By Eric Francis
One problem with talking about sex is how much we have not said. Another problem is guilt. They are related. More than Jews and Italians are involved, but hey, that's why we make such great therapists. We originated the product and therefore we provide the best technical support to its many consumers.
Photo by Eric Francis / Blue Studio.
Then there's embarrassment, which is sometimes like a sheet thrown over the hungry ghost of shame and self-reproach. Embarrassment is dangerous. It keeps us out of therapy, it makes lying seem justified, it keeps us in unhealthy situations and follows us around like a pall over our existence.
It's also one of the hottest sex toys not made of silicone; that, a little later in this article.
The hungry ghost of shame is projected into society as something called 'scandal'. Scandal is one of the most effective forms of sexual repression. Scandals are popular, and they are, because they create a drama that preoccupies us temporarily, and prevents us from dealing with how we actually feel about sex or getting our emotional needs met. For a minute, somebody else gets to take the brunt of the guilt. Someone else acts out the shame of the affair that you had or are having; this way you think you don't have to. Gossip is insidious because it's such a diversion from our own personal reality.
How do we actually feel about sex? Does anybody even have a clue? Or are we so afraid of scandal that we dare not reveal anything, even to ourselves? And in such a world, how do you tell the absolute truth?
You just talk. And you listen. Then keep doing that until, eventually, you reach an understanding or you realize you've reached the next best thing, an impasse.
Yes, we all have a lot to hide. That's the whole point. Would it be possible to grant amnesty before any conversation where honesty is agreed to, and plan to still love one another, no matter what is learned? Anything is possible. More likely, you agree to let the chips fall. Then you can have a conversation that may tack between beautiful, loving, heavy, informative, angry, tearful and lusty.
I think that true closeness grows from honesty and its results. The results are not always immediately pleasant, but it's a learning process. Part of love is loss. We don't handle loss well, and as a result we pretend to expect it not to happen. This is the blind spot across the windshield of our relationships.
The setup of the world and our relationships as we understand them today is that most of them would be threatened by the revelation of the truth. I think we know that to be willing to tell the truth, we need to be willing to let go of control. Remember that there are two parts to the truth: being willing to say it, and being willing to hear it. They present different challenges and are different skill sets.
In either event, it helps to keep the conversation going in what are called "I statements," that is, statements that begin with the word I: I feel, I want, I need, and so on. Remember that the foundation of a conversation like this is trust. It may be happening in a moment when trust is compromised. In either case you need to do your best to create a safe container for the conversation. Try to see your partner in the light of a living creature on his or her own path, who deserves to have their emotional wants and needs met. I believe that if you offer your support to their growth process, you are personally emotionally safer as a result.
Before attempting a conversation in which you and your partner tell the truth about sex, and how you feel about sex, I suggest you identify guilt as an issue. That means admitting to the feeling and now it influences you, including what you might do to avoid guilt.
Photos by Eric Francis.
Part of the problem with guilt is that it tends to be ubiquitous. It becomes the currency that is transacted in many relationships, replacing love like an undertaker uses embalming fluid to replace blood. Talking about how your parents made you feel guilty, how you have used guilt, and what guilt leads you to do or not do, all count. If you can identify this as an influence, you can establish common ground that could be put in the general category of something you need to heal, having nothing to do with the specific relationship or situation you are in.
The remedy to guilt is forgiveness. The reason we would forgive is because we love. It is really about letting go of condemnation and moving on. If you are holding any grudges, it's best if you keep them on the table, where everyone can see them. This is one way of owning our past issues before any conversation begins.
I think there are three main things we can talk about when we talk about sex.
One is what we want.
Another is what we've done.
A third is how we feel about it.
I suggest that these be the three categories where there is no compromising the truth. There will be some overlap among them, but generally, desire, experience and our response are a clear way to organize things.
Someone with whom we consider ourselves sexual and intimate would be someone with whom we have shared our entire sexual history, and not just the dry facts; the wet ones too, including (for example) how good an experience felt, or how much we miss an old lover. You might need to say you have a crush on her sister or best friend.
Photo by Eric Francis / Book of Blue.
Our statements might include various shades of "you don't quite do it for me" that could be potentially hurtful. Without compromising the truth, it's helpful to be gentle in such a conversation, but I think it's necessary to be willing to hurt someone to have the conversation. One of the most common excuses for not telling the truth is "I didn't want to hurt him," which is understandable, but it's not compatible with honesty.
