DEAR DR. JENN,
I tell my best friends everything. But when my boyfriend found out I’ve been talking about our sex life, he was pissed and asked me to stop. The thing is: it’s my sex life too, and I process out loud. Don’t plenty of women share those details? What should I do? —Said Too Much
DEAR SAID TOO MUCH,
It is very normal for you to want to share information with your girlfriends. Gender psychology has found that one of the ways women become close to one another is by sharing personal information and having that reciprocated. We want to know that we are not alone in our worries, struggles, and frustrations. We also want to gather information, learn new techniques, and find out what we are missing. Girlfriends can be great sources and sounding boards for all of the above. This is essentially the entire premise of Sex and the City, after all.
That said, your boyfriend has a right to privacy. And in order for you two to have a great sex life, he needs to feel safe and know that he can explore his weirdest fantasies, craziest desires, and most unflattering sex positions without worrying who will be debriefed the next day. By sharing this private information with your girlfriends, you are denying your boyfriend a safe space in the bedroom with you, which also means he’s unlikely to ask for all the things he wants. That is unfair to him, to you, and to your sex together. Part of maturity is discretion and impulse control.
I often talk about creating a “couple bubble.” In a couple bubble, you come first for each other. Your partner is the first person with whom you share information; you don’t share private details about your life together with others; you protect your relationship from others who might try to harm it in any way; and you make each other a priority. If you are worried about technique or whether something you’re doing is “normal,” those discussions need to be had with your boyfriend instead of your girlfriends. Otherwise you can always Google or talk to a professional (everything said in a therapy session is confidential). So that weird thing that happened during your sexual experimentation together? Laugh about it with each other, not with friends.
This can get murky when you’re in a new relationship and haven’t built trust with a partner-to-be yet. It can also get murky when your partner is being an asshole, which we all are now and again. We often talk to our girlfriends because we need a sounding board, want advice, or want to know if they've experienced the same things—and that’s understandable. The key is being able to differentiate between sharing salacious details of your sex life and asking a friend for feedback about a general topic when you really feel you need to. (Also, choosing which friends to open up to at all is a major part of the equation. If you’re not judging your friends’ trustworthiness shrewdly, then no wonder your boyfriend is pissed.)
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If you do seek relationship advice from a friend, keep two things in mind: One, in my experience, girlfriends can be very biased. I have seen many a girlfriend listen to her friend get worked up about a conflict that she was an equal participant in. Our friends don’t always call us on our bullshit. They are more likely to be our cheerleaders, which is nice in theory but may not be the advice we really need. Two, if you share about a fight you had in your relationship, friends and family tend to be about six-to-nine months behind in the emotional recovery process. So even when you’ve made up, your pals will still be ticked off about the fight you can't even remember anymore, and they're likely to hold it against your S.O. So if it’s really advice you’re seeking, book yourself a therapy session.
Whatever you do, don’t lie about it. Some women think, ‘I’ll just tell him I stopped but keep talking to my girlfriends and swear them to secrecy.’ Even if you have the most trustworthy friends, this is a bad idea. This whole issue at its core is about trust, and you don’t want to erode it further by lying. Instead, talk it out. If not talking to your friends about your relationships seems impossible, try to explain why and come to a compromise about what types of details are OK to share and which are off limits. One woman I know ran into this issue with her boyfriend and explained to him that she uses those conversations with trusted friends to help her understand her preferences and emotional reactions while she’s still figuring them out. She encouraged him to do the same, and he not only forgave her but learned about himself by opening up to his friends. Tone matters too—it’s cruel to tell a story about an embarrassing sex escapade gone wrong. But helping you pick out lingerie to surprise him with? Maybe that’s fine by him.
All that said, there’s a difference between your boyfriend wanting privacy and wanting secrecy because he’s trying to cover up inappropriate behavior toward you, like physical or emotional abuse. In those cases, it is of the utmost importance you speak to your support system.
In all other scenarios, let your friends know that your boyfriend is private in this area and that moving forward you’re not going to be sharing the juicy details. If they genuinely care about your happiness, they will understand. There may be an awkward period of transition, but I am sure that they will come around. This doesn't mean you can’t talk about sex at all. It just means that your conversations will be more general.
Until you figure it out, err on the side of caution. Especially with an intimate partner, we want relationships to feel safe.