Spice Up Your Sex Life by Telling the Truth (in bed)
The most important lesson I learned while working with the Conscious Leadership Group (CLG) was the importance of telling the truth. And while that was mostly discussed in the context of creating healthier organizations and business relationships, it turns out that telling the truth is vital for creating healthy intimate relationships as well. Sound obvious? Well, it may sound obvious, but the fact is that very few us tell the truth. Perhaps we don’t lie (much), but we withhold, manipulate, spin, exaggerate and otherwise don’t tell our truth, and this is an excellent way to foster a resentful, disconnected and not-so sexy-relationship. Trust me, I have been doing this for years, and chances are, you have too.
To quote CLG leader Jim Dethmer:
“At some point in our early lives we learn that this is the normal way to live, to get along, to fit in and not ruffle feathers. We become socialized, and part of being socialized is to not tell the truth. We likely do this for two simple reasons. First we want to get what we want, and second we want to avoid what we don’t want. So natural, so human.”
When I want someone to do something, I am likely to say (or not say) whatever it takes to increase the likelihood that this will happen. I don’t want my partner to get angry or to leave me, so I will not tell him that his working long hours and missing dinner with me feels that I am not being prioritized. I want my teenagers to coexist with me in a peaceful environment, so I will just do the dishes even though it’s their assigned chore, and not tell them that it hurts my feelings that they are not more considerate about sharing the household workload. I didn’t want to hurt my ex-husband’s feelings (when we were married), so told him that I didn’t care that he had gained weight and was becoming flabby. I also didn’t tell him that I found him completely un-sexy as a result, yet still consented to have sex with him when I absolutely did not want to. In all of these examples I was not telling the truth. And in all of these examples a garden of resentment grew that I kept watering every day by continuing to not tell the truth. And resentment can be silent and insidious, quietly leading to an increasing level of disconnection and feeling unheard and unseen, or can eventually violently explode like a shaken soda can that finally gets a crack in it. I’ve participated in both versions of that resentment party, and that’s a party I don’t want to go to any more.
Since discovering this in the research I did for my book “Sexually Woke,” I have talked and written a lot about resentment being one of our biggest libido killers. If we want to spice up our sex life, we need to clean up resentment by making a commitment to tell the truth. This might sound easy, but it’s probably one of the most difficult challenges that I’ve ever committed to in my life. Telling the truth doesn’t mean saying that I’m right or that I have the truth figured out with a capital T; it means committing to saying what is true for me every moment of the day and expressing what I’m really feeling in a kind and timely manner, and not withholding parts of the truth or manipulating them to achieve a certain outcome. As Jim described above, when we decide not to tell the truth or to withhold or manipulate the truth, we are trying to gain something or not lose something. That is a natural human tendency because we all in some way want to maintain the status quo. Telling the truth will likely not maintain the status quo. It will change things, so it’s scary… and someone has to go first. If you start telling the truth in your relationship and your partner isn’t ready to hear what you have to say, then the outcome might not be easy. But I can promise you one thing. If you tell the truth, the outcome will be the only one that will support you living in your full aliveness.
The best-case scenario would be that your partner will agree to do the same thing, and you’ll start the process of living in a co-creative relationship (which is the opposite of a codependent one), in which each person is committed to tell the truth and to bring energy into the relationship rather than sucking it out. This is where things get really exciting, and mature grownups can connect on a level way beyond anything we could achieve back when we were young and fertile. The worst-case scenario is that things will change, and that will be OK. Because if someone doesn’t want to hear your truth, that is a person that probably needs to be left behind on your path to living in your fullest aliveness.
So what does this have to do with sex? Well, just about everything, since intimate physical connection simply cannot be optimized if we are not saying what we are thinking. Starting with really simple truth telling, discussions about “I really like it when you do…” or “I really don’t like it when you do…” can open the door for your sex life to really blossom. How often have we endured sex that wasn’t what we wanted, doing things that really didn’t feel good, because we were too afraid to tell the truth? How often have we faked an orgasm (definitely not telling the truth) or not talked about the subject of his erectile dysfunction even though we are feeling really sad and hurt about it? Pretty soon there are so many elephants in the room that there is no genuine connection at all, and each person is thinking something that they are afraid or unwilling to share, and is feeling unseen, unheard and misunderstood. Often we just give up. Maybe we leave, or maybe we stay, but we give up on the possibility of deep human connection, which is incredibly sad. Because in my worldview, deep human connection and living in our fullest aliveness with another human being is about as good as it gets.
Adding body image issues to the list of biggest libido killers, let’s think about all the ways the we don’t tell the truth in that department. Body image issues come up in a multitude of flavors, but suffice to say, when we do not feel comfortable with our bodies, we don’t want to have our bodies seen and touched by our partners. We are afraid that our vagina is too loose, or our breasts look funny, or our increased weight around the middle is no longer sexy, that those wrinkles that are developing are not going to be welcomed by our partner… or all the different ways that we make up stories about not being good enough. But rarely do we talk about it. We withhold the truth about our fears.
