Beyond sex: 4 simple steps to mindful sexual expression
Marita Heck is on a mission to help people with a disability explore their sexuality. Today, she shares how observing couples 'making love on a spiritual level' has taught her about sexual expression. In this blog, Marita shows us how couples can explore touch through a technique called 'Sensate Focus' to find a deep intimate connection.
Marita wears so many titles: mother, wife, midwife, nurse, researcher, novelist, and if that wasn't enough, she is about to receive her PhD. Without further ado, here is her blog, enjoy!
The Love Dance
Working as a midwife with emerging parents during a baby’s birth has shown me that there are secret forces connecting a couple, I’ve always found utterly fascinating. Having had the privilege to watch this, what we midwives call, ‘lovedance’ between two people has ignited my fascination about how such a connection might be achieved. I wondered if there is a magic formula, or a step-by-step guide, or if this kind of connection just happens naturally, basically as some kind of magic.
Is this connection what intimacy really means – the deep surrender of the couple to each other on a divine level?
Breaking down the stigma
My journey in discovering the mystic formula in how to foster this deep intimate connection between a couple lead me to writing a romance novel in which a male character with a spinal cord injury finds his true love and happily ever after.
People around me became really curious about if I could even manage to achieve an intimate relationship between my main male character with a spinal cord injury and the woman he loves in the fictional storyline.
After all, romance novels are usually quite explicit, and having a male character with a disability engaging in such sexual activities seemed to be a bit of a stretch in their perceptions as there is so much stigma attached to this topic in our society.
I assured the sceptics that it is, indeed, possible, and that the intimate encounters between my two main characters are super steamy, because they have this deep connection – the making love on a spiritual level. For that, I had to surrender to what society deems as good and enjoyable sexual encounters and had to investigate about the changes arising with such an injury, and how these changes may affect the intimate relationships of people living with a spinal cord injury in real life.
The Sensate Focus Method
It was then, when I stumbled across the Sensate Focus, developed by William Masters and Virginia Johnson. It is a specialised focus on the power of the experience of touch, an alternate avenue of sexual expression that focuses on sensory perceptions and the
sensuality of love making as opposed to the goal-orientated focus of penetrative sex.
The Sensate Focus teaches how to reconnect to our sensory roots of sexuality, it turns the attention to touch as a powerful tool to sexual expression, because it releases oxytocin – the hormone of love.
It reconnects us when we experience difficulties in sexual expression by focusing on practicing mindfulness of sensations by communicating through the language of touch and the deep focus on the sensations evoked by touch. This supports the couple to have sensual experiences without the penetrative sex performance pressure. There are different exercises the Sensate Focus concentrates on the mindful sexual response for oneself and a partner in four designated steps.
Step 1: Non-genital sensuality
During this step, the couple is encouraged to experience aspects of sensuality as the ‘toucher’ and ‘receiver’.
Both partners are encouraged to only focus on the mindfulness of touch in which the attention should be on how the texture of the skin feels, or if there is a difference between touching the partner’s body only with the fingers or the whole hand.
Generally, the touching sessions are encouraged to be approximately 15 minutes before partners switch the roles. The focus and touch of male and female genitalia and breasts is discouraged in the first stage.
Step 2: Whole-body experience
In the second step the genitals and breasts are included, however, the main focus should
still be on the sensual touching experience as a whole-body experience. In this phase the receiver and toucher introduce the “hand-riding” technique, in which the receiver guides the toucher’s hand to show their partner which kind of touch and areas they like to be touched at. The genitals and breasts should only be touched as a natural ebb and flow of the overall touching experience.
Step 3: Mutual touching
In the third step, the partners touch each other simultaneously as opposed being a toucher and receiver. As before, the focus should only be on the sensuality of the whole body with the suggestion of the inclusion of lips as oral stimulation.
Step 4: Sensual intercourse
In this phase, the full awareness of the sensual experience of the partner’s body is extended into the physical sensation of the genital contact. The pleasure of exploring the sensations of touching and rubbing in slow motions to fully feel the warmth, contact and deep connection with the intimate partner is encouraged in this final step.
The Sensate Focus is not only for people who experience changes and challenges in sexual expression, it is an approach everybody can have a shot at by fostering the power of skin-to-skin touch.
It supports a couple to communicate on a sensual level and especially after life changing events, this might help the partners to navigate through their new reality of life.
Making love on a spiritual level is indeed pure magic, which requires so much more than being a couple, but I truly believe that the Sensate Focus can be one of the avenues to achieve a mindful sexual connection between two people as a tool to feel true intimacy.
For further information about the Sensate Focus and the information used in this blog, refer to the book Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy – The Illustrated Manual by Linda Weiner and Constance Avery-Clark, Routledge.
Marita and Mel