When Sexual Vulnerability Empowers You
In the right circumstances, sexual vulnerability leads to sexual bliss.
When you read the words “sexual vulnerability,” what do you feel? For many of us, it triggers our innate gag reflex, and we think “sexual abuse.” Many courageous women have come forward in the recent past to educate us about the ways sexual vulnerability can be exploited by men in power. And while women are the primary victims of such abuse, they certainly are not the only ones. Thinking about it makes us sick. And in our efforts to contain and ultimately eradicate this devastation, women are cultivating their fierceness. Strong women are safe women. And safe is good.
Except when it’s not. As a sex therapist discussing the intimate details of women’s sex lives for hours every day, I am often immersed in both the advantages and the disadvantages of female sexual fierceness.
But it’s the disadvantages that can easily be misunderstood by women and men today. When women are determined to avoid feeling vulnerable in the context of a trusting, respectful long-term intimate relationship, passion and great sex are easy casualties.
Vulnerability in general, and sexual vulnerability in particular, is a key element of great sex. After all, it is when we are vulnerable that we bring down any barriers we have between us and our lover. Being vulnerable means showing up as our most authentic, unprotected self. It creates those tender, exquisite moments in love-making when we are seen for who we are, and accepted. When our most personal selves are embraced, it can form the most healing, powerful moments of our entire romance.
Take a moment and consider your own experience. Can you identify your most memorable, fabulous sex? Perhaps you were trying something outside of your comfort zone, or engaging with a lover you knew well but who still remained mysterious in some captivating way. You offered your body or emotions to your lover in a way that felt risky, and resulted in an exquisite adrenaline rush. You allowed yourself to be seen in some kind of elemental, very private, and tender way. It’s a connection that occurs in a place beyond thought—much deeper than we can achieve in even intimate conversation. In a word, you allowed yourself to be vulnerable.
And what about your least memorable sex? We’ve all had sex that was boring, and hardly worth the effort. In those situations, your vulnerability was nowhere to be found.
Vulnerability is also essential because it impacts the sexual dance between you and your partner. In general, the more sexually directive you become, the more likely your partner is to follow you. The more vulnerable you become, the more your partner will take the lead. In this way, what you bring to your sexual experience has a lot to do with how your partner responds to you. Thus, your sexual fierceness is a powerful tool in your sexual toolbox, and unless it closes your heart (which fierceness is capable of doing) it can result in an exciting, invigorating romp with your lover. Both you and your partner will enjoy that side of you.
But at some point, if that’s the only dynamic between you, it becomes rote, and your partner’s sexual flexibility becomes a turn-off. Eventually, hetero women in my sex therapy practice say to me “I want him to initiate sex for a change!” or “His touch is so tentative and hesitant. It turns me off.” In sum, they are unable to let go and open into sexual pleasure if they experience their partner as disempowered. That’s because, on an instinctual level, we simply don’t let go of control in any situation if we are the strongest force around—be it the bedroom, the boardroom, or the family room. We willingly let go only in situations where we trust the capability of another.
Sometimes remaining sexually fierce keeps our bodies and hearts solidly and safely closed off from the exquisite sensations that create great sex. In such a scenario, rather than experience passion, we are relegated to reading about it in novels and watching on movie screens. Probably not what we had in mind for ourselves as we embraced our sexual revolution.
The take home message here? Rather than vilify vulnerability, we would be well served to recognize the contexts in which it has the potential to result in sexual abuse and those in which it can lead to sexual bliss. If you trust your sexual partner and enjoy a mutually respectful relationship, your vulnerability will likely deepen and enhance your sexual experience. But if your partner is unknown to you, disrespectful, or untrustworthy, vulnerability can backfire—perhaps very significantly.
Illogical as it may seem, as your romantic relationship ages, it actually becomes harder to be vulnerable—we get into habits and patterns, functioning more on auto-pilot between the sheets. It requires ongoing effort and intention to continue bringing vulnerability into the bedroom. In contrast, with a new lover people feel more naturally vulnerable, so creating passion with a new partner can become easier than maintaining it with a known partner. Feeling vulnerable with a long-term lover requires emotional depth, mindfulness, and a willingness to create new experiences together.
In sum, vulnerability isn’t a bad word. In fact, cultivating this tender emotion can deepen and expand your romantic relationship while juicing up your sex life. It is common for women in my practice to understand this logic yet find it very challenging to bring their vulnerability into a sexual situation. I often suggest they start with yoga pelvic floor openers, done in the privacy of their bedroom. These poses help one feel both physical and emotional vulnerability. Practice them, feel the emotional and physical sensations associated with those body postures, and find the pleasure inherent in that level of exposure. Ultimately, your goal is to allow yourself those very personal sensations when you are with your lover.
Sexual bliss requires you to open, at least some of the time. As our lives become increasingly consumed with technology, these moments of raw intimate connection become that much more vital and essential to our mental health. Sexual fierceness and sexual vulnerability are both empowering for women, but for different reasons. Do your love life a favor and cultivate both.
Author: Marianne Brandon Ph.D.