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The Secret Question That Creates Intimacy

It's not your worst fear or what you'd eat before an execution.

There's one question I know of that will create unusual intimacy—if you and your confidante answer it spontaneously and listen to each other with courtesy and compassion.

Save this for a close friend you'd like to know better, or a date or lover.

Drumroll, here it is: "What is your earliest memory connected to sex in any way?"

The key here is early memories, from when you were small.

By the time we reach age seven, we forget most events from our past. Although scientists don't really know why, the loss of memories may have to do with growing language skills. At age six, children can remember more events from their past than they will a year later. But by seven, they can describe the memories that remain in more detail.

As an adult, your earliest memory is likely to be a fragment from about age three or four. And you may well remember it in surprising detail.

Calling a memory from that young "sexual" requires some explanation. When I first heard that question, I immediately thought of the Pillsbury dough boy. You can learn all about him from a General Mills executive in this video. Everyone who watched American TV in the 1960s and 1970s remembers this puffy little white guy. At the end of each commercial, he got poked in his belly by a very big finger, which made an indent—and he'd giggle. He was a living dinner roll.

My memory: I was in a car dreaming that I was the finger, about to poke the Pillsbury dough boy, when my father infuriatingly woke me up by tickling me in the underarm. Probably we had arrived at our destination, and it was time for me to get out of the car. He liked to wake me up in this way.

Don't ask the earliest-sexual-memory question in any circumstances when strong emotions would be inappropriate—like at a party when everyone is drunk. The question can often arouse strong feelings and it's essential to give yourself and others room to notice them.

In my case, it's anger.

Get away from my underarm, Daddy. I'm busy. I'm poking, not you.

I wanted to be the finger, not the pokee.

Maybe you can guess where this goes. I was positive at three or four or whenever this was that it was better to poke than be poked.

I was mad. I can still feel my rage.

So your earliest memory related to sex in any way could actually be about gender, not sexual activity, or perhaps a pleasurable sensation like lying in the sun. There's no right or wrong answer to this question, and you might be older.

Just go with your first response and encourage your confidante to do the same. Focus on the primary emotion.

If your partner balks at the question, you can instead ask "What is your earliest memory?" Often the earliest memory is the earliest sexual memory. Any early memory is an emotional motherlode.

The point of this exercise is to get to know yourself better and to experience another person accepting you.

Be open to surprises.

Take the fact that my earliest memory contains anger. l don't have an anger problem. I may have a lack-of-anger problem. My supporters are always encouraging me to get angry at situations that I respond to with compassion for others and sadness on my own. But when I do get angry, I'm powerful. My girlish voice gets waaaay deeper. I'm taller, too.

You might learn that your earliest sexual memory is of intense pleasure even though you've now lost interest in sex. That might tell you something useful. What changed?

I learned about this question in workshops for a peer counseling program called Re-evaluation Counselling or Co-Counselling. It was considered a gateway to memories of sexual abuse or other kinds of early hurts.

So go lightly and don't ask this question five minutes before you're about to leave for the evening. Treat it with respect.

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