Let's take these three one at a time. Assuming the conversation is being had by a couple, you could flip a coin and see who goes first; then you would take turns.
This might be rephrased as, "what you want but have not admitted to," or "who you want that you have not admitted to." I would propose that this includes the contents of our fantasy lives, since much desire comes in that form. Check the last session for an exercise that addresses this. Remember that desire alone can constitute sexual betrayal. Sometimes people mistakenly assume that monogamy includes failing to perceive other beautiful people, or somehow mysteriously not desiring them. It can; when monogamy is organic, it tends to have that property. When it's based on a concept of commitment, there are many other possibilities.
Here we are in a somewhat different cosmos than desire, because that includes the potential for having cheated. We're also in the realm of admitting your true sexual orientation, which is necessary if we are going to be sexually intimate (rather than just sexual) with someone else.
It can also include interesting masturbation preferences, cross-dressing, visits to prostitutes, having had sex with your maid of honor in the ladies room at the wedding reception, or having had sex with your brother as a kid.
One question many people ask is, why talk about this stuff at all? If it happened in the past, then why bother? The answer is, if you would be inclined not
to talk about something, there is still an energy charge around it. You might in that case also want to include why you don't want to say something. That's even closer to the truth.
One reason you might not want to say something is you did something that put another person at risk, for example, having had unprotected sex with a prostitute. Anyone who works in the realm of AIDS testing will tell you how many people don't want to inform their partners of their status.
Sabrina’s Lair. Photo by Eric Francis.
I don't think it's enough to say, "I had sex with my old boss, John," and call it good. For the truth to be a whole food, one would need to say something more like, "I had sex with my old boss John. We did it in the storage warehouse. It was daring and it felt really good. I love how he held me. I had mixed feelings because he was my boss but I would probably do it again."
Or, "Your friend Melanie came over one day last year and I licked her pussy. We had a lot of fun and I thought she was really beautiful."
This is the potentially dangerous, potentially steamy part. At first it might feel like walking out over a cliff, but once you get the hang of it, you can have great fun. As someone once wrote, only the truth is erotic.
It's important to follow the heat, and to follow the embarrassment. In other words, look beneath the embarrassment for something deeper: that would be how you really feel. This can be complex. I think that most of all it's important not to hide how good things feel or felt from someone we consider an intimate.
Fae and Eric. Photo by Danielle Voirin for Book of Blue.
Here is an idea for a game, which can have many variations. I call it the Amnesty Game because you agree to amnesty at the outset; and the relationship is played in the realm of fantasy rather than a confession of actual events. It's more in the realm of "What I want and how I feel about it."
The partners in a relationship would take turns doing this. Assuming anyone is not in a 12-step program, a glass of wine or a bong hit might facilitate the process.
At first, it's important to take turns so that one person gets to be the focus. And what they do is free-associate their erotic desires, on any topic that they want to. If this is done with feeling, the person will start to get turned on, and is encouraged to keep going. As the erotic heat builds, your resistance will begin to melt and you can keep going even further, including masturbating as you speak. The likely outcome would be a very hot orgasm and a deep feeling of relief, because you are being accepted in your truth.
Then you switch roles and be the one who encourages your partner to be present for their truth. Practiced consciously and with true amnesty -- that is, appreciation, forgiveness and compassion, the result on your sexual relationship can be quite overwhelmingly pleasant.
Beneath lies, guilt, fear, desire and the need for a relationship, there often exist a diversity of self-esteem issues. When these issues exist, we often place our sense of worthiness on whether a partner responds to us positively. This is something to watch for carefully and resolve to grow out of; we need to be the source of our own self-esteem.
It's necessary to beware of the formula, "He said he likes my friend, which means he doesn't like me, which means I'm worthless." This equation comes in many, many forms. It's very helpful to have this one out; to be aware of it; to understand something about the self-esteem matrix of the person you're with.
Once you understand that, you can live the relationship in a way that honors their situation but which is not designed specifically as a palliative, which many relationships end up being. On the way to truth, we find out about how unlovable we thought we were, and how lovable we are. To me, being present for this in yourself and your partner is the true meaning of commitment.
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Unraveling the Mystery of Self Esteem
The Compersion Series