Being a sex therapist often feels a lot like being a sleuth. Couples come to me hoping I can figure out what’s blocking the joy in their sexual relationship.
Frequently, it comes down to unearthing secrets that the partners are keeping from one another. Unexpressed feelings about bad smells falls squarely into the “secrets” category.
When I first meet with a couple, I see them together. But if they decide to work with me, the next two meetings usually just me and the partners, one and then the other. During these individual meetings, each partner gets a chance to share anything that feels too difficult or hurtful or private to bring up if front of their partner.
A good example of this might be something traumatic that they have not told the other person — a sexual assault, for instance. Or they might reveal something else about their sexual history that they have not disclosed, like the number of past partners they’ve had, or an old love that they still think about frequently.
But no matter what the secret is, good almost always comes from sharing and exploring material that has been under-wraps.
We professionals are trained to get to the heart of difficult feelings. Clients can waste a lot of time pursuing psychotherapy that is not based on the truth.
When most people think of secrets between couples, immediately comes to mind is that one or the other person is having an emotional or sexual affair outside the marriage. Other kinds of things may be a secret desire, or undisclosed issues with gender or sexual orientation, or not feeling attracted to a partner because of changes related to aging or weight.
Some of these secrets are extremely sensitive and complicated, and the therapy might be heart-wrenching or time consuming. But it’s worth doing.
Undisclosed issues with scent are probably the easiest and most uncomplicated to work with. Still, several things make giving feedback about aroma intimidating.
First of all, we’ve been trained to think that talking about sex is “dirty.” Secondly, most of us have been taught that it is important to be kind to the person we love, so we’re afraid to say something that might be hurtful to them. Thirdly, for some of us who have become turned off or uninterested in sex, we just haven’t taken the time to understand what it is that is the turnoff.
In one recent couple’s session, a man who had gotten involved with watching pornography was exploring what made him so uninterested in sexual experience with his partner. Porn is so visual that getting stuck on it tends to make sensitivity to smells, tastes, and touches recede.
I think all three of us in the room were startled when this man realized that he did not like the way his partner smelled — not because of any body odor, but because he was sensitive to smells and he did not like the scent of her face cream and hair products.
That was one of the easiest secrets I have ever unearthed.
What is more common is secret bad feelings about a partner’s breath, body odor, or sexual secretions.
Even though bringing up this topic can be daunting, it’s worth doing. The key is to not blurt it out during a sexual interlude or during a time when you are talking about other critical and upsetting matters.
Make a date to have the discussion, and give your partner a head’s up that the matter you want to discuss is sensitive.
When you sit down to talk, sit close together, and have some physical contact, like holding hands. Even though the “sandwich method” seems to be falling out of favor in the corporate world, I still think it has some merit when it comes to giving sexual feedback.
So I would make sure to give feedback about smells along with sharing things you love about the other person’s body and sexuality. Just be gentle and loving, and everything will turn out fine.
Most body odor problems can be solved by paying closer attention to hygiene. Some of them may require a trip to a doctor or dentist to make sure that there is no incipient infection.
Trust me, tackling the issue of problematic sexual smells will be a lifestyle improvement.
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