I’m feeling pretty grateful this week, as we’re completing the final weekend of the fourth generation of the Women’s Sexually Empowered Life Program here in Napa. I’m struck by how profound vulnerability is for the change people are able to achieve in their lives and relationships.

There are so many ways we run up against our vulnerability. We fight it because it feels tender and some might consider it “weak”—which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve witnessed so many women and men avoid their places of tenderness and vulnerability for fear of what others will think, for fear they will just crumble to pieces, for fear no one will have their back, for fear people will think of them differently for their softness.

Sex is, by nature, a vulnerable act…on so many levels. To open one’s body bare, to share deep feeling, to allow yourself to be penetrated or seen naked, to expose tender parts of yourself like desire, fantasy and insecurity, to allow yourself to want and desire and to be fulfilled—these things are vulnerable.

I’ve talked to many women over the years who complain that their male partners only open up emotionally during or after sex. Yet, this is because sex is the space when they feel safest to be vulnerable. It’s a space of vulnerability men are not allowed to have in our macho culture. I think many men crave the space to just be, to express real emotions, and to open up. And many men are so used to not allowing themselves to be that vulnerable, they have no idea how or where to start.

Many women keep their vulnerability under wraps while they caretake everyone else, keeping the focus off of them—even though underneath all of that, they most desperately want attention, doting, adoration and to feel special.

Sex and money are the two most vulnerable things there are—the places where we have such great desire and where no one is supposed to appear weak. This keeps people from diving in, opening up, expressing clearly their desire and going for what they really want.How vulnerable to put oneself out there like that. What if I don’t get what I want? What if it’s just a pipe dream? What if I really don’t deserve it? What if I am broken after all?

When emotion comes up during sex it’s usually because we are opening and allowing ourselves an intimate space where we can actually feel. Tears may come for all you’ve wanted and never had, for all you might have missed all those years, for waiting, for wanting, for the joy of receiving and for allowing yourself to feel. Tears might come up for anger about sexual trauma, the disconnection from yourself, the wanting to be fully seen—and how scary that really is.

Sex is vulnerable. I think that’s part of why we crave it so much.That raw vulnerability is so powerful, so real, so full of life that we want it more and more, sometimes almost like a drug, sometimes because we are exploring the caverns within us, sometimes because we want to feel that connected to another human being on what can often be a lonely journey across the world.

What would it mean for you to start dancing with that sexual vulnerability and really enjoy it rather than dance around it and try to avoid it? That’s like avoiding breath. It’s like stepping in water expecting not to get wet.  Get wet, dance right through it and let your heart be seen for what is really there. Not indiscriminately, but with someone who can hold that space for you.

That’s what I’ve been doing with the women in my women’s sexuality program.Holding the space for vulnerability, for being witnessed, for exploration and the naming of desire—even the ones they thought they shouldn’t call attention to. When women come together and allow that to happen, when they claim what they want fully and they step towards it, it’s tremendously sacred, as it is between lovers.

If we are not here to go to the depths, to really unearth what is there, why else live? Why live half-way? Why stay closed in such a vast, beautiful, magical world? Why stay in ignorance about the complexity of your emotional terrain? Why pretend?

That doesn’t mean making yourself vulnerable in spaces where it’s unwise to do so. We must all care for ourselves and be discerning about when and where and with whom we show our cards…but those who can hold our emotional and sexual vulnerability are out there, so go find them and be all of who you are.