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Couples' Sensate Focus Ground Rules

Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Katherine Hertlein,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:
Photo of Dr Katherine Hertlein
Reviewed by Dr Laura Vowels,
created by Blueheart
created by Josh Green
created by Sophie Browness
Date published:
Last updated:

What you need to know

There are a few things you need to know when you start doing touch sessions as a couple. 

Firstly, doing couples’ sensate focus work doesn’t mean you’ve come to the end of your self-development. We’re working on your relationship as a whole, but we’re also still working on cultivating the skills that you personally can bring to the relationship. It all goes hand-in-hand. 

Secondly, (and I hope this gives you a sigh of relief) you don’t have to be a sex god or mindfulness expert. Don’t feel like you need to be at a certain level of ‘expertise’ to be here, as long as you’re ready to work on this as a couple, and you’ve practised some of the previous exercises enough to make you feel confident - you’re ready.

So - here are some ground rules to help you get started: 

1. We always go at the pace of the slowest person.

If something is too much for one of you, you stop. Reset. Don’t push each other. Go back to the previous step and repeat that until you feel confident to move forwards.

2. Remember the basics of Sensate Focus.

Just like the touch exercises you do alone, when you’re touching your partner, you’re doing it for your own self-interest, out of curiosity for what seems interesting to you, focusing only on pressure, temperature, and texture. Your sensate focus sessions are not about creating a romantic atmosphere, or about making your partner feel a certain way; you’re just touching each other’s bodies and noticing the sensations available to you - without judgement, or expectation. 

3. Make sure you’re alone, comfortable, and won’t be disturbed.

Most couples prefer to do these exercises in the bedroom on the bed, but it can be anywhere private that you like. The lighting should be calm, and the temperature of the room should be comfortable for you, but there’s no need to make any effort for it to feel ‘romantic’. So turn off the sex playlist, blow out those candles, and throw the oysters out the window… That’s not the focus of what you’ll be doing. 

4. Be mindful of any distractions.

You’ve already practised this individually, and it’s a skill that takes a long time to develop, so when you do notice thoughts popping up about whether or not your partner’s enjoying themselves, whether you're ‘doing it right’, or just about your shopping list, all you have to do is notice the thought, and then bring your attention back to the sensations.

5. Trust the process.

There might be times when you feel like going further than instructed, but try to stick to your session instructions. The exercises will begin by excluding your breasts, chest, and genitals, and then gradually introducing these areas as you become more comfortable. So, even when sessions begin to include your whole body, try not to start with the genitals, so that you have some time to get into the zone, and feel grounded in what you’re doing. 

6. You can do each activity for as long or as little as you like.

You’ll know when to stop or swap places when you start to feel bored, or if you find yourself getting increasingly distracted and can’t bring your mind back to what you’re doing. 

7. Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.

To help with this, there are some code words you can use to change what’s happening. Either partner can say ‘stop’, ‘switch’, or ‘change’ at any time, and either stop the session completely, switch places with their partner and reverse the roles, or change the type of touch taking place if it is causing any anxiety. 

8. No feeling is off limits!

It’s possible that one or both of you might become aroused, and even experience an orgasm. This is absolutely fine! The important thing is that neither of you chase it as a goal, or expect it of yourselves. If ejaculation occurs, just pause to dry yourself off with a towel, before bringing your attention back to the sensations of pressure, temperature, and texture, if you are both happy to continue.

9. Apart from the code words, try not to talk during the touch session.

This is just so that you can keep your focus on the sensations you’re experiencing, which brings me on to the next point:

10. Save your conversations for your sofa sessions.

They’re designed to help you communicate with each other about how you felt during your touch sessions within a safe environment, and after a bit of time has passed so that you can draw a line under the touch session and bring an open mind to the feedback you communicate to each other. After your touch sessions, write down your thoughts, and you’ll get a chance to talk to your partner about it in your sofa sessions. 

11. And finally: don’t worry if you don’t feel like you’re doing it right or perfectly.

Don’t worry if you giggle because you’re doing something that makes you laugh, don’t worry if you feel stupid, or silly. We’re tackling a serious issue that has made you feel not-your-best, but it doesn’t have to be a scary, serious experience - at all. You’re allowed to smile, you’re allowed to think it’s weird - but hey, it works! Just go with it. 

So! If you notice that either of you might need a little reminder of these points, gently and kindly direct each other back to this and refresh your memory to get the best out of the plan, and out of each other. 

Keep up the good work and let's do justice to the time that you’ve already put into working on your relationship, so that you can both get to where you want to be.

If you feel ready to get back in touch with sex again, check out how with the Blueheart app here.

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