There’s a myth that sexual confidence and being adventurous in bed are synonyms.
I think they’re related, but only tangentially, and I think the fact that we equate them is part of the problem.
In October and November we’re talking about sexual confidence. We’ve looked at what it means to be a sexually confident woman and a sexually confident man. We’ve looked at sexual confidence at menopause; when you’re married to a porn user; or just when you’re embarrassed at being female. And more are listed in the box below this post!
But I want to go back to first principles today and talk about what sexual confidence and adventurousness have to do with each other. And to do that, we need to remember what sex is supposed to be about.
Biblically, sex is intimate, mutual, and pleasurable for both.
Or, to put it in the terms that we’re using in the upcoming Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, and that I’ve used in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, it should be emotionally, spiritually, AND physically intimate.
In other words, it’s not just a physical experience.
But what often happens with sex is that we develop a very depersonalized and dehumanizing view of it–almost a pornographic style of relating (as Andrew Bauman says). We see sex as pretty much entirely about experiencing something physically, rather than experiencing more of each other. And then, if we want it to be more intense, the only thing we can do is to push physical boundaries and try more and more things.
I’m not saying that being adventurous is bad; but sometimes the way we go about it ends up causing rifts between us rather than causing us to grow together. It’s like we’re using each other for a sexual high, rather than having the deep pull for connection fuel that sexual high and that desire to be adventurous.
When you’re merely using each other for pleasure, then sex becomes depersonalized.
When you’re connecting in every way, then sex becomes an expression of who you are together.
What I’ve been trying to explain for years is that it’s emotional vulnerability that actually fuels passion.
When you feel like you’re truly known, and like you truly know your spouse, then there’s this drive to consume each other, to devour each other, in the best sense of the word. It’s why the “hottest” sex often happens after a fight or after a huge loss. You’ve been so vulnerable with each other that you feel this drive to connect in every way that’s possible, and that becomes expressed sexually.
When we focus on becoming adventurous, we’re often putting the cart before the horse.
You can force adventurousness (I mean you can pressure yourself into it; if you ever feel pressured or coerced by your spouse, that is not okay. That is sexual abuse, and please seek help through a domestic violence hotline or a licensed counselor).
But you can tell yourselves, “we’re going to try X because X is supposed to be fun”, or “we should be trying new things and Y is something that people like so we should try Y.” And you may even find that you like X and Y. But often one person, or both, will end up feeling empty afterwards if that’s the way that it grows. If you’re looking at trying new things, and you do it because you’re supposed to or because you just want to try the act, then it can feel, well, off somehow.
But if instead you’re feeling really close to each other, you may often be so relaxed that you naturally try new things–not that you have to. But when you feel close, you’re both more likely to be satisfied with the sexual things you do enjoy, and more likely to have your guard down to try other things.
The key to healthy adventure is not confidence per se but safety and trust.
Trying new things requires vulnerability. You feel awkward. You’re not sure you’re going to do it right. What if he (or she) really likes it and you don’t? Are you able to speak up and say, “No, not for me?” What if you like it too much and they don’t? Or even, what if it hurts?
To try new things, you need to know that your spouse isn’t going to critique you and tell you you’re doing it wrong. They’re not going to insist on it again if you say, “Nope, I don’t like that.”
They’re going to honor you. And when you have a relationship like that, where a spouse can accept a no, but also not feel like when you’re trying something you’re being judged, then it’s much easier to try new things!
When you don’t have a relationship like that, then it can feel like you’re play-acting. And that’s not intimate at all. That’s depersonalizing. And that’s when sex can get ugly.
Sexual confidence is about being confident in who you are; sexual adventurousness is more feeling safe with who you are together.
Both things have to go in tandem. So it may be that a supremely confident woman, who feels safe in her marriage and loves her husband, may truly enjoy sex, and may be making her way to being regularly orgasmic, but she still may not like her nipples touched. It just does nothing for her. And because she’s confident, and because she feels safe, she feels able to tell him so that they concentrate on what does work for her.
And a confident woman who feels safe may also want to try a variety of positions to find out what feels good. She may be able to put caution to the wind, in a way, because she’s not worried if she’s doing this right or if she looks silly or if her fat is jiggling, and she’s able to just enjoy being with her husband and seeing what they can feel together.
She still has preferences, and even no-go things, and she’s able to express those, but she’s also able to try new things.
Does your marriage need some spicing up–and some fun?
What bothers me is that sexual confidence often seems equated with having no inhibitions.
I think this is one thing that bothered me reading Married Sex by Gary Thomas and Deb Fileta. They were praising women who threw off inhibitions–who would text nude photos; get Brazilian waxes; try multiple positions and give oral sex. They knew that their bodies enthralled their husbands so they held nothing back. They had sex outside in the garden at night; they slept naked. They had sex several times a day. So many, many anecdotes and examples praising women who were completely sexually available and ravenous.
But sexual confidence does not mean getting rid of proper modesty (there are very good, practical, safe reasons for not wanting to text nude photos, and no one should ever feel like the person texting the nude photos is more confident than the woman who says no). There are good reasons for not wanting to sleep naked. There are good reasons for not wanting to have sex with the windows open or out in the garden at night (much depends on where you live!).
I think we’ve developed a cheap shortcut to sexual confidence in an attempt to make it sound like Christians don’t have shame about sex anymore. But it’s not a question of whether or not we have shame about sex; it’s a question of how confident you feel in yourself (which means confidence in being able to express preferences), and the trust and safety you feel in your relationship. And it’s that realization that true passion doesn’t stem from the specific act, but instead from the amount of safety and trust you share.
I’m all for trying new things. But there’s a reason that in our book 31 Days to Great Sex the adventurous stuff comes AFTER you build emotional connection. There’s a reason that in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex we answer the questions of what we think is permissible in a Christian marriage NOT in the physical intimacy section of the books, but in the spiritual intimacy sections of the books. The issue is not a physical high; the issue is feeling safe and secure and building intimacy, rather than detracting from intimacy.
I’m all for adventurousness–as long as it is an expression of intimacy flowing from safety and security, and not a shortcut or pseudo-intimacy. And I hope the dichotomy makes sense!
Do we emphasize adventurousness too much? Do you think I’ve found the right balance here with sexual confidence? Let’s talk in the comments!
Other Posts in the Sexual Confidence Series:
- 3 Markers of Sexual Confidence (especially in women)
- 4 Markers of a Sexually Confident Man
- Knowing that Sex is for You Too
- How to Feel Confident when You're Married to a Porn User
- Did You Grow up Embarrassed to Be Female?
- 5 Keys to Sexual Confidence after Menopause
- 4 Keys to Sexual Confidence as the Higher Drive Wife
- Sexual Confidence Doesn't Mean You're Willing to Try Anything in Bed
- Do you need to get angry at what purity culture stole from you?
- What We Didn't Know about the Clitoris
- Let's Talk Vulvas! Feeling confident about your genitals
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Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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