Being completely vulnerable to another human being can be scary, even if that person is our life partner. Yet, just as sex involves physical nudity, great sex demands a similar level of psychological nakedness. So, vulnerability is one of the eight components of great sex identified by a team of researchers in a study published in The Canadian Journal of Sexuality.
Study participants described this level of vulnerability as “being able to put your entire being in someone else’s hands” or “like jumping off a cliff” and yet feeling safe. It’s a deliberate act of surrender to your partner with nothing held back. And for the respondents of this study, vulnerability made the difference between good sex and great sex.
Vulnerability cuts to the heart of self-preservation. Our instinct is to protect ourselves, to hide just a little, not to completely bare our throats. We may do this because we’re afraid of rejection, or of being ignored, or of being controlled, or because we’ve been hurt in the past, maybe even in loving relationships. We may also be dragging into our adult lives some unexamined anxieties from our childhood—fears that can exert a powerful influence no matter how outdated or irrational they may be. And the bedroom with all its intimacy and nakedness is just the place where these fears, past and present, are likely to intrude.
Acknowledging and examining what holds us back from self-surrender to a trusted and loved partner is a good and healthy exercise. After all, we’ve probably developed more mature ways to handle pain and rejection than when we were children. And these unpleasant emotions can also reveal to us areas in which we still need to grow. What better place to practice trust, vulnerability, and self-revelation than in the midst of a loving relationship?
So examine your barriers to intimacy. What’s holding you back? What are you afraid of? What keeps you from being vulnerable? Then risk sharing those fears. That’s the first important step toward deeper levels of intimacy. You might also practice asking for what you want as well as asking your partner what feels good or what you could do that would be more pleasurable.
Taking the risk of deeper self-revelation can also encourage our partners to respond in kind. But in any case, what do we have to lose? Some outdated fears? A twinge of embarrassment or pain? And we stand to gain a deeper, more satisfying relationship with the person we’re closest to. And, maybe, great sex.
So, go ahead. Jump.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.