SUMMARY: an exercise that helps couples develop the ability to effectively reach & respond to one another emotionally and sexually.
The following exercise is best used in conjunction with couples therapy, working with a therapist experienced with helping couples improve emotional and sexual intimacy. It is not to be used as a substitution for therapy.
Emotionally Integrated Sensate Focus, Lisa L. Gold, Ph.D. (2010) ©
Emotionally Integrated Sensate Focus: Scaffolding for Developing Integrated Intimacy
The goal of Emotionally Integrated Sensate Focus (EISF) it to rewire the brain to integrate physical touch and sexual interaction with emotional connection. In short the goal is for sex to become one of the ways couples are able to connect. It helps couples liberate their sexual relationship from anything that is preventing them from being fully themselves with each other. It helps them to put sexuality in the context of their relationship as a means of expressing their desire, care and love for one another and a means of having fun and relaxing together. It is designed to help facilitate couples ability to co-create their sexual relationship to be whatever they want it to be in that moment with respect for each others emotional, spiritual and sexual needs and desires.
This is a scaffolding to assist you creating your intimate connection. Please read it and implement it that way, rather than as a one size fits all prescription. If anything, I hope I can help you break free from the destructive myths of one size fits all sex. If there is anything that is not one size fits all, it is sex.
The only goal is for you and your partner to become more fully attuned to your own and each others’ emotional and physical/sexual responses as you experience them with one another as a means of deepening and enriching your connection with one another.
I promise that there is nothing more sexually fulfilling than taking the risk to be yourself and let your partner see you and having your partner respond by lovingly embracing and accepting you. Risk, Reach, Respond; that’s the formula for you and your partner to engage in with one another. That’s they way you fall in love, reconnect and repair when things go sideways and deepen your love over a lifetime.
Risk, Reach, Respond: Emotionally and Sexually
Just as with the original sensate focus, EISF orients partners to a greater awareness of their own and each other’s physical sensations and responses. However, EISF also emphasizes:
reorienting you and your partner to your own and each other’s emotional experience accompanying your physiological experience
integrating your emotional and physiological experience
facilitating emotional bonding through shared, emotionally connected sexual experiences between you and your partner.
Emotionally Integrated Sensate Focus rewires partners’ views and experiences of sexuality, emotion and their relationship. Sexuality becomes understood and experienced within the context of their relationship. It becomes one of the ways they are able to reach for and respond to each other and thereby solidify the security of their emotional bond. Sex is to be transformed into an experience that enhances a couple’s ability to reassure and connect. Sex becomes a means of each partner exploring and deepening their understanding of themselves and their partner. The sexual relationship becomes a means for couples to express themselves and share with one another in whatever way they desire to do so in that moment: playful, safe, tender, erotic, bonding and even healing.
The emphasis is on the couple’s emotional connection. The process includes:
Identifying and understanding their own and their partner’s emotional needs
Identifying and understanding their own and their partner’s sexual desires
Communicating those needs and desires to each other from a place of emotional vulnerability (being authentic and non-defensive as they share their needs with their partner)
Responding tenderly to each other’s needs and lovingly meet those needs that were expressed
Rather than focusing solely on clients’ experience of physical touch, Emotionally Integrated Sensate Focus reorients partners to their thoughts and emotions that arise from experiencing touching their partner and feeling their partner’s touch.
The Role of Emotions
Emotions are understood as sources of information in that they alert us to something that needs to be addressed. They assist us in identifying our deepest needs and longings. Physical sensations, thoughts and emotions are to be experienced without judging or shutting them down. Partners are instructed to share the thoughts and emotions they experience during this exercise. Paying attention to and expressing any accompanying fears or doubts they may have about turning to their partner in this way is part of this process. This is important in order for partners to change any beliefs they have about sex, themselves, their partners or their relationship that are interfering with their ability to experience sex as a fulfilling experience that strengthens their emotional connection.
Emotionally Integrated Sensate Experience assists partners with developing their ability to co-regulate. They become more attuned to their own and each other’s emotional activation experienced as they interact sexually and they become more effective at responding in ways that soothe each other’s central nervous system. By creating emotional safety for one another during sexual interaction, partners are able to create the physiological states necessary for optimal sexual experience: relaxation and arousal.
The emotional arousal that naturally accompanies sexual arousal is often misunderstood. When partners do not understand their own emotional experience and/or do not know how to effectively process their own emotions, they usually experience this emotional heightening as threatening to some degree. When this occurs, the partner will usually respond to that perceived threat in the manner that they respond to other perceived threats to connection: fight, flight, or freeze. These fight, flight, freeze responses can manifest and be experienced in a variety of different ways. These varied responses generally fall into two categories of unhealthy emotional regulation: emotional absorption or emotional cut-off.
Rewiring Your Brain: Repeated Positive Experiences
Changing negative beliefs and negative emotional responses to sexuality must occur through repeated corrective emotional experiences. That is, in order for partners to truly change the way they experience their sexual relationship, they must be able to experience physical, emotional and sexual connection with one another that contrasts and calls into question their former negative beliefs and experiences related to sex and to their sexual relationship. They must have repeated positive experiences of physical touch being paired with genuine emotional safety and closeness. Sex must become viewed and experienced in the context of their relationship. Their relationship must become a safe haven and secure base in which they can feel free from judgment, pressure, fear or specific expectations from their partner or themselves. Developing this degree of comfort and emotional safety in a relationship is a process that unfolds over time as partners risk lowering their defenses and authentically sharing themselves with one another. Think of it as a process of reconnecting physical intimacy with emotional intimacy. You are starting fresh by rediscovering one another physically and emotionally, increasing the degree of physical intimacy in proportion to the increases in your emotional intimacy. Experience this gradual progression savoring the total experience of each moment of your interaction: emotionally, affectionately and sexually.