- Sexual secrets are common.
- Create a safe and trusting environment.
- Not everyone is comfortable sharing the same level of detail about their sex life, so respect boundaries.
Almost everyone has at least one sexual secret, a piece of relevant information withheld from partners. Most sexual secrets fall into one of three categories: partner histories, arousal preferences, and fantasies. Sometimes the secret is an affair, which is a category unto itself.
Why do people keep secrets from each other? Most fear their partners would be disturbed or turned off by the undisclosed information. A man who fantasizes about making love to two women—a very common male fantasy—might think his partner would be jealous, threatened, or repulsed.
Another man who is very aroused by having his nipples stimulated may not tell his partner what he wants because he thinks his preference is unmanly. A woman might not tell her husband she masturbates because she fears he would feel emasculated or consider her oversexed if he knew. Even faking an orgasm is a form of a secret, the secret being the person did not have the response they feigned to have.
Fear of Being Judged Often Reigns
Sometimes these fears grow out of negative sex attitudes learned in childhood. Shame and furtiveness often accompany sexual experimentation in adolescence. As adults in intimate relationships, some of us continue to behave as though our sexual thoughts and feelings were shameful.
People may withhold sexual information out of fear of rejection, too. They may be anxious about their fantasies or desires and project that anxiety on the partner who, they fear, couldn’t possibly love them if the truth were known.
Or they may consider the partner less adventuresome than they are and keep their secrets to protect the other’s sensibilities. Many people are reluctant to share their fantasies for these reasons.
Keeping quiet about a sexual past is another matter. Former lovers, a homosexual experience, use of prostitutes, or participation in one-night stands or group sex may or may not be relevant to the present relationship, depending on the level of health risk and whether the behavior is recurring or not. Some people also withhold a history of rape or sexual abuse, partly because discussing the episode would be painful.
Taking a Chance, Or Not
Should you share sexual secrets with your partner? There are good reasons for doing so—and a few bad ones. Telling your partner about your fantasies and desires can promote a better understanding of your sexual needs and open the door to similar confessions from him or her.
Mutual sharing can enhance the relationship by opening the channels of communication, helping heal past hurts, and possibly expanding your lovemaking to include those hidden desires. Most people can handle sexual secrets better than their partners think they can.
What Men and Women Say About Sexual Secrets
From a 38-year-old man:
My wife and I were separated for six months. During that time, I had brief liaisons with a dozen women. When I got back with my wife, I didn’t tell her about the other women until we had our first big fight. She accused me of being selfish in bed and I retorted, ‘Selfish! I had a dozen women during the months we were apart. None of those women had any complaints. Selfish, my ass. You’re never satisfied, that’s your problem.’ We were in counseling for months after that.
A 33-year-old woman says:
John and I were together for three years before I considered telling him something I had never told anyone. I told him because I wanted him to understand me better. He frequently asked me to give him oral sex and I resisted. John thought I didn’t love him enough. There was another reason. When I was a child, my mother left me with a male babysitter. One day this guy talked me into oral sex. I did it because I was frightened, and I wanted him to like me. I gagged and felt terrible afterward. He never made me do it again, but the experience scared me. When I told John, he was understanding. The tension between us evaporated. Eventually, I was comfortable with performing oral sex on him.
A 50-year-old man says:
I cheated on my wife in our early years together, but I have never told her. We are approaching our twenty-fifth anniversary together. She would only be hurt by that information. It might ease my conscience, but at what cost to her? I keep my silence.
And a 39-year-old woman says:
I have never told the men in my life about my fantasies. They are often wild and sometimes violent. I fantasize being whipped and whipping, having sex with more than one man and with a woman. My fantasies are like something that would be censored on cable. I am not exactly guilty about them, but I’m not proud. And if I told a man, he might get the wrong idea about what I am really like in bed. Not like that.
The Five Keys to Sharing Sexual Secrets
- Think before you share. Examine your motives for sharing a sexual secret. Are they good ones?
- Give yourself a break. Your fantasies and desires don’t make you a terrible person. Stop being your own worst sexual critic.
- Initiate the discussion in a non-threatening way. Use “I” statements and express your feelings. Your partner may be threatened by disclosures that make him or her feel inadequate.
- Help your partner share in return. If you have a hidden desire or secret fantasy, isn’t it reasonable to assume your partner does too? Don’t insist on a quid pro quo swap of secrets, but do encourage an exchange of wish lists.
- Give it more than one try. Sharing may be awkward for you or your partner or both. Don’t let discomfort discourage you from opening up again.