Relationships Sex Therapy With Sensate Focus By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD Elizabeth Boskey, PhD Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases. Learn about our editorial process Updated on July 22, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Carly Snyder, MD Medically reviewed by Carly Snyder, MD Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Peter Cade / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents Overview Sample Exercise Uses Effectiveness Finding a Therapist Sex therapy is a form of psychotherapy that is used to help individuals and couples address sexual problems. Sex therapy is talk therapy, not hands-on therapy. In a sex therapy session, everyone in the room remains fully clothed, and there is no touching. Sex therapists may recommend getting physical exams in order to rule out medical causes of sexual problems. Some may also encourage the use of sexual surrogates for individuals who are working on sexual problems and do not have a partner to practice with. However, sex therapists do not perform medical exams on or have sexual interactions with their clients. What Is Sensate Focus? The technique of sensate focus was initially developed as a sex therapy technique by Masters and Johnson in the 1960s. It involves a series of behavioral exercises that couples do together in order to enhance their intimacy and connection. Foundation of Sensate Focus There are seven elements that serve as the foundation of sensate focus. These are: Establishing mutual responsibility between partners for addressing sexual needs and concerns Providing information and education about sexual function and sexual activity Being willing to change attitudes about sex Getting rid of sexual performance anxiety Helping couples improve communication around sex and sexual techniques Reducing problematic behaviors and sex roles in the relationship Giving homework to help couples change their sexual relationship for the better Two of the most important elements in the success of sensate focus are an acceptance of mutual responsibility and a willingness to do homework as prescribed by the sex therapist. Mutual responsibility is critical because it frames sexual difficulties as a problem of the couple instead of a problem of the person who has been identified as "the patient." Structured homework assignments are the component that separates sensate focus from other behavioral techniques. The hallmark of sensate focus is that it temporarily takes stressful behaviors off a couple’s sexual menu. Then, with the sources of stress removed, the therapist prescribes a specific recipe of steps to follow to improve the couple's sexual lives. Sample Sensate Focus Exercise Two of the principal goals of sensate focus are reducing performance anxiety and improving communication. A typical early homework assignment for a couple where one partner is experiencing erectile dysfunction might go something like this: "I want you two to find two nights over the next week where you can spend at least an hour together. One of you will arrange the date on the first night, the other on the second. Whoever is arranging the date will set up the bedroom with clean sheets, nice light, and pleasant music that you two find relaxing. "Before your date, you'll each take a warm shower to relax. Since you've told me you'd prefer to be wearing underwear for this first exercise, you'll do that. Then, the person setting up the date will help their partner get comfortable on the bed. They'll then spend half an hour exploring and enjoying the sensation of touching their partner's body. For now, we're going to avoid touching genitals, as we want to keep this experience low stress. "After a half hour, you will switch. Then the other partner will have a chance to do the same type of exploration. The goal of this homework is not to give your partner a massage. Instead, it's to find enjoyment in touching, and being touched, without any expectations. That's why it's important to communicate throughout this date. Tell your partner what you like and what you don't like. Let them know what feels good, and if there's anything that makes you uncomfortable or that you'd like them to stop." Why Sensate Focus Is Used As a component of sex therapy, sensate focus has been shown to be effective at treating a number of different types of sexual dysfunction in women and men, including: Pain during sexPremature ejaculationErectile dysfunctionArousal disordersDesire disorders Sensate focus is a couples-based intervention. It can be used for couples of all different ages, gender identities, and sexual orientations. Much of the research has been for heterosexual couples. Still, many therapists have adopted it for same sex and diverse orientation couples. Effectiveness There is a lot of research examining the use of sensate focus, alone or in combination with other techniques, to improve couples’ sexual satisfaction. Studies suggest that sensate focus is useful not just for addressing specific sexual problems but also for helping to improve sexual satisfaction in couples with more general dissatisfaction. The technique has also been used as a component of sex therapy for people dealing with sexual difficulties as a result of medical conditions, such as breast cancer. Sensate focus is well-accepted by sex therapists and other physicians working with sexual dysfunction. That's particularly true when it is used in combination with good education about sexual performance and function. Sensate focus is a very safe technique, and most individuals find it easy to follow. That is, in large part, because sensate focus is specifically designed as a slow and gentle process of reducing performance anxiety and stress around sexual activity. Many sex therapists report that sensate focus is a straightforward and effective way to increase intimacy and connection among couples, same-sex and opposite-sex alike. However, not all couples or individual therapists are comfortable using sensate focus. It's a technique that requires a great deal of comfort with discussion of explicit sexual topics. That's not something everyone has. How to Find a Sex Therapist There are several ways to go about finding a sex therapist. The most affordable is often to search the provider list for your insurance company. Look for a behavioral health practitioner who specializes in sex therapy. You can also search therapist listings, like Psychology Today, for sex therapists and cross-reference that with your insurance list. Finally, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists maintains a list of sex therapists on their website at AASECT.org. AASECT certified sex therapists are required to undergo both training and clinical supervision in sexual health and therapy techniques. Be aware that not all sex therapists take insurance. The cost of sex therapy is likely to vary depending on where you live. That said, sex therapy is often time-limited. Pure sex therapy is generally expected to last no more than 10-12 sessions. However, the number of sessions you need will vary depending on the problems you are looking to address and whether you are seeing a sex therapist for general therapy as well. The 5 Best Online Sex Therapy Programs 2 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Sarwer DB, Durlak JA. A field trial of the effectiveness of behavioral treatment for sexual dysfunctions. J Sex Marital Ther. 1997;23(2):87-97. doi:10.1080/00926239708405309 Avery-Clark C, Weiner L, Adams-Clark AA. Sensate Focus for Sexual Concerns: an Updated, Critical Literature Review. Curr Sex Health Rep. 2019;11(2):84-94. doi:10.1007/s11930-019-00197-9 By Elizabeth Boskey, PhD Elizabeth Boskey, PhD, MPH, CHES, is a social worker, adjunct lecturer, and expert writer in the field of sexually transmitted diseases. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Relationships Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.