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Vulnerability & Honesty: The Secret Aphrodisiacs

Recently, a friend asked me to say something about sexual health. I am reminded of a moment in time in my 20’s, when a teacher said something to me that stuck. She said ‘sex is the most intimate experience that you will ever experience’. Surprisingly, that was eye opening for me, having come of sexual age in the 70’s. I think that somewhere in the age of free love, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, the connection between sex and intimacy was lost. Many of us think that we can just have sex and not have it affect us. Or we think that it shouldn’t affect us, even though it does.

Dr Lou Stolis, creator of the Life Institute Training, used to say that when you are sexual with someone, your energy stays intertwined with theirs for 2 years or more. Whoa. This really eliminates the idea of casual sex if you take a moment to stop and think, do I really want this person’s energy in my space for that long? Is this a sexual encounter you would want if this were true?

So what is healthy sexuality? This is a large question, with no simple answers. Unlike physical health, in which there are often recognized standards, sexuality is more personal, and I do think it is different for everyone.

Since this is such a difficult issue to define clearly, I will talk about what it is NOT. Dysfunctional or unhealthy sex includes have sex for all the wrong reasons. Trying to make someone love you, trying to make yourself feel beautiful, avoiding feelings of loneliness, avoiding rejection, fear of someone’s anger, fear of letting another person down, all of these reasons and more tend to leave both people feeling empty and alone, and maybe even feeling worse than they did before the experience. Add to that trying to manipulate someone into doing what you want by having sex or by withholding sex, and/or having sex be a ‘chore’ or a tool or piece of leverage, and the list of unhealthy habits we can fall into goes on.

Remaining emotionally distant and invulnerable can also cause upset, hurt and wounding. I define vulnerability in this instance as being permeable, being able to be affected, and being transparent. Part of the intensity in sex comes from congruence, being true to yourself, and being real. Now I do NOT mean to imply that every sexual experience has to be emotionally deep or intense. But even a ‘quickie’ sexual experience will feel empty and lonely without your presence, congruence and vulnerability.

The urban dictionary defines vulnerable as capable of being wounded or hurt. This is both a gift and a challenge. Part of why we protect ourselves emotionally is to prevent ourselves from emotional pain. However, these very same protection techniques keep out the love, closeness, connection, and sexual experience that we are seeking. In order to be really healthy sexually, we need to be emotionally available, which requires a willingness to be hurt.

The good news is that vulnerability and honesty are the greatest aphrodisiacs. Being real, pushing the limits of communication, and taking emotional risks, even playful ones, make us feel expansive, joyful, connected, excited, present, and real. This is the true turn on.

I don’t mean that every sexual experience has to be all deep and touchy feeling. Just congruent. Real. And honest.

My BFF, put it really well:

Sex can be great, fun, hot, and meaningful without being part of a deep, long-term, touchy situation. When a person has good sexual health even a single experience can be absolutely soul rocking, and spiritually amazing.

Good sexual health includes being at choice, not making it mean or be something that it is not, and allowing it to be what it is. When you feel safe with yourself and with the other person it can be wonderful and fulfilling. *safe = feeling safe with self and other person to “go there” and also means practicing safe sex if that is applicable.  …Carrie E.

Sexual health includes having good boundaries. It includes being at choice and knowing yourself well enough that you know when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no’, based on knowing what is really true or right for YOU.

Women are often great at giving to others in many ways including sexually. But even when they have a sexual partner who is generous, open, loving, willing, and interested in making them happy, they find it almost impossible to ask for what they want, and to simply receive. Sexual health includes doing enough personal growth, and having enough self confidence and courage to actually ask for what you want sexually, and be specific about it. It includes being willing to surrender and let go of control, and allowing someone to take care of your needs.

Sensuality includes being fully present, and being strong enough within yourself to be able to risk being vulnerable and openhearted, and knowing the difference between being able to connect in this way and being a doormat.

I saw a post on instagram from a 16 year old girl that stuck with me. It readYaffeesBig

‘If you aren’t worth his time at 2pm, he isn’t worth your time at 2am.’

I was struck by the wisdom in those words. Sure wish I knew that at 16. Or 20. Or 30!

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this topic!

~inspired girl


  1. Sarah, do you think that a woman cannot feel the same way, about the ultimate closeness that comes from sex? I’m starting to think that women can turn that closeness off far more easily than men can. We (I) take that as rejection when my lover does that. And, then I am very perplexed when she does “feel like it” and responds the same way she did the very first time we made love. Guys just can’t turn that off as easily as women can.