What is particularly interesting about this phenomenon is that when I talk to the partners of women struggling with body image issues that are affecting their libido, the partner is not seeing things this way at all. While we think we are fat, wrinkly, flabby, unattractive and not sexy-looking, our partner is just wondering why he is constantly being rejected and thinking that his penis is too small, maybe we’re having an affair with somebody else, that he’s not good looking enough, or that we don’t like his receding hairline… basically some version of exactly what we’re thinking but on a completely different plane. Almost without exception, he (or she) could not care less about the changing body parts that the woman is so adamant are the cause of the disconnect. In short, if your partner loves you, he or she doesn’t care that you’ve gained a few pounds or that you’ve had a baby and your vagina doesn’t feel the same, or that when you sit on top your boobs look saggy… or all of the other variations of that “not good enough” story that many of us believe. My experience is that people find confidence sexy, and you could look like a 55-year-old version of Lizzo- and if you acted like Lizzo, because she is so confident in her body, she is straight-up sexy. (There are very few people that don’t find Lizzo sexy, I have checked.) In short, when we are repeatedly rejecting our partners because of our own body image issues, we’re setting off a chain of events in the other person that’s stimulating their own body image issues… so while we’re thinking “there’s something wrong with me,” he or she is also thinking “there’s something wrong with me.” Let’s not forget, if we are naked in bed with someone, we are very close to another, completely vulnerable human being.
So what if we chose to reveal our fears and tell the truth rather than withholding?
The first step that I would suggest is documenting what your withholds are, and then making a commitment to speak them out loud with your partner. That might look something like this:
“Honey I know that we have been disconnected sexually lately, and I want to tell you that part of me is scared to connect with you because I’m worried that after having the kids my vagina is too loose, and that my weight gain might be repulsive to you, and that the wrinkles that I’ve developed as I’ve gotten older are not making me look pretty. I’m afraid that if you see me up close, you’re not going to like it and my deepest fear is that this is going to cause you to leave. That has led me to not want to connect with you sexually and I’d really like to change that.”
While that might sound like a really difficult conversation to have, it’s also an icebreaker that could change your entire relationship. And what do you have to lose? If that particular conversation were not received well by the other person, I would suggest that is a really good sign that this is a relationship that needs to be renegotiated or let go of. The reality is that most of these conversations would result in a response something like:
“Oh my goodness sweetheart, I’m so sorry you’ve been feeling this way. Actually, I thought that our disconnection was because I have trouble holding an erection and I’m also getting fatter around the middle and I’m looking older and don’t have the stamina that I used to and I thought you were rejecting me because you didn’t think I was sexy.”
You can imagine the incredible amount of relief and lightness that happens after a conversation like this takes place. Maybe the disconnection has been going on for months or maybe it’s been 20 years, but once we can speak those words out loud, we are essentially putting that baggage down and agreeing to no longer carry it. We’re putting our truth out into the universe and allowing ourselves to be seen. Once we’ve spoken our truth, if we want to continue working on losing weight, or make a decision to undergo a procedure to tighten the vagina to help with friction, or for him to take ED medications, or whatever intervention seems to help… that’s coming from a totally different place than pursuing these interventions without that discussion. Without that discussion these interventions are never going to work, because we’ve never told the other person how we’re feeling. They have no idea where we’re coming from and are left with their own misconceptions about the truth. After that conversation (which is not a one-and-done, it’s an ongoing agreement to say what’s on our mind in real time), any such interventions are made from a place of honesty and a deep commitment by both people to do whatever needs to be done to help the relationship be more connected and more enjoyable.
I tell patients all the time that I can give you the fanciest vagina on the planet; I can give it the bloodflow of an 18-year-old with the tightness of a woman who’s never had children, but until you get your mind right and learn to tell the truth it’s not going to be worth anything to anybody. If you still hate your body and you’re harboring resentment and withholding the truth, that beautiful vagina is going to be essentially worthless, because the biggest sexual organ by far is our brain. Similarly, just prescribing Viagra to a man without having these important conversations is like putting a Band-Aid over a bullet hole. It’s not too difficult to help a man have an erection, but what good is that going to do him if he is surrounded by resentment, feelings of rejection and a partner who is not initiating sex, or is not giving full consent when sex is suggested.
Another twist is that having a healthy relationship with truth telling around sex, body image and resentment does not require a partner. Maybe you are single or maybe your partner is emotionally or physically unavailable. But having a healthy relationship with truth telling is something that happens inside your own mind and does not require another person to participate. I think of this similar to the idea of forgiveness, which is a one-person job, and is simply an understanding and acceptance that I no longer want to carry this anger and I’m ready to let it go. Forgiveness does not require the other person to do anything. The two-person version of forgiveness would be reconciliation, which is a whole different animal. In the context of truth telling and sexuality, the equivalent of forgiveness would be developing healthy relationship with sex, with your body, and being honest about your feelings within your own mind. The equivalent of reconciliation would be incorporating that into your relationship with another person who wants to do the same thing. The first part is necessary, and the second part is nice if it’s available, but not required to have a fully awake and alive life.
In the sexual wellness world, it’s well known that couples who talk more about sex have better sex. Consider taking on this challenge: Tell the truth and see what happens. I personally retired from all of my not-exactly-lying about 6 months ago, and life, including sex, has never been better. And I’m just getting started.