Rebuilding Intimacy Through Sensual Touch

“It’s not always about sex. Sometimes the best intimacy is where you just lay back, laugh together at stupid things, hold each other, and just enjoy each other’s company.” Adrian Van Oyen

In general, we are a touch-starved culture because we equate touch with sex and sex with intercourse. For many, our repertoire of non-sexual touch seems to decline as relationships progress—even with beloved partners. This leaves many couples yearning for intimacy and connection when the initial sexual heat between them recedes. The purpose of this blog is to encourage you to find that intimacy through developing a regular sensual touch practice that does not have intercourse or orgasm as its goals.

If couples are willing to hit the “reset” button and to build intimacy more intentionally, they will find a more enduring connection, deeper intimacy and rich sexual connection that will last a lifetime.

In the 1970’s sex researchers Masters and Johnson created a series of exercises called sensate focus and guided couples through the exercises over a period of a few weeks. As long as a couple is vested in reconnecting, it won’t take seeing a sex therapist to reignite intimacy through sensate focus practices. While Masters and Johnson designed sensate focus exercises to help partners with desire/arousal issues and performance concerns, I see sensate focus as a terrific option for improving intimacy and connectivity—and sexual connection as the couple progresses.

At the first level of sensate focus, the couple agrees that intercourse and orgasm and all touch to breasts and genitals are off limits. Undressed and in a relaxed setting, the couple takes turns stroking one another all over—except for breasts and genitals; the partner being stroked focuses on experiencing the sensation of being touched. The partner doing the stroking focuses on his or her beloved’s skin, body contours and sensitivities. I recommend spending time stroking one another’s faces and gazing into one another’s eyes to deepen the intimate connection. Without the expectation or pressure of performance or sexual touching, even Level 1 sensate focus can reconnect many formerly disconnected partners.

At the second level of sensate focus, couples add touch to breasts and genitals, with the express understanding that orgasm is not a goal. Intercourse remains off limits. Again, the emphasis is on giving and receiving sensual touch, being mindful of what feels good and how it feels to give and receive. Couples are encouraged to give one another specific feedback on what touch feels good and in what way. In the absence of performance pressure, couples can—perhaps for the first time—develop genuine communication skills about touch they like, and experience the sublime pleasure of receiving sensual touch in the context of deepening trust and intimacy.

At the third level of sensate focus, couples build on their sensual touch practice to include penetrative sex, but remain committed to the experience of connecting intimately, rather than the goal of achieving orgasm.

Sensate focus—emphasizing the simple pleasure of touch without the goal of intercourse or orgasm—can re-establish intimacy for couples who desire touch and want to be connected. To learn more about sensate focus, click here, In addition, this link is a sensate focus guide providing a step-by-step guide to facilitate your practice. Last, as you and your partner begin your journey to deepen intimacy through sensual touch, consider adding these practices: agree to hug deeply and kiss each morning before anyone leaves the house; agree to greet one another with an enthusiastic verbal “welcome home” and a hug and kiss each evening; finally, agree to hug deeply before bed.

Remember, we need touch—far more than we get in our daily lives. And when we can separate nurturing and sensual touch from sex and integrate intimate touch into our daily lives with our partners, we will feel better: more alive, connected and more loved.

Next week: Diving deeper into sensate focus