    • Ken, I don’t think it is a matter of turning it on or off in the way you are asking. Being totally ‘non PC’ here, for most women the closeness comes from the emotional connection first, which then translates to sexuality. The turn on is the emotional connection, the deep listening, the day to day romantic gestures, the kindness and compassion in the build up, the patience etc. From my experience in talking to hundreds of men and women about this, men can simply immediately connect with sex. Whereas women can ‘have sex’ but not feel connected or get that closeness, if the emotional space isn’t clear.

  2. I agree with Hillary. Life, love and marriage are the hardest things to do. Staying excited, passionate, in love with the same person is the hardest thing any of us attempts. Guys are so very different from gals. In that regard But, I am convinced that if you shared a mutual passion and excitement for one another at one time in the past, then it is possible to re-live or recreate that excitement again and again. I love going out on dates with my long time love because it reminds me of the excitement of that first date we ever had. Going to new places together is like rekindling that joy of exploring new places together that we did in the first months of dating. Sitting and cuddling together and talking about those past memories can leas to new ideas for fun we can share together. like planning that next Caribbean cruise together. Or, just going down to Starbucks for our favorite drinks. Even at home, just pretending we are at that sexy beach setting on one of our first road trips re-ignites that special feeling we once shared together. Giving her roses and watching that unique response she gets every time is very good for me too. When she texts me and says she cant wait for me to get home from work gives us both that exciting tingle inside. I am convinced that the other person has to be completely receptive to my romantic efforts. The same as I have to be to hers. So, she has to put in the effort to let herself go like she always used to do. Great sexy memories created when initially dating her, revitalized by current romantic efforts, are what keep that spark of love and happiness alive for me. But, again, your partner in life and love has to agree to the very same philosophy. And, be willing to sincerely respond in kind.

    • I believe that if your partner was ever truly a soul mate/the person of your dreams, etc, they still are. That doesn’t change. The feelings can be suppressed and covered with anger, hurt, betrayal, and more. It definitely IS possible to work through it and re-create trust. It takes an uncommon level of commitment, and work. And a specific type of work. Both people need to work on themselves, and then together work on their relationship. Love doesn’t just go away. Some thoughts on this in this article, and I have so much more to say about this topic!

  3. I asked my husband one time what sex is like for him and he said that (for him) it’s the ultimate way for him to love me and show me how much he loves me. It is different for men than it is for women in many ways and so even though there are times when I just don’t feel like it and he does I sometimes do it anyway because I know that for him it’s his way of feeling that much closer to me. We have a very strong relationship and we both have always been very open about our needs and what we like and don’t like. Because of these things I think we’re closer than most couples. I still don’t understand why sex is so hard to talk about for some people. You trust this man enough to marry him, enough to open up to him completely, you talk to him about everything, he’s your best friend (well at least for me he is), he would never do anything to hurt you (at least a good man won’t), he loves you, he only wants to make you happy and wants what’s best for you, he would never want you to be in pain, etc and yet so many people have a hard time talking about it. All he wants is to know what turns you on most and what you could do without so he can make you happy (again a good man would want these things anyway). Why not talk about it? Open up, let yourself be vulnerable. I’ve been hurt many times in my past (not by my husband though) but you can’t move forward if you can’t move on. I’m not saying that people should outright forgive infidelity no matter what, every situation is different and it’s not my place to judge or tell someone how to live their life. I’m just saying that if people were more open about things maybe relationships would last longer and maybe some people wouldn’t feel the need to cheat (not all because some people are going to do it no matter what). That’s not an excuse by any means. However, in today’s society and in the way we’re raised we’re taught that it’s okay for sex to be put on the back burner as relationships go on and as people have children and as more things come up in their lives. Considering how my husband feels about sex especially, that’s not okay to me. Sex should be an integral part of any relationship. No, it’s not everything but there needs to be balance. People (women especially) have no problems talking to their friends about their sex lives but when it comes to their spouse they bottle it all up. I don’t understand that. I would never tell my friends about what I do in the bedroom or ask them for advice if I was worried about something or I wanted to talk about something I would talk to my husband. That’s just my opinion though and these are just my thoughts on it.

    • Sarah, I love all of this! and I agree with much of what you are saying here. I think women sometimes have a hard time understanding that many men feel loved when their partner desires them sexually. NOT that I/women don’t want to be desired, but it is different. Feeling desired makes me feel beautiful and wanted and secure. But not that same core level ‘loved’ that my husband feels. For me it is equivalent to how I feel when my husband really takes care of my core level needs, like hearing me in a deep way when I am upset.It is often hard for women to get that their partners just want to make them happy. And talking about ANY needs can be challenging for women, we have been conditioned to care about others’ needs first. Sexual needs are even harder, many women don’t even KNOW what they want or need, and being able to be open and vulnerable about it can feel almost impossible. Being able to receive is something many women need to learn and let go into!

  4. I’ve been hurt sooo much it is hard to be vulnerable. I have felt like the doormat, felt like it was a chore. Been cheated on by my husband a year ago and struggle with finding the intimacy that was there years ago before the kids and infidelity. To make myself vulnerable once again, after being a victim more than once is truly a test of one’s true soul and being. I struggle every day trying to put it behind, knowing he chose me and our kids, but always worrying, could it happen again, should I please him to keep him?? Where is my pleasure in that? It’s not healthy. I see him trying. Life,love, marriage and parenthood are harder than anyone ever taught me it could be. I find strength in our good days, I am very vocal of my needs. Pray for me and my family to find the strength to learn to put it behind us and move on with more honesty and vulnerability. Thank you

    • Hillary, I truly applaud your courage in trying again. Relationships ARE SO much harder than any of us ever knew. And most of us have had no training, or role modeling, or information on what to do when things get bad. Most of us who have long term marriages/partnerships have had really hard times that we worked through. I am hoping that you are both getting support? A great therapist? Someone who believes in relationships. When trust is shattered at that level, it can take a long time to rebuild. You can’t force it. Be where you are ‘at’ being honest about THAT and stay true to where you are. For me, it takes having room to be angry, having room to NOT trust, and really addressing the issues that were not resolved before this happened. You can’t go back to where you were or who you were. But you can start from now. Rebuild slowly, vulnerably. Kudos to you for communicating your needs. I would support your partner in doing the same. I believe that both people need to have a safe and agreed upon way to express core level fears, hurts, and anger, and then come to some resolution on how to move forward. If you both keep doing that, the trust and love and vulnerabilty and honesty will come back. Thank you for your honesty and courage.

  5. Not that women are the only ones guilty of using/withholding sex to get what they want or otherwise control their mate. But, it still amazes me that after talking with someone about how this destroys my passion for sexual intimacy, that they still choose to play that game! Someone who plays the “sex is all that men ever wants” card really hasn’t figured out the benefits that the intensity of the emotions one can, and should get from sex. I realized years ago that sharing the intensity and pleasure that sex can create with a real partner is far, far better than self gratification. In my opinion, a sexually mature person knows that difference and strives to make each sexual union a mutually rewarding and satisfying experience every time. Without playing controlling emotional games.

    • Games & manipulation feel horrible yes. Consider however that sometimes, the miscommunication between people can be as if we are talking two different languages. And what you think is the other person playing a game, COULD be the other person simply trying to take care of themselves. Often, people don’t have immediate words for what they are feeling. Example might be that your partner is hurt by something you said but doesn’t even know it, doesn’t feel safe enough to tell you, judges their own feelings as bad, doesn’t think that their own needs are acceptable, etc etc. So your partner distances a bit and truly doesn’t feel sexual. Not an intentional game. But It sure can seem like one when you are on the receiving end. I always try to remember that our filters for each others’ behavior is really thick, and colored by our own assumptions and world view. Check out my post on gender conditioning for another perspective.

  6. Thank you. Honesty is vulnerability. It is putting your feelings out there, exposed. One can do that when one is secure in the love and respect on has for one’s self. And, only to that extent, can one be honest.

    • Absolutely. Well said! Personal growth, self knowledge, being able to get underneath our initial triggered reactions are requirements for being vulnerable and transparent. Many people think that dumping or sharing their ‘triggers’ is being honest. Eg: I get really upset and angry because you didn’t respond to my feelings in a way that I wanted to. Being vulnerable requires getting past the ‘triggered’ response of ‘you never listen to me’ and finding the core, something like ‘I am afraid that you don’t care about me’ or ‘I am afraid to ask for what I want for fear of rejection’ etc etc.

  7. Incredibly well-stated!

  8. Beautifully written, thank you Barbara. Two years! Whoa. Very informative, real and lovingly presented.

  9. I love this. I resonate with the vulnerability and being open creating the space for deeper intimacy. I crave that kind of connection. I love that intimacy isn’t just sex. The sixteen year comment about 2pm versus 2am…priceless

  10. Thank you for posting this..being vulnerable is a scary place..a place I so desire to be.. but find myself throwing up walls..but taking a risk sounds really good..when I know with who to be that way with

    • I agree Shae, it is important to know that you are in the right place, and let yourself feel if it feels right. If it feels bad, it likely is not the right time or place. Often, because we have our automatic walls up, our senses are shut down, and without our antenna working, we can’t tell! xo

  11. Love this, B!! Juicy, interesting and fun! <3

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