Want to rock his or her world? Start with opening up to your raw, tender truth and paying full attention to each moment.
Lingerie. Toys. Bondage. G-spot or prostate massage. A sexy vacation where you gnosh wantonly on chocolate, strawberries, and each other. You might think all of these are powerful and novel antidotes to a blah sex life, but the fix you’re looking for is simultaneously much simpler and way more demanding than any of the above. If you’re in need of an intimacy overhaul, give up the search for bells and whistles. Instead, try vulnerability on for size.
My exploration of vulnerability has been an intentional journey that has softened, melted, and transformed my previously intractable (and I mean really intractable) heart. Along the way, I’ve sulked, resisted, and resorted to some pretty bizarre defense mechanisms. But throughout it all, I’ve come to recognize something fundamental: There is nothing more sexually magnetic than a man or woman who has embraced their vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the experience, equal parts exhilarating and terrifying, of raw, often completely unglamorous honesty with ourselves and each other. It contains a spectrum of possibilities: the sense of being out of control and exposed, deep serenity and communion with the universe, the shakiness of unfamiliar emotions, and the bottomless reservoir of our own tenderness. It’s about washing away the “sexy” façade, peeling off the layers (including corsets and garter belts), and being present with our most naked self.
It is so damn difficult because it requires our willingness to be in the moment exactly as it is, not as we wish it to be. Vulnerability asks for our courage to fish out the grimy, slimy, none-too-charming parts of ourselves—and to regard them as eminently worthy and deserving of love.
Letting yourself be fully seen by a lover can be messy. It’s scary, after all, to show people all of us—not just the parts we can afford to be a little pompous about, but the stunted parts: the aspects of our personalities that have languished like malformed children locked in an attic. The stuff we perceive as failures, shortcomings, irrational compulsions, and illicit desires.
In the first three months of dating my boyfriend, I had a breakdown of the breakthrough variety. After a particularly intense volunteer training with a shelter for survivors of domestic violence, I needed to decompress. At that time, my version of “decompressing” meant going to a party and drinking heavily, which ended in a weepy confrontation with my boyfriend—complete with revelations about my own past experiences of abuse, and the walloping admission that I was feeling overwhelmed. Decompression was usually followed by hangdog shame for having let myself fall to pieces in front of this shiny new person whom I really wanted to impress.
I was mortified. After all, we were still in the process of getting to know each other. I wanted him to fall in love with the version of me that was confident, attractive, and stable. What made it even worse was the fact that I could tell he was rattled by my revelations. After we parted ways that night, I was positive he would break up with me. Why wouldn’t he? He now knew my dirty little secret: I wasn’t a perfect, self-contained box of awesome sauce. I crumbled pathetically under pressure. And I was one of those chicks who’d just dished out the worst kind of confession—that of the drunken, tearful variety.
Amazingly, this marked a turning point in our relationship for the better. It was the moment we passed the baseline of shallow attraction and made it to intimacy. In fact, allowing the chinks in my armor to be more conspicuous let my boyfriend see a depth and a delicacy that made me far from weak in his eyes—it made me ferocious and real.
Vulnerability is often associated with responding to uncomfortable situations, but it is also tied to asking for what we want and moving toward it. And moving toward pleasure takes practice. This is particularly true for women, who have a tendency to place other people’s needs before our own—and in some cases, to expect the skies to magically open and rain down their largesse without our having to articulate what it is we most desire.
Many of us don’t even know what we most desire. And when it comes to sex, most of us never get beyond the goal-oriented ethos that imprisons us in a rigid routine: Penis in vagina leads to ejaculation and orgasm. When this model leaves us scratching our heads, wondering why we aren’t experience the crashing waves of orgasmic bliss that sex gurus, books, and movies have promised us, we think, “Maybe it’s my fault,” or, “Maybe there’s something wrong with him.”
Instead of blaming yourself or your partner, keep calm and recalibrate. The extent to which your sex life can drastically improve is directly in proportion to your ability to pay attention. In the arena of sexuality, everything is available, from high-intensity, harder-and-faster fucking, to deep “spiritual” sex that focuses on the inclusion of breath and nuanced touch. An extraordinary sex life runs the gamut. But it starts and ends with your attention, which is a moment-to-moment experience.
I believe the reason we gun toward climax is that we haven’t cultivated our capacity to welcome and savor the full experience of pleasure—which requires connecting with the moment rather than rushing toward the orgasmic finish line. And pleasure can be just as vulnerable as pain. Vulnerability in sex might seem like a tall order, but it’s exactly the same as being in the moment—putting all your attention on what’s happening here and now. You allow yourself to be seen, and you open yourself up to seeing another—no muss, no fuss, no extra frills.
When we are able to hold our attention in one place, our minds do not need to scramble for new things to look at and think about. This means that we can finally recognize and discover greater depths to our own beauty, as well as that of our partner.
In simply being who you are, you can allow our partner the space to do the same. You learn to open the portal of continuous discovery and feed a slow fire that is always building. This is what true freedom—and therefore, the expression of genuine desire and intimacy—is built on.
Nirmala Nataraj is an award-winning writer, editor, desire coach, and self-described taboo slayer living in New York.