Exploring Sensate Focus: Mindfulness Practices in Sex Therapy

Jordan-Rullo
University of Utah

Key Points

  1. There are two types of sexual arousal: physiological and mind arousal.
  2. Mindfulness, or being fully present, is crucial for physiological and mental arousal during intimacy.
  3. Sensate focus exercises in sex therapy focus on mindful touching without pressure, demands, or expectations.
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Brake #3: Difficulty Being Present

The third brake impacting sexual desire is difficulty being present. Kelly and James need to learn about the two types of sexual arousal as these types play a role in being present.

Sexual Arousal

There are two different types of sexual arousal:

  1. Physiological arousal: This includes vaginal lubrication, blood flow to genitals, warm tingly feelings, and erections.
  2. Mind arousal: This is about being fully present during intimacy.

Mind Arousal

If a person is fully present during sex, they have good mind arousal. If they think of other things, like to-do lists, they likely have weak mental arousal.

Kelly struggles with mind arousal, finding it challenging to be mentally present during intimacy because her mind is preoccupied. Essentially, she admits to having difficulty maintaining mindfulness during such moments.

On the other hand, James feels he can stay present during sexual encounters. He describes being wholly absorbed in the experience and sensations. However, he expresses concern about Kelly’s engagement, becoming hypervigilant of her reactions and expressions. This hyper-awareness distracts him, diminishing his ability to be mindful as he becomes conscious of her lack of it.

Mindfulness and Sexual Health

Mindfulness means being present in the moment and has shown effectiveness in improving sexual desire. For instance, in women, it can help with sexual desire, arousal, and orgasmic function; in men, it can improve erectile function. Moreover, it is one of the best interventions for low sexual desire. Therefore, Kelly and James could benefit from including mindfulness in their relationship.

Sensate Focus

A practical way to teach mindfulness in the context of sex therapy is through these exercises called sensate focus. Sensate focus exercises are about touching mindfully and consist of ten phases. These exercises don’t involve sex but help couples start fresh in their physical relationship. The hallmark feature of these exercises is no pressure, demand, or expectation.

Embracing Sensations

While engaging in sensate focus exercises, one should anchor their attention on three primary sensations:

  1. Temperature: Is the touch warm or cool?
  2. Pressure: Does the touch feel firm or soft?
  3. Texture: Is the sensation rough or smooth?

Touching for Personal Experience

Instead of concentrating on pleasing one’s partner or wondering about their preferences, focusing on one’s own experience is imperative. The question is, “How does this touch feel for me regarding temperature, pressure, and texture?” Such an approach ensures the practice remains free from pressure, demands, or expectations. The core philosophy of sensate focus emphasizes self-awareness and being in the moment without external pressures.

Duration and Flexibility

Typically, couples dedicate 20 to 30 minutes for this exercise. However, understanding that each couple’s availability and comfort may vary, the duration can be adjusted. For those who find the recommended time challenging, shorter sessions of 10 to 15 minutes can be just as effective. Remember that you can negotiate with the couple about the duration of the exercises.

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Exploring Sensate Focus: Mindfulness Practices in Sex Therapy