When Bodies Talk: Level 2 Sensate Focus

“When bodies talk, a hand brushing across a face declares love the tongue never speaks. When bodies talk, eyes make promises and lips keep them in the silent transfer of vows of the heart….When bodies talk, they speak to us all in quiet whispers, heart-to-heart, and soul-to-soul, in soundless conversations.” Stella Payton

As I have been discussing in the last few weeks, in a culture that equates touch with sex and sex with intercourse, couples can lose intimate connection as a relationship progresses. However, if couples can mindfully cultivate a broader range of touch practices that include both non-sexual and sexually intimate touch, they can foster enduring intimacy, heart connection and sexual satisfaction that will last a lifetime.

Level 2 sensate focus is a practice that reconnects us with ourselves and our partners through touch, emphasizing the simple pleasure of intimate touch without the goal of intercourse or orgasm. In Level 2 sensate focus, partners expand their Level 1 practice to include breasts and genitals. Taking turns, one partner touches the other all over, including breasts and genitals. The partner doing the touching varies his/her technique, notes his/her partner’s response and asks for feedback. The partner being stroked relaxes into the pleasure of being touched and offers feedback on how he/she experiences the touch, how he/she might like the touch to differ, what feels good and more.

Each partner gives and receives for a set amount of time. When time expires, the couple switches roles. When the session is over, I recommend that the couple hold one another and share how the experience felt for them, emphasizing positive feedback. Gazing into one another’s eyes during this process can add tremendous intimacy.

I encourage couples practicing Level 2 sensate focus to experiment with different forms of touch: in addition to varying strokes from light to more intense and incorporating massage strokes, consider playing with sensation, including feathers, silk scarves, massage oils, healthy lubes (see, July 2 Blog, Enhance Your Safety: Know Your Lubes), warm and cold. Mindfully use different body parts to stroke: the back of the hand, light finger stokes, knuckles, tongues, hair. Let this be a time of exploration, risk, support—growing tenderness. Include the entire body: head, neck, faces, ears, backs of knees, inner elbows and wrists.

Sensate focus is an incredibly vulnerable and intimate practice in itself offering couples the opportunity to experience intense pleasure, safety and connection without any performance demands, expectation of intercourse or orgasm. That said, while orgasm is not a goal in Level 2 sensate focus, if it happens it is fine! (Keep intercourse and penetration off the table in Level 2.) The greatest benefit of Level 2 sensate focus is that 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 sharing sensual touch in the context of deepening trust and intimacy.

When the heat of “new relationship energy” wears off, having a broader base of pleasurable activities to enjoy can keep a sexual relationship sizzling indefinitely. And developing trust through honest communication is an important part of that process. A Level 2 sensate focus practice can help couples move beyond a static intercourse practice to develop enduring trust, communication, connection and ultimately, pleasure.