A Review of YOUR SEXUAL SECRETS: When to Keep Them, When and How to Tell
by Marty Klein
New York: E.P.Dutton
Review Copyright © 1988 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
What have you never told your closest partner about you and sex? Some people believe they shouldn't masturbate, and may even join censorship groups in order to hide the fact that they do; some women are so embarrassed about having sexual desires that they won't ask their men to go down on them, and they never come; some men are so anxious about having homosexual fantasies that they become impotent with their women. In fact, almost all people have thought, felt, done, or imagined doing something sexual that they keep secret.
Why? According to Palo Alto sex therapist Marty Klein, we were trained as children to think of sexual activity, sexual feelings, sexual body parts, and even sexual thoughts as dirty or bad. At the same time, while growing up we discovered through our own natural explorations that sex was lots and lots of fun. In our childish confusion we decided to keep quiet about the pleasure we derived from our sexuality in order to avoid punishment or other disapproval from the adults around us. Sometimes we hid our sexuality even from ourselves. Unfortunately, most of us never completely outgrew our confusion. Consequently, "We live in a world that encourages sexual secrets. These secrets don't protect us or make our lives better the way they are supposed to. On the contrary, these secrets only cripple our true sexual self, which is hidden, ignored, denied, and distorted."
When we keep our sexual selves secret we keep our lovers from knowing who we really are, and thereby make it impossible for them to accept us as we really are. If they cannot accept us they cannot satisfy us, no matter how hard they try. Unsatisfied, we grow irritated, angry, frustrated, and resentful and so do they. Our relationships founder, and "everyone feels guilty."
In Your Sexual Secrets it is Marty Klein's mission to free people from sexual guilt, and to liberate our sexual selves by teaching us how to break the barriers of silence we have erected between our loved ones and ourselves, or even between ourselves and ourselves. "Your willingness to look at the many illusions surrounding sexual secrecy, and their costs," he writes, "is a crucial step toward improving your sexual satisfaction and relationship. Anyone willing to do that will be rewarded by a deeper, more satisfying relationship."
In the first three chapters of this book, Klein examines the "Anatomy of a Sexual Secret." He explains what a sexual secret is, what effects it has on our lives, and what values it may have to us as individuals and to what he calls our "puritanical society." In the next four chapters Klein examines a collection of "Common Sexual Secrets," such as those concerning arousal and response, fantasies and feelings, the past, and deliberate deceptions. Klein recognizes that sometimes some people may choose to keep some of their sexual secrets; and even though he thinks that on the whole this is not a good idea, he discusses a few reasons keeping secrets might possibly be beneficial on occasion. In the last four chapters Klein addresses the question, "To Share or Not to Share," exploring when people should share their secrets, how we can prepare to let the cats out of the bags, what to do if we decide to keep our secrets, and how parents and children can discuss sexual matters in a healthy, supportive, non-secretive manner.
One of the most compelling reasons people keep sexual secrets, Klein says, is that virtually all of us are afraid we are not normal. And one of the most compelling reasons he offers to give away our secrets is that this fear itself is built on myths. Our secrets become much less important when it turns out everyone has the same ones.
"Let's start with a simple checklist that illustrates the wide range of sexually normal behavior," Klein proposes. "You are not abnormal, just because you:
* Have sex once a day, or once every three months
* Have only one sex partner in a lifetime, or a dozen different ones each year
* Masturbate every day, or not at all regardless of marital status
* Think about someone other than your partner during sex even someone quite off-limits
* Never fantasize about others
* Prefer oral or manual sex to intercourse, or vice versa
* Enjoy many different positions, or the same routine every time
* Are ashamed of your body, or proud of it
* Feel excited or depressed about the sexual changes aging brings, or not notice any changes
* Experience your sexual preferences and feelings change during the course of a month, or a year
* Have erection or orgasm problems
* Find it difficult to discuss your feelings or preferences, even with the person to whom you are closest
* Have been victimized through rape, forced sex, or childhood molestation
* Wonder if you're normal
"There would be less anguish in today's world if more people knew they were sexually normal," he asserts.
Discussing some of the ways in which keeping sexual secrets damages us, Klein recalls one client, a 39-year-old man who was extremely frightened of sex, although he did not see his problem as one of fear.
Jack was against school sex education because he felt it encouraged kids to have sex. He wanted homosexuals jailed or "cured" so they couldn't seduce heterosexuals. He tried to stop the private rental of X-rated videos so that people would not get "sick ideas" about lovemaking. And he believed only married people should have access to contraception.
Jack's deep wish to restrict other people's sexual expression was a statement about himself. He was clearly afraid of the power of sexuality particularly his own. To deal with his fear he had, unconsciously, made this dangerous sexuality into an external object. Because this "object" came from within himself, he saw the danger everywhere.
Jack reminds Klein of the Indian story about a man who was so unhappy when he saw his shadow that he decided to run away from it. No matter how fast he ran, of course, the shadow stayed with him, and finally the man fell down and died from exhaustion. Like the man in the fable, it was a part of himself that Jack was trying to run away from, and "You can't, after all, run away from your shadow."
One of the most delightful features of Your Sexual Secrets is that it is packed with real stories such as Jack's. By using real case histories from his own files (with names and circumstances changed to protect people's identities), as well as occasional anecdotes from the writings of other sex therapists, Klein offers clear, easily understood explanations for the most common sorts of sexual problems. He responds with warmth and empathy, gracing his advice with gentle good humor, so that almost anyone should be able to feel at ease examining the sexual thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences he or she has decided no one else should ever know. If it is as easy to have a counseling session with Klein as it is to read his book, the line of clients waiting to see him ought to stretch all the way up and down El Camino Real from San Jose to San Francisco. And while you're standing there, you can always read the book.
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