This is One of the Scariest Things Humans Do

by | Jan 5, 2020 | Sexuality | 17 comments

Whenever I meet someone new and we talk about how my 15-year old son is a pilot, they look at me sideways and say something like, “You’re a brave mom to let him fly.” As I’ve written about in other posts, allowing him to fly does, indeed, drag me into a regular practice of facing my fears and letting go, but the joy I experience watching his joy far outweighs the fear. His passion is a gift, and I know how rare it is to have such a clear calling so early in life, how passion can be the fire that burns through layers of the fears that want to keep us small.

Indeed, becoming a pilot has been the single-most life-changing action that has allowed our son to transform his tendencies toward staying small, partially informed by being a highly sensitive child prone to anxiety, into leading as big a life as humanly possible. It still blows my mind that the child who refused to leave the house after we moved from Los Angeles to Denver when he was two years old because he was so dysregulated from the transition now dreams of going to Mars. He attributes this internal change to his love of flying for he knew that if he wanted to fly he had to face his fears, grow beyond his comfort zone, and become more adaptable.

So, yes, it’s truly scary to let him fly, but letting him fly isn’t the scariest thing that I do. The ways that we challenge ourselves physically – and allow our kids to take physical risks – are certainly important for pushing the envelope on a variety of fears, but whenever I see someone who jumps out of airplanes or climbs to the top of ridiculously high buildings without ropes I think, “Yes, that’s terrifying, but it’s not the scariest thing we humans do.”

The scariest thing we all do is to love and be loved.

And let me be clear that I’m talking about real love where two people are available and committed to showing up for themselves and each other – not the Hollywood pursuer-distancer version, which I’ll talk a bit more about in a minute. For it’s only in real that we’re asked us to risk our most tender hearts, the part of our emotional anatomy that has been hurt, steamrolled, rejected, or abandoned and thus, is terrified of putting ourselves in a situation where this could happen again.

And yet… as scary as it is to open fully emotionally, there’s an even deeper vulnerability that arises in intimate, committed relationships: the risk required to open fully sexually. And again, I’m not talking about surface sex, which is more about two naked bodied going through the motions and is primarily what we see depicted in the mainstream. I’m talking about sacred sexuality, which asks that we open body, mind, heart, and soul to another human being. What could possibly be scarier?

As Robert Johnson writes in his book Ecstasy:

“We want more things – more cars, more money, more clothes, more drugs, more fun – but we’re frightened of touch, of making real contact with another person. We’re more likely to take our clothes off in front of a stranger than we are to let down our emotional defenses in front of someone we love.”

If you’ve ever been fully alive and aroused by someone who had one foot out the door, a total stranger or someone you’re in a long-term relationship with but who you knew wasn’t emotionally available and fully committed, you know what Johnson is talking about: our culture conditions us to feel safe through distances and to keep people at arm’s length, and this filters into our sex lives. We’re wired to be more turned on by the chase and longing than we are by emotional availability.

The work, then, is to rewire our conditioning so that we’re turned on by the loving partner who stands naked before us, ready and willing to love and be loved. Rewiring from cultural conditioning is never easy, but it’s entirely possible. And it begins with excavating our own shame stories and early scripts around our bodies and our sexuality, then replacing them with the truth, which is as clear as water. We then learn to bathe in this truth, rinsing away the shame like washing a white dress until it illumines like moonlight, and we, too, reclaim our own luminous essence.

This is what I teach and share in my Sacred Sexuality course. Together, with gentleness and great care, we walk the roads of our sexuality, exploring, inquiring, sharing, excavating, and healing, until the gems at the core, the ones that connect us to our creativity and desire, re-sparkle and ignite.

Sacred sexuality is what we both long for and reject. It speaks to the heart of what I often talk about in my work around relationships: we crave deep intimacy yet we’re culturally and physically wired to reject it when it arrives, which is why we’re perpetually chasing after the unavailable partner. Hollywood, with its endless fascination with the pursuer-distancer dynamic, imposes the expectation that love is only alive and fulfilling when we catch the unavailable object of our pursuit. This is why most Hollywood romantic films end when the lovers, after a series of chase-and-miss scenarios, finally fall into each other’s arms. But real love, the love that we’re truly seeking, can only happen with availability and vulnerability, both within ourselves and with another. When we have the roadmap, we can find our way home to this kind of deep, brave loving, which is the only kind that matters.

This is the roadmap I offer in Sacred Sexuality. This is the community that will gather around you as you navigate into these most tender waters. This is the guidance that you should have received long ago, the one that will lead you back into your birthright of aliveness and creativity, of sensuality and sexuality. Into the places that are rightfully yours.

This next live round of Sacred Sexuality begins on Saturday, January 11, 2020, and I look forward to meeting you there.



  1. This speaks to me so deeply. I was watching a show on Netflix and the protagonist is obsessively pursuing the object of his affection, who happens to be just out of reach. I think of my husband who is ALWAYS loving, available, genuine, kind and compassionate. His availability doesn’t always make me feel “alive”- which makes me feel ashamed at times. It’s so hard to deconstruct the expectation set by Hollywood that true ‘love’ is demonstrated by feeling an explosive desire for another person…that happens to only be achievable if you can’t have him. *sigh*. I constantly check myself and remind myself that these swirling thoughts are trying to protect me from the vulnerability of such an intimate partnership my relationship- love is scary as heck!

    • Well said and you’re not alone!

    • Love this! So perfectly stated and such great awareness about him not making you feel “alive”. I can relate 100% and agree love is scary as heck! But so amazing at the same time!

  2. I totally relate to this. I’ve always been sexually attracted to emotionally unavailable men. My father was also that man, so it’s really my ideal prototype.
    Today I’m married to a wonderful sensitive man, but he doesn’t satisfy me sexually. I have almost no desire for him and when we do have sex, it’s deeply unsatisfying to me. Sometimes I think he may also be blocked with intimacy, and that’s why we don’t connect.
    I’ve taken this course in the past but because I have very young children, I could hardly follow through with it.

    • It’s difficult to connect to our own sexuality with young children around, let alone connecting with a partner. I recommend going through the course again at your own pace, even if it’s only reading one email a week.

  3. Hi,

    I do not have trouble being intimate with my partner. He is kind and loving and has made me feel comfortable with my body and intimacy. What I am struggling with is feeling any sort of real feeling of love towards him. I know he is right for me, there is no red flags. On paper, he is EVERYTHING I have ever wanted. Yes we argue etc but we’re really quick to communicate and move past it. So why can’t I feel anything? why is my brain telling me I need to leave? It’s very convincing and I am constantly on edge. But I am not anxious and not having constant intrusive thoughts like before- no more what ifs..? anyway. I really just want this to work (I always get to about a year in a relationship and have to leave because my brain tells me I am done.) but I don’t know if I want to stay because of him or because I just want to get past a year. I am exhausted, I can’t think about anything else. This started in July, got easier but has now gotten worse again. I’ve read countless times that we shouldn’t make a decision in the throws of anxiety but as I am not feeling anxious or having intrusive thoughts, does this mean its the truth now? I want to love him so much but I can’t. It shouldn’t be this hard if he was right for me surely? Can someone help at all?

    • Hi SJ,

      I just wanted to offer a few thoughts. One thing to keep in mind with relationship anxiety/OCD is that the thoughts/feelings are ego-dystonic, meaning they go against our true values and wishes. Just because they’re convincing doesn’t mean they’re true. You’re describing very common intrusive thoughts. There are a few cognitive distortions at play here in relationship anxiety – all or nothing thinking, emotional reasoning, catastrophizing, etc – and understanding these were a huge help to me.

      My experience with love is that if it’s true, it’s the opposite of easy. It will actually be very, very hard – so remember that when you get the thought “It shouldn’t be this hard.” It’s a myth. Also, there’s something called the backdoor spike – the idea that because you’re not anxious about your obsessions anymore, they must be your truth. It’s just another trick. I wish you peace. 🙂

  4. When I woke up this morning and felt the intrusive thoughts and worries come through my mind, I realized that I have a habit of shaming them, which keeps them around. I “shouldn’t” be feeling this way; this “shouldn’t” be bothering me; my fiance “should” be more of this and less of that. Today, though, I decided to stay still for a moment and imagine light, bright as the sun, touching and warming those shame spots, both about myself and my fiance, and deciding to bring love to them instead. “What you feel is okay and valid.” Interrupting the mental chatter with that statement brings down to the emotions, which say, “I’m scared I’m going to get hurt. I’m scared of making a mistake. I’m making a huge commitment, and that’s scary.”

    And it made me realize… all the intrusive thoughts and projections are ways to avoid showing up for myself and making my own life meaningful, instead of desperately searching for someone else to fill my well. And then, in those moments, the projections fall away, and I’m able to see my fiance’s goodness: his sensitive heart, his forgiveness, his patience, his steadiness, his willingness to grow. Yes, he has flaws, but so do I, and I’m much more willing to point out his. By allowing myself to look at my emotions, even if for a moment, I feel as if I’ve added a layer of healing to these shame stories. And then, joy arrived: “We’re getting married!”

    • Hi A, would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions regarding your experiences with these thoughts?

      Thank you.

      • Sure. Go for it 🙂

        • Thank you.

          I thought I replied to this last night.

          Basically, I just wanted to know if you found your thoughts sometimes came as statements rather than questions- such as ‘I don’t love my partner’ or ‘I am going to be unhappy if I stay with him’?

          Did you ever question your love for your partner? And how to you define ‘love’ now?

          How did you know getting married was the right thing? (Congratulations by the way- that’s great news!!)

          Thank you for your time, I really appreciate it as I am struggling.

          • Thank you! Actually, my intrusive thoughts moved from questions in the beginnings to statements. The statements are harder to deal with, but they’re still intrusive thoughts.

            Yes, I have questioned my love for him. That was my first intrusive thought. The most lasting ones for me have been nitpicking certain qualities of his. I define love much like Sheryl does – not focused on feelings of infatuation but based in action, what you give, and a sense of comfort and security.

            The thing about getting married is there is no “knowing.” For anxious people like us, that certainty people talk about doesn’t really happen. And even for people who do have that certainty, some get divorced a few years later. Marriage is a risk, but a calculated one. You examine it carefully, and then take a leap. It’s like an educated guess, and involves a lot of faith and willingness to accept the unknown.

            Hope that helps!

            • Thank you A!

              I am struggling to differentiate between what I really want and want is just anxiety talking- it’s very tough but part of the process I guess. I’m trying to listen to my heart.

              Reading what you’ve said, and what others have written, I have a really solid relationship where I feel comfortable and secure. So just need to work on this under lying fear.

              Thank you and congratulations again.

              • It’s a tough process, for sure. That underlying fear can distort a lot of things. Just work on it one day at a time. You can do it 🙂

  5. Hello Sheryl, yes letting someone do, like what you’ve done with you’re son is In Deed A huge, &, at times Frightening Experience, Loving Enough to let Go, &, let the other “Experience” A view I’ve Held for a long while is that, the “Scariest thing for me to do is Love Enough, to let myself be open to Others” A Bit Like Living the Belief that “We are All Spiritual Beings Caught in the Human Condition !! With That Belief Comes All that Could, &,Can come from any form of “Relationship”

  6. Hi Sheryl

    Do you have any article on parents that disapprove your long term relationship? They don’t say it out loud but have many remarks they claim as jokes.

    • It’s really about growing your own self-trust and individuating from your parents, which is hard to do at any age. Reading through my self-trust collection will help.


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