Sex and money are the two top taboo topics. And why not?
They’re the two biggest conversations where we lack education. It wasn't taught in school. We didn't learn about it from our parents. We go out into the world with limited information about getting what we want – and then we bring those mistakes and miscommunications into our relationships.
What do sex and money have in common? We come into our relationships with baggage from our pasts that make our wants and needs harder to talk about. Sexual and financial shame are linked. If you can’t talk honestly about one, chances are, you’ll have trouble being honest about the other.
“Data has shown that people are more willing to talk about sex than about money, but the two share unique characteristics,” said Ramona Ortega, CEO of My Money, My Future. “They both can raise shame and judgment issues and are often associated with “public” stigmas. For example, bad credit means you are bad with money. If you're open about sex, then you must be irresponsible.”
Being able to ask for what you want in bed and feeling free to talk about your desires is one of the best predictors for lasting love in your relationship. The same goes for our finances.
Here are five compelling and somewhat scintillating reasons that frank money talks can help you become more sexually open with each other – and tips on how to make it happen.
Table of Contents
- 1 It’s all part of your “story.”
- 2 It can help you avoid “secrets.”
- 3 It can help you avoid feelings of rejection.
- 4 It can help you get through the really, really tough times.
- 5 It can help you both feel like equal partners.
- 6 How to tackle taboo conversations
- 6.1 Q&A with Ramona Ortega, CEO and Founder of My Money My Future
It’s all part of your “story.”
Your “stories” aren’t just about your wild times in college, your professional pasts, or all the cities you’ve lived in. They’re even more complex than your student loan debt or how many sexual partners you’ve had. We all have a money story to tell.
Your personal story and history about money can affect your relationship in either a positive or negative way, said Heather McPherson, owner and Licensed Supervisor of Couples and Sex Therapy and Coach at Respark Therapy.
“Your personal story and history about money can affect your relationship in either a positive or negative way,” she said. “If you grew up being told that money doesn’t grow on trees and that you need just to get a job no matter if you love it or not, that’s going to affect every purchase you make and how you plan for life goals and retirement.”
The same goes for how we were raised to talk about sex. If you were raised to think sex was dirty or shameful or, frankly, never received helpful information to help you figure out what you want, it can make sexual conversations extra-terrifying.
It can help you avoid “secrets.”
We’re not always honest with our partners in the bedroom. No matter how close you are, there are always things that we hold back. And honestly, that’s okay. Our thoughts are our own — until they’re affecting the relationship and causing you and other distress.
The same goes for telling your partner you’ve been holding back on telling or sharing something that’s on your mind or that you’re uncomfortable with what you’ve been doing (but have said it was okay in the past).
“If one partner is in debt or has a secret around money, it can be just as devastating as an affair,” said McPherson. “It is a breach of trust in the relationship that now will require work to rebuild.”
There’s nothing wrong with keeping a little mystery in a relationship. But when it comes to your sex and money, secrets can be damaging, sometimes irrevocably.
And while there’s no hard data that sexual infidelity and financial infidelity are direct links, they’re secrets that can eat away at the foundation of a trusting relationship. But common sense shows that one uncomfortable deception can make it harder, to be honest about the other.
What if being honest means admitting sexual or financial infidelity? Both are painful and can feel extremely risky. What if the other person walks away? These can be the times that makes or breaks a committed partnership.
There’s no answer to how your partner will react to a confession of any kind — but if there’s been brutal honesty in your communication with your partner about what you want out of your sexual lives, then maybe the other never had to be a catastrophic event.
It can help you avoid feelings of rejection.
Want to try something new in the bedroom but are afraid to ask? Getting up the courage to ask for what you want to do or try can be truly and deeply daunting.
“These talks are hard because they both represent areas where most of us have the most insecurity,” said Bobbi Rebell, CFP, host of the Financial Grownup podcast and co-host of the Money with Friends podcast. “We also are terrified of being judged as not good enough or not sexy or attractive enough, and not wealthy enough.”
If you can’t talk about what’s been pressing on your conscience or that you’ve wandered into a place where you feel overwhelmed, then you’ve got a major barrier between you both. These are heavy talks, and we can go into them with fragile hearts and egos.
“People are afraid of being rejected,” said McPherson. “They are scared that their partner will not want to help with the debt or maybe will not understand how or why they are in the current situation.”
Whether you want to ask for a prenup or to change your relationship dynamics, frank money talks are essential.
It can help you get through the really, really tough times.
Tough times don’t just include admitting mistakes about sex and money. Over the course of our romantic lives, we face grief, loss, professional anxiety, and a host of other unexpected bumps in the road.
Being able to be achingly honest can help you communicate how the other can help you get through these heartbreaking times. If you’ve made a habit of keeping each other in the loop with how you like to communicate, when you need time to yourself, or how you need things to change to transition to a better mental space, you can smooth out these rocky times.
Being confident in your love for each other in sickness and in health also means communicating in times of loneliness and lack of wealth. They’re both parts of the same set of essential skills needed to keep a committed relationship from falling off the tracks.
It can help you both feel like equal partners.
Who calls the shots in the bedroom? If one partner has all the control and the other doesn’t speak up or advocate for themself, it can lead to a serious imbalance of power. At the same time, it isn’t up to one member of the relationship to come to the bedroom with all the ideas, motivation, and to initiate. That’s a lot of pressure on one person and, frankly, exhausting.
“If one person handles all the money decisions and the other partner doesn’t have any idea about what’s going on, then it’s more common for the person that handles everything to become resentful and frustrated that they have all the responsibility,” said McPherson.
While many partnerships have an unofficially appointed chief financial officer, it shouldn’t be a dictatorship. Both parties need to be involved so that one feels that the other is taking an interest and contributing.
Even in a relationship where there’s the only income, you both deserve to have a say in how the money is handled in the household. There needs to be a feeling of equality to feel like you both have a seat at the table or in the bedroom.
How to tackle taboo conversations
Start having them as early as you can in your relationship. When you and your partner are getting ready to commit for the long-term (or even before), this is the time to put as much of it as you can on the table. If you’ve always struggled with certain aspects of sex or you’ve been irresponsible with credit card debt in the past, telling each other sooner than later is always better to achieve mutual understanding about the worlds you’re coming from.
I don’t think it’s too late to try. Even if you’ve been with someone for years and years, it’s never too late to call an audible and get on the same page. This goes back to secrets and revealing the places where we’ve been less-than-honest out of fear or resentment or because you’ve changed over the years. Don’t give up, even if you think the other will never understand because things have been the same way for so long.
Speak up. Life is too short to be passive-aggressive, and nobody wins when one person remains silent. “What you want to avoid is taking out your feelings of financial or sexual hurt and resentment out on each other in secret and damaging ways,” said Rebell. If you see something, say something.
Be kind. Talking about money and sex requires a lot of bravery for the speaker and listener. Try to avoid language like, “I hate it when you” and “You always do this.” Ask questions about how the other feels and be patient.
Have a monthly Money Date. At Zeta, we recommend monthly dates where you schedule a peaceful time to sit down over dinner or a drink both go over your budgets, plans for the future, dreams, and goals, and what’s been nagging you when it comes to your money. We always advise couples not to have these conversations in the bedroom because that’s the place where we’re the most vulnerable. You can also think of setting up a Sex Date — not to do the deed but to talk about how you’ve been feeling, things you want to try, and what’s been making you feel unhappy (or happy!) in the bedroom.
It isn’t easy to re-open closed communication lines when it comes to sex or money in a committed relationship. But by tackling them both with courage, faith, love, and a desire to make things better, you’re going to drastically improve your chances for success and joy in your relationship.
Q&A with Ramona Ortega, CEO and Founder of My Money My Future
Why do you think sex and money are taboo subjects?
The data has shown that people are more willing to talk about sex than money, but the two share unique characteristics; one, raising issues of shame and judgment. Two, they are often associated with “public” stigmas (bad credit means you are bad with money, if you are open about sex, then you must be irresponsible, etc.)
What do you think sexual infidelity and financial infidelity have in common?
For one, both are “secrets” or done in secret, meaning you are violating your partner's trust. Also, both scenarios are often the product of some other underlying issue that is unresolved.
What do you think people are afraid of when it comes to revealing their real financial issues?
I think the public shame we associate with certain money patterns makes it very sensitive and very personal for people to reveal their financial reality. When someone is not financially “sound” or “stable,” there are all kinds of assumptions that are made about that person's judgment or ability to be responsible. In some ways, it feels like the facade is being washed away, and that can feel very uncomfortable, especially for people who may have achieved success in other areas of our lives.
This is unfortunate because, for so many people, financial distress is caused by several outside factors- including the wage gap, racial wealth inequality, macroeconomic trends-all of them outside of our control.
This post originally appeared on Ask Zeta