- For the giver: Let your touch be inquisitive, loving, and present—try to feel the love in your hands as you touch your partner, and imagine every touch you give them is infused with that energy. Your role is to simply explore their body, and as if you were touching them for the first time. Be tender and curious. What spots elicit a response? Which spots are obvious pleasure points? Where do you enjoy touching them the most?
- For the receiver: You get to practice curiosity, receptivity, and awareness of sensation. For many of us, it can be hard to fully enjoy receiving, so lean into that sensation of deep surrender. Be curious about the sensations in your body, and when your mind wanders, bring it back (again and again) to sensation. What does it feel like to be touched this way? How does it feel to be totally in receiving mode? Are there any areas on your body that felt more sensation than others?
- Aftercare! After you’ve each taken a turn as giver and receiver, take another 5-10 minutes to cuddle or hug in silence, and just pay attention to what comes up in your body, mind, and heart. How does your skin feel? What does your connection feel like? What is your emotional state? After the cuddle or hug, you can take time to journal about what came up for you. If you’re both feeling open and expressive you can talk together about how the practice felt for 5-10 minutes after.