Couples who eventually make it to see a trained sex therapist have usually been down the road of failed date nights, hokey mood music and sexy lingerie. They make to our offices discouraged and skeptical. Because of that and because the Internet is full of quick fixes that don't actually work, I'd like to discuss a slow one that does. Sensate focus exercises, designed by sex researchers Masters and Johnson, have been helping couples achieve greater sexual intimacy for decades. They do this paradoxically, by slowing people down and taking intercourse off the table for a while.
Here’s an broad overview of the steps:
- Disconnect from distractions like chores, TV, pets, children
- Refrain from recreational drugs or alcohol
- Spend about an hour alone with your partner 2-3 times a week, taking turns touching each other, focusing on your own sensations while you touch them, gradually adding in more mutual touch, more erotic touch, slowly building up to intercourse (or whatever you do that you call having sex, usually, but not necessarily some form of penetration), only when you are both ready, comfortable and confident. If that sounds hard to schedule, think about how you much time spend watching TV or surfing the internet looking for ways to spice your sex life.
- Between sessions, journal about what you are learning, talk to your partner about it, and notice how you are becoming intimately and erotically connected as a team in this joint project.
- Repeat and refine this process as directed by your sex therapist.
The actual instructions are very detailed, and with good reason: people easily get stuck in negative thoughts, misunderstandings and self-criticism. Slowing down and following instructions builds success into the process. It's best to work with a certified sex therapist who understands the process well enough to coach you through it and troubleshoot any difficulties you may experience.
Here’s why it works so well:
By allowing you to rediscover your natural curiosity in an an open, exploratory, non-pressured way, free from negative evaluation, you experience touch in a new way. Disconnecting sex and touching your partner from negative evaluation, you can become more able to enjoy pleasurable sensations again, negotiate how each of you does and doesn’t like to be touched and associate your partner and sex with openness and freedom. Think of it as mindfulness meditation for your sex life.