This is a follow up from my last blog, “Sexual Pleasure without the Pressure”. The touch exercise that I describe here is an adaptation of the “Sensate Focus” method developed by sexual pioneers, William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Their innovative technique helped couples deal with sexual difficulties by focusing on the pleasurable sensations experienced from physical touch without the expectation for intercourse or orgasm. Masters and Johnson found that by engaging in this technique, couples experienced less anxiety around performance and more energy attending to their true feelings. A few important points to keep in mind before you proceed with the exercise. First, while Sensate Focus can progress in stages, eventually including genital touching and penetrative intercourse, I will be focusing mainly on non-genital touching without intercourse. Second, I have adapted this “touch” exercise with the intention that it can be used with all couples regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Third, this exercise is not intended to replace formal therapy. Depending on the duration and complexity of the problem, a couple may be best served by making an appointment to speak to a sex therapist in person. This exercise, especially within the context of therapy, can be an extremely valuable step toward restoring the sexual and emotional connection between a couple.
In my work with clients, I have seen the value of focusing on non-genital touch as critical toward fostering healthy emotional and sexual intimacy between couples. A majority of clients I see have experienced some degree of sexual dysfunction (e.g. erectile dysfunction, low desire, desire discrepancy, pain, early ejaculation) that is impacting their sexual intimacy. The very act of sex can evoke feelings of anxiety, frustration, inadequacy, guilt, or shame. These couples may have also reached a point of sexual and emotional distance within their relationship, and in some cases, have a no-sex relationship. Therefore, it is vital to re-establish trust and connection in a manner that is less intimidating and focused on non-demand pleasuring. For some, touch may also signal a means to an end, the inevitable path to penetrative intercourse, which may create a heighten level of anxiety that is anything but pleasurable. This may be true for those couples in which sex has become more functional (e.g. to make a baby) than pleasurable. The purpose of the touch exercise discussed here is to encourage it as an intrinsically pleasurable and sexually intimate activity shared with another person. Therefore, the value of this exercise rests in the fact that it is not intended to lead to or result in intercourse. To avoid any perceived pressure, the couple needs to agree to this before starting this exercise. This is an important point because reducing expectations can decrease the fear of failure and disappointment, allowing for a more relaxed immersion in the touch that can result in feelings of pleasure.
Who can benefit from this touch exercise? Just about anyone. Whether your sexual relationship is working well, not working as well as you might desire, or you and your partner are totally disconnected, this exercise may increase your level of emotional intimacy, enhance the communication and sexual connection with your partner, or may open the door for sensuality and eroticism into your love life. Regardless of your unique situation, this exercise can promote mindfulness attention to your body and being present with your partner. It can facilitate honest communication about sensuality, sex and sexual feelings between the two of you. The overall goal of this touch exercise is to explore new patterns of pleasuring and to create a reservoir of greater sexual interest and arousal in your “bank” for the future.
Setting up the exercise in a supportive and comfortable environment will enhance the experience. Here are just a few tips: 1) do the exercise when you and your partner are rested and not pressed for time and choose a place where you will not be interrupted; 2) have enough light to be able to see into each other’s eyes and facial expressions, but not too much light as to be glaring. You may use candlelight, flowers, or other visual and aromatic stimulation to promote a relaxing and romantic mood; 3) turn off all electronic devices (yes, unplug all) and turn on relaxing background music, if you desire; 4) avoid eating during this exercise or having a full meal before. Also avoid alcohol or use of recreational drugs before, during or immediately after the exercise; 5) together, you can decide if you want to use lotions or massage oils, keeping in mind that whatever you select should be agreeable to both; 6) if you plan to do this exercise in bed, you might want to throw on a fresh set of soft or silky sheets; 7) showering, shaving, and brushing may also facilitate a clean and fresh playing field; 8) and last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to breathe. Together with your partner, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly. Repeat this 5-6 times. This will instantly help you to focus and bring about a state of calmness.
It is recommended that you allocate around 20-30 minutes for each person to give and receive, but you can shorten or lengthen the time as desired. As I mentioned earlier, at this stage, avoid touching the erogenous zones (e.g. breasts, nipples, vulva, clitoris, testicles, or penis) and having penetrative intercourse—which are not the point of this exercise because they can trigger original feelings of anxiety about performance. Once you are ready to start, the couple should decide who will first be the giver (one doing the touching) and who will be the receiver (one being touched). If you have trouble deciding, flip a coin. You should also spend a few minutes gazing into each other’s eyes. This is an instant way of connecting intimately with your partner. Once a couple has decided who should go first, that person should lie down on a bed, or someplace that is comfortable and private. Some people prefer to sit on a couch or in a reclining chair. It does not really matter where the exercise takes place, as long as it is a comfortable and private. For this stage of the exercise, it is best to remain partially or totally clothed. Once you are both ready to start, the one first selected to be the giver, is the one who begins. Start by touching the receiver’s fingers, and slowly traveling to the palms, arms, shoulders, neck, face, scalp, hair. Then, make your way back to the chest (avoiding the breasts and the nipples), stomach, thighs, calves, feet, and the back for a full 20-30 minutes. You may set a timer if you wish to stick with the allotted time. The receiver’s role is to attend completely to the touch your body is receiving. Keep in mind, you can communicate to the giver by taking their hand and controlling the degree of pressure as well as the pattern and length of strokes/caresses. It is okay to communicate to your partner that you like a certain touch or area by taking their hand and guiding them there. If a certain touch does not feel as good, let the giver know in a gentle manner (e.g. I’m ticklish here, can you put less pressure there). It is better that you let the giver know rather than tolerating any discomfort because it can take away from your potential for enjoyment. Remember, the objective is pleasure, not discomfort. Also, if you are reluctant to say anything for fear of hurting your partner, this could build up negative feelings that can lead to resentment and erode your relationship. It is better to build a sense of trust then to be too polite. The giver should also focus on what it feels like to touch the receiver. What sensations are you feeling as you stroke and caress your partner? Try to become aware of your own thoughts and feelings. It may seem counter-intuitive, but try to focus less on pleasing your partner and more about the enjoyment of actually touching your partner’s body. The chances are that if you are feeling good, so is your partner. Keep in mind, this is a learning experience for the giver as well as the receiver, you are both learning to communicate what is pleasurable to each other. When the 20-30 minutes are over, change roles and continue as before.
Try adopting an attitude of patience and commitment about incorporating this touch exercise as a more consistent part of your life (e.g. 2-3 times per week). As a result, you will foster positive feelings, trust, intimacy, communication, and awareness of the physical sensations associated with giving and receiving pleasure. If you are interested in learning more about this and progressing to the next levels, or have a general desire to restore L.I.F.E to your relationship, take a step toward the changes you desire by contacting us today to discuss the specifics of your situation.