Listen to “164: Sexual Awareness – Kristen Lilla”

Sexual Awareness 

In this episode we see how communication can affect a person’s sexuality and intimacy and how we can work towards that with our partner.  

Communication, vulnerability and how to have conversations with our partners

Kristen correlates communication with vulnerability because we often don’t talk about sex, it makes us uncomfortable. Her book starts with communication, vulnerability and normalizing the two. It’s overwhelming to read hundreds of pages of a book to be aware of a single topic. Kristen says she wanted some cut to the chase, something practical to read and to apply it in real life. So, she added exercises at the end of every chapter that includes a lot of conversation starters for couples.  

There are several variables that come into play. Our upbringing has a huge impact on how we communicate in our relations. The way families communicate with each other reflects in how they communicate in their relationships. It’s about acknowledging that. 

Problems with ineffective communication and what’s the answer?

Kristen describes defensiveness and avoidance as the biggest pitfalls people have with communication. We’re so engrossed in defending ourselves that we forget to listen. We also avoid difficult conversations especially about sex because it makes us uncomfortable but Kristen urges us to be uncomfortable. She emphasizes that it’s better to be uncomfortable than to avoid the conversation. 

How does vulnerability play a role in communication?

Vulnerability isn’t necessarily shown in the matters of sex, even sharing our emotions could be vulnerable. Kristen explains it by sharing a heart-warming example from her personal life. When we share our emotions, and they aren’t reciprocated or validated immediately, it makes us feel exposed and thus leaving us vulnerable. But as the conversation goes, Kristen poses a question of whether it’s better to have a conversation rather than keep assuming that someone loves you. She says, “There’s validation in acknowledging it”. 

What