Is It Time To Stop Talking About Sex?
Is the secret to good sex… keeping it secret?
So, the big question. The one every polyamorous person will hear eventually. The one we ask you all to move on from.
"How does the sex work?"
Well, at long last, I'm going to give in and tell you. That's right, the big secret. The dirty little secret of polyamory that none of us wants to admit. The revelation of how sex works when you are dating multiple people.
How the sex works is…
… a secret.
And isn't it more exciting that way?
Why don't we talk about sex more openly?
Sex is amazing. And it's natural. And, whatever your personal opinion on the matter, it's simply a part of life. We need sex, end of the story. Get rid of sex, and say goodbye to the human race.
So why isn't it more celebrated?
Firstly there is society's innate prudishness. One doesn't talk about… (whispers)… sex. It's simply not done. We infer. I think it might actually be why metaphor and simile were invented. To prevent us from ever opening having to mention… (whispers)… sex.
There is also the issue of consent. We might be comfortable discussing what we got up to last weekend, and our friends might be eager to hear about our escapades between the sheets. But I can't always know for certain what my partner would be comfortable with me sharing.
But what if there is another reason.
Because I can't help feeling that if we, as a society, were completely open and blasé about sex, that it would lose a certain something.
So here's my question: Does keeping sex secret make it more exciting?
Are secrets good for a relationship?
A large part of the appeal of a relationship is intimacy. There is a huge ego boost in someone sharing something with you that they are don't with everyone else.
We are more likely to share secrets with those to whom we are close, but sharing secrets can also make us feel closer to others. Sharing increasingly intimate secrets facilitates liking among strangers (Aron et al., 1997). Further, sharing secrets is associated with increased relationship satisfaction and relationship quality in romantic couples (Frijns et al., 2013; Sprecher and Hendrick, 2004). Sharing sexual secrets, especially about one's sexual desires, further increases couples' sexual satisfaction (MacNeil and Byers, 2009).
But, before the accusations of hypocrisy come pouring in, this exclusivity doesn't mean monogamy. Or even necessarily sex. We also share intimacies with those who are close to us in other ways.
Friendships hold just as much capacity for intimacy as romantic relationships. It's why people who often start out as friends wind up as lovers and why lovers seek friends to confide in when romance falters.
This is the difference between acquaintances, friends, and Best Friends. The level of intimacy we're prepared to share with them. I'm lucky enough to have a good-sized circle of friends. But only with one or two of those would I feel comfortable telling anything about my life.
So, just as friendships are closer depending on how much we share with those people, sexual relationships create another kind of intimacy. And that intimacy is something we want to focus on and keep to ourselves.
But this doesn't mean refusing to discuss sex at all
When people argue that you should never discuss sex in public, they are obviously wrong. But is there a misunderstood grain of truth in this idea?
If sharing secrets truly does make us feel closer to someone else, does keeping sex between those directly involved make it better?
We should all be more open about sex. That's just a simple fact. But is there a line between being open about sex in general while keeping a veil over the specifics of our personal sex lives?
I've tried to find research on this but haven't been able to find anything. I can find studies showing that keeping secrets within a relationship is a bad thing, but none on the effects of keeping sex secret from those outside of a relationship. (Other than, of course, all the toxic websites that argue sex should never be discussed, full stop.)
And so that means you all get my personal conclusions instead.
The studies I quoted above make it clear that sharing secrets is good for a romantic relationship. As is sharing secrets about our sexual fantasies and desires.
But these facts do not mean your sex life must be kept hidden from the world.
They also don't mean you need to share them with the world, either.
Everyone is free to create the level of intimacy and secrecy they want. It's up to you to find the balance that works for you.
Relationships are not a one-size-fits-all thing. Instead, we should each be constructing them around ourselves and our partners.
And as part of that, you get to decide how open you want to be about your sex life.
You might decide to be happy for everyone to know what you get up to. You might decide to let people know about some things, but keep other parts to yourselves. Or you might decide to keep it all under the veil.
So, how *does* the sex work?
Okay, I promised you an answer didn't I?
Ultimately, I feel there is something exciting about keeping my sex life private. But, at the same time, I have a circle of friends who I include in that privacy. I'm not ashamed of my sex life, and want to share it.
Just not with everyone.
But what do you think? Even once we remove the stigma that surrounds sex, is it still beneficial to keep a layer of mystery around it?