What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.
My husband is not someone who most people would call vulnerable. He isn’t exactly a John Wayne stoic type, nor is he a staunch traditionalist, but he certainly tried not to show weakness. He didn’t much let on when things were rough at work or when he was feeling troubled, preferring to keep it to himself. He thought it was better not to bother me with things, even though he always helped me shoulder my burdens.
This was frustrating, of course. I always wanted to be there for him. We’re a partnership.
You’ll notice a lot of this is past tense. That’s because he’s gotten better at opening up, and sharing, and at letting himself show weakness. And like many things, this started in the bedroom.
When my husband first started to really get into bondage with me, there was surprisingly little reluctance. He let himself be blindfolded, tied up, whipped and spanked. Of course, this was a physical thing for him: he enjoyed it, and loved the sex borne from it. But it also showed him something important: it was okay to show weakness.
What started in the bedroom has bloomed throughout our whole relationship. He talks more about what’s going on, and lets me in when he is sad or scared or frustrated.
I don’t think we’re alone. Letting yourself be vulnerable in the most intimate possible setting, when you open your body to another person, is one of the most moving and bonding things you can do. Vulnerability in the bedroom is a gateway to true, deep intimacy. It allows you to know the other person, to know yourself, and to join together in ways you never thought possible.
Why We’re Bad at Vulnerability
The essence of being human is that [...] one is prepared in the end to be defeated and broken up by life, which is the inevitable price of fastening one's love upon other human individuals.
George Orwell wasn’t exactly a cheerful writer, and his romantic life was challenging, but he got to the heart of why we’re so scared to be vulnerable. We’re all fragile, and we all can be hurt as well as hurtful, and at the end of the day, we’re mortal. You will lose someone. At some point your heart will break.
In order to protect ourselves from that, we close ourselves up. We mask emotions with irony or distance, we hurt people before they hurt us, and we don’t let ourselves be fully vulnerable. We pretend it is a self-defense mechanism, but it hurts us more than anything else. It hurts our relationships.
Here’s an example of this. On wedding days, the couple traditionally cuts a cake. They feed it to each other. It’s a symbol of joining lives, of saying what we have is ours together, down to the most elemental aspect of our lives.
Or, well, that’s the idea. Usually the couple ends up mashing it in each other’s face, and they laugh, and the crowd laughs. It’s become expected. It’s a food fight! But really, it turns an opportunity for vulnerability and intimacy into performative comedy.
You might think that’s curmudgeonly of me to use as an example. We all enjoy that scene at weddings, and if we saw a couple trembling with each other, genuinely giving of themselves as they place a delicate piece of their shared cake onto each other’s tongues, we may get uncomfortable.
But so what? Why does everything have to be a show? A show is the opposite of true art, the soul-dance between lovers. To achieve this, we have to be vulnerable. And it can start tonight.
Vulnerability is Different Than Submission
Think about the first time you have sex with a partner. There is usually the rush of passion, the thrumming thrill that this is actually happening, and of course the raw physical excitement. There is also vulnerability—after all, you are showing someone your naked body for the first time, and you aren’t sure how the sex will be—but that is more nerves, and it is usually overwhelmed by lust.
From there, you are rarely actually vulnerable. You get to know each other’s bodies, feasting on their earthly delights, and as time goes by and you really know each other you are comfortable. That’s great—you want to be comfortable with your love. But comfort can turn into a kind of callus, hardening you, and preventing you from fully experiencing the deepest bonds of intimacy.
That’s where bondage, BDSM, and other forms of restraint play can come in.
Let’s say you have gotten your bondage gear for the holidays, or one of our sex toy kits for date night. You dim the lights, put on some candles, and tie up your partner. Maybe it is a beginner’s bondage set, soft handcuffs and a blindfold. Or maybe you have a cuffs and tethers kit, that can attach easily to a bed or chair.
They are tied up. They can’t really move their arms or legs, and are open to you in every way. They might be blindfolded—but, lying there naked, there is nothing to hide. There’s no way to hide. Every sensation, from pain to pleasure, could be felt at any moment (depending as always upon what you have agreed to).
When my husband is like this, I’ll sometimes drag our S&M Crystal Whip slowly up the inside of one of his legs, toward his crotch. He’ll feel the leather and the beads move on his tingling flesh, and know that at any moment I could flick my wrist and kiss him with a stinging crack. Or I may use a feather tickler to torment and tease him, sending him into shuddering paroxysms. Or, I may decide to take him into my mouth.
There is obviously an erotic thrill in all of this. But as we did it more, there was something else. There was trust. He put his trust in me. He put himself in my hands. He said: I can be weak around you. I can be scared. I can tremble, and you can control my emotions. You can have them, because I need you, and I need you to know who I am and what I want.
Most people don’t have that in their daily lives. We put up walls, and we play-act roles. We’re the Boss, or we’re the Co-Worker, or we’re the Busy Parent. We create personas, and we become one. We even have personas as Husband, Wife, Partner. We even have a Lover persona, which may not be who we are, deep down, but rather who we think we should be as a lover.
BDSM, restraint play, and even (paradoxically) role play, can change that. By allowing yourself to be truly vulnerable, you aren’t just opening up your legs. You’re opening up your heart. You are handing your heart to someone else and saying “this is who I am, naked and unafraid. Though I may tremble, I have no fear. I have erased the fears and doubts that come with life and love, and have replaced them with trust, with openness, and with the vulnerability of finally being myself. I am bonded and I am free.”
This has changed our life. We are vulnerable even during so-called “vanilla” sex. We talk more, and he tells me what is going on beneath those furrowed brows he no longer tries to hide. We share. We’re partners. We’re tied together.