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Ask A Sex Therapist: What is the three-minute game and how can it improve my sex life?

IMAGE VIA @DEGOEY_PLANET/INSTAGRAM
WORDS BY LAURA MIANO

Playing the game.

Laura Miano is a sex therapist based in Melbourne and co-founder of sex toy concept store Posmo. Her mission is to empower people to create a more fulfilling sex life and to support those who might like to explore their sexuality beyond cultural norms. To learn more about her, follow @lauramianosexology or contact her here.

Recently, I’ve found my partner and I have been struggling with communication in the bedroom. Neither of us seems to be fully satisfied, and I get the sense we’re both holding back. How can I open up a conversation about boundaries and desires? – Stuck

Hi Stuck,

I’m so glad you asked. It’s important to maintain open sexual communication when it comes to topics like boundaries, desires and consent. Regular check-ins with your partner can increase intimacy and strengthen your sexual relationship – particularly if you’ve been together long-term.

In my experience, it’s common for clients in long-term sexual relationships to fall out of the pattern of asking basic consent questions and regularly communicating desires. And thankfully, there are effective exercises that can help get you and your partner back where you need to be. 


For more sex-related stories, head to our Life section.


The three-minute game is an exercise derived from sensate focus, a technique developed in the 1960s and used to improve intimacy and communication between partners around sex. Created by life coach Harry Faddis and developed by sexological bodyworker Betty Martin, the three-minute game uses these sensate focus principles to help partners explore the different dimensions of the pleasure experience.

What is it?

I use the three-minute game a lot in my sessions as a sex therapist. It helps us to further understand our wants, needs, desires and dislikes; and how to effectively communicate these with our partners. I typically give these exercises to clients for homework, as it’s effective for treating people experiencing a sexual dysfunction or issues around intimacy.

If I’m honest, the title is a little misleading. The three-minute game is actually more like the 12-minute game, comprised of four different rounds. Before we get into details, it’s important to understand that this game is not about being ‘the perfect partner’.

It’s about identifying issues, reflecting on your boundaries and desires and improving your sex life. It might be challenging and it doesn’t need to be perfect. There’s no judgement here, so go into it with an open, relaxed mind. 

How it works

The game is split into four different three-minute rounds. The first round is where your partner gives in their way (touches you in the way they want to) and the second is where they receive their way (they are touched by you in the way they desire). Then we flip these: receiving your way (where you are touched in the way you desire) and giving your way (where you touch them in the way you want to).

Start non-sexual

So it sounds a little convoluted, but I promise it’s simpler than you think. For the first game, try non-sexual touching. This might be more about promoting broader intimacy, helping to expand your definition of ‘sexual’. You don’t have to touch genitals to explore pleasure!

Touch can be totally sensual and erotic without it. You can use sex toys on the broader body and experiment with temperature play, kissing, licking, biting, etc. In the second game, allow yourselves to be sexual with genitals. It’s the same as the rounds before but allows genitals to be incorporated too.

Playing the game

For each round, set a timer for three minutes. If, for example, it’s your round to touch your partner in their way, set the timer and ask ‘How would you like me to touch you for the next three minutes?’.

This helps you to be reminded about checking in, asking for guidance and staying in sync with your partner, even if you feel you aren’t doing it in the way they like. Even if you think you understand what your partner likes, this round can help you learn to better receive feedback. Sometimes, we might feel offended when our partners give feedback – this helps to normalise it! 

Next, you ask your partner ‘How would you like to touch me for three minutes?’.This is about them interacting with you in the way they want. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving you a massage (unless they really enjoy doing that). They have to move away from doing things they think you want, rather than exploring your body for their own pleasure. 

For many people, this feeling might be completely foreign. As the receiver, it gives you a chance to learn exactly what your partner likes doing when they’re given the space and time for it. This being said, the giving partner still needs to check-in and make sure what they’re doing feels good. Consent is always a prerequisite.

Swap it

After you’ve completed two rounds – and both of you have taken a turn at giving and receiving – it’s time to swap. Now swapped, your partner will ask you ‘How would you like me to touch you?’. This is a chance to explore your true desires. 

Some might think they know what they like, but it’s not until they’re asked – and given the space and patience to think about it – that they truly tap into it. Maybe you want your partner to use a sex toy on you, or you might want them to spend some time playing with your nipples. This is where you can practice asking for what you want and checking in with yourself. 

Do you feel comfortable? If it’s not quite right, can you ask your partner to adjust what they’re doing? You might find that you’re asking for what you think you should want, but not what you actually want. Take the time to get introspective and notice how you’re feeling. 

The final step is to touch your partner in the way you want. They ask you ‘How would you like to touch me?’. This is a tricky step for a lot of people; I find it’s the dimension of touching where performance anxiety usually lies. People often engage with each other not in a way they truly desire, but how they think their partner wants it.

This can also be influenced by how culture has told them to do it, or how they think it should happen to get their partners off (which at that point, will typically make them feel good). What they miss – in trying to reach the orgasm end goal – is touching their partner’s body in the way they truly want.

This step can take practice and might feel different at the start. When you’re not thinking about your partner reaching orgasm – and rather focusing on the present sexual experience – your sex will inherently become more mindful.

Debriefing after

The three-minute game is all about thoughtful, intentional and mutually beneficial sex. To make sure you and your partner are getting the most out of the game, carve out the time to ask each other questions and debrief on your experience. 

Some example questions could be: What did you like? What didn’t you like? What made you feel uncomfortable? Was there something that felt like a relief? How does the experience compare to your ‘regular’ sex in terms of being present, feeling and pursuing pleasure, and feeling connected, intimate and aroused? 

Why it works

In my work, the three-minute game has been proven to be effective in expanding our understanding of pleasure – because pleasure runs on so many different dimensions! Many people are good at letting their partners do the pleasuring, but when it comes to identifying their desires, they feel stuck. This game gives them the space to think about and communicate it. 

Promotes sexual communication

The game itself is about asking and answering questions; giving and receiving feedback. In a sexual context, that level of communication can feel quite foreign to a lot of people – but it’s all about introducing new dimensions into the regular sexual routine. Once you’ve done it once, it’s easier to incorporate in the future. 

Facilitates reflection

By bringing their sexual relationship into this particular structure, the three-minute game enables people to reflect on their sexual connection, pleasure, arousal and intimacy. In this exercise, these concepts are more easily identifiable whereas, in a usual sexual experience, the giving and receiving of pleasure happens far more fluidly. 

Helps to identify issues

After you’ve played the game, the reflection is almost an entirely separate exercise. The three-minute game can help to identify issues that might be present in your sexual relationship. Was there a certain aspect of the game you found difficult? Ask why! Many clients will identify issues in certain rounds easier than others, while some might find themselves experiencing anxiety. Explore the meaning behind your feelings. 

If there was one particular element of the communication that you found challenging – like asking for feedback or directing them towards the right spot – you can identify this in the game and begin to work on it. If you tell your partner one thing and they do another, or if you say to stop and they keep going, it can identify a lack of understanding of consent. These are just a few examples of the issues the three-minute game can help you to unpack. 

Practices consent

As I mentioned earlier, in relationships people can sometimes find themselves forgoing the process of consent because they’re ‘comfortable’. They might think that because they’re having sex with their partner, they don’t need to explicitly ask for consent. Obviously, this is not the case.

This exercise brings consent to the forefront of the sexual equation. Practice asking your partner if what you’re doing is okay, respect their boundaries and hold them accountable for doing the same. This is your opportunity to say no and identify what you don’t like. 

Promotes intimacy and mindfulness

When this exercise is done in a considered, thoughtful way, it can really bring a new structure of interacting into your relationship. To help set the mood, make your environment feel relaxed and inviting – think dim lighting, candles, low music and soft textures. The three minutes can be a really beautiful exploration of each other’s minds and bodies, so set yourself up for success. Try and stay present, because pairing mindfulness with sexual interaction can be truly mind-blowing.

For more information on the three-minute game, head here.

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