HIM: Sex is all about vulnerability. At it’s most basic, we take off our clothes — our armour — and expose the most delicate parts of ourselves to each other. When we think of our earliest ancestors, living on the African savanna, having sex involved putting your very life at risk.
HER: You’re talking about vulnerability in strictly physical terms, but that’s just the start. Yes, we shed layers of bodily protection to have sex, but the emotional dimension of vulnerability is even more powerful than the physical. I think that’s where real connection happens.
HIM: I‘ve actually been thinking about that a lot lately. I’ve always considered emotional vulnerability to be about what you say out loud, what you choose to reveal about your thoughts and feelings. If I tell you that something you said hurt me, for example, I’m being emotionally vulnerable. I’ve stopped pretending that I’m invincible. But lately I’ve come to understand the power of telling you what I want in the bedroom when what I want feels embarrassing or shameful.
HER: What do you mean?
HIM: Well, there are certain desires that fit the idealized mold of masculine identity. The basic rule of thumb for men can be summed up with the abbreviation WWJBD: What Would James Bond Do. And I’m not talking about Daniel Craig here, or even Pierce Brosnan. If you can’t picture Sean Connery doing it, then you’re in suspect territory. Do you fantasize about having two women at once? Wonderful! A blow job in an airplane washroom? Splendid! Want to tie your woman up and beat her with a flogger? Delightful! But what about the guy who is really turned on by, say, dressing up in women’s clothes. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course — nobody gets hurt — but it will probably be hard for him to find a woman to enthusiastically support that kink. Not impossible, but much harder than if his tastes were more conventional. And if he shares that fantasy with other men, he is likely to be greeted with repulsion, or worse. That’s where the shame comes in.
HER: Is this your way of asking to try on something frilly from my panty drawer?
HIM: Um, no. Now, don’t get me wrong — you have some amazing underwear, but dressing up in women’s clothes just isn’t my thing. And I actually feel grateful for that. You can’t help what turns you on, but some fantasies are easier to admit to than others.
HER: So you’re saying that not all desires are created equal in our society, that there is such a thing as ‘fantasy privilege’?
HIM: I never thought about it that way, but yes. Some fantasies have the force of social approval behind them, making everything easier, and some desires don’t. I used to hesitate before sharing my bi-curiosity with people, but I’ve discovered so many women are into it that I don’t hold back. It somehow became cool in the last couple of years. But last month I unexpectedly bumped right up against ‘fantasy privilege’ when I walked into our bedroom to find you trying on your new strap-on.
HER: Yes! It was a couple days before we were supposed to have friends over, and I pulled it out to insert a new, bigger dildo we bought. I guess the gender-bending sight of me turned you on and you started to kiss me. I love the instant jolt of masculine power I feel when I wear that big silicone cock, and I suddenly wanted to see you suck on it. Instead of simply entertaining that fantasy in the safety of my mind, I asked you to put it in your mouth.
HIM: Prior to that moment I had spent exactly zero seconds in my entire life fantasizing about having a dildo in my mouth. But as soon as you mentioned it, I wanted it really badly. I surprised myself. It was yet another instance of the improvisational genius you have in sexual situations.
HER: It was an interesting experience for me: I obviously couldn’t feel anything from my fake cock, but I could vividly imagine the sensations a man would have. It was an enormous turn-on. But it was about more than imaginary sensations. It was about being the dominant one: making you do something that was strictly for my pleasure. I get why men love looking down on a woman in a position of subservience before them. It’s a heady power trip.
HIM: It was interesting for me, too. Even though I wanted it, I immediately felt some internal resistance. A primitive part of me was afraid you would judge me for being unmanly. The subservience you talk about as being acceptable for women is not a comfortable position for most men. I’ve been culturally programmed since childhood to avoid appearing feminine in any way.
HER: Well, I loved how into it you were, and I think the ‘feminine’ appearance was part of the appeal.
HIM: It really turned me on, to be honest, and it led to some very hot sex between us. But then, a few days later, you decided to take it up a notch. We had our good friends Sam and Michelle over to play and you were getting ready to fuck her with the strap-on. Instead of putting lube on the dildo, you came over and asked me to suck on it to get it wet. I froze. In that split-second, I was afraid that the thing I had unexpectedly enjoyed in private with you would be embarrassing in front of an audience.
HER: I’m sorry. Sam and Michelle are open-minded, thoughtful people. They’ve spent a lot of time in the kink scene, and I knew they wouldn’t be put off by it.
HIM: That’s ok. I had to decide very quickly what to do. I knew if I quietly said ‘no’ that you wouldn’t push the issue, and the moment would pass. But another part of me didn’t want to play it safe, so I did what you asked.
HER: And, sure enough, Sam and Michelle came right over to watch. They clearly loved it.
HIM: Once again, you were right. Strangely enough, though, I didn’t love it this time. Yes, when we were alone, I did worry for a split second that you would judge me, but I was mainly carried forward on a wave of spontaneous lust. In front of our friends, however, my consent was purely intellectual. As awesome as Sam and Michelle are, I couldn’t just let go and enjoy. I also worried that this was something that might be hot if I was younger, but that it just didn’t look right for a man in his late 50’s.
HER: Well, I thought you looked very sexy, but I guess we all have socialized boundaries to break through. Ask any woman what causes her the most shame, and she’ll probably say something about her body or the simple act of enjoying sex. We’ve been told we have to look perfect in the eyes of men, but we shouldn’t enjoy their attention too much, otherwise we’re ‘easy.’
HIM: If a man’s guide is ‘What Would James Bond Do,’ for women unfortunately it’s sometimes WWTVMD: What Would The Virgin Mary Do. Not a lot of room for enjoying a gangbang there! So, have you ever been held back by feelings of shame?
HER: Not in any practical way. I’ve always felt pretty confident and free when it comes to sex, which is surprising, given that I grew up in a very religious home with extreme body issues. But if there has ever been shame around sex for me, it’s about sharing my fantasies. Like the man who secretly fantasizes about wearing women’s clothes, I have very dirty incest and rape fantasies (that I would never, EVER want to come true!), and I‘ve always worried that I would be judged as too perverse if people knew about them. I didn’t even share them with you for the first few years we were together.
HIM: Well, I get it, but you know I love your dirty mind. I consider it a national treasure!
HER: Too often, shame hampers our ability to ask for what we want, take risks, or enjoy something new. The solution is to surround ourselves with people who we trust will not judge us. I’m a big fan of Brené Brown, who has spent years researching shame. She says, “If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
HIM: Fortunately, you are that person for me, and I hope I am for you. And we are most attracted to non-judgmental, empathetic people in the lifestyle. Like Jane and Roberto, for example — a couple we’ve known for three years, but had only soft-swapped with. When we got naked in our backyard pool last weekend, he announced out of nowhere that he had a confession to make. He circled around the subject for a bit before telling us he had always felt sexually intimidated by you. It was an unfamiliar feeling for him: in his professional life, he’s very successful. People look up to him. Yet with you, he worries about failure and the shame that would result.
HER: It was a touching moment. I never would have guessed that Roberto experienced self-doubt, what with his Ivy League degree and his big cock, yet there he was, actually shaking a little as he told us. His vulnerability made me want him more — not out of pity, but because of the intimacy of his confession. I also recognized your story in his anxiety about performing for me. That afternoon, the four of us had resoundingly successful full-swap sex for the first time. I think his confession gave him permission to be authentic: to ‘fail’ without fear, if that’s what happened. Giving voice to his fear to a judgement-free audience took away the power that shame had over him. He performed like a champ!
HIM: I’ll say. It seemed like every time I looked over Roberto was taking you from a different position. Whatever spell you had unknowingly cast on him in the past had been definitively broken by a simple act of honesty.
HER: That is the beauty of our approach to non-monogamy. We’ve developed deep friendships over years of honest, open communication. We really love our friends, and that fosters the kind of sexual connection that breaks the power of shame.
HIM: Instead of measuring ourselves against the rigid ideals of Agent 007 and Our Lady of Perpetual Abstinence, we can focus on the serious business of exploring pleasure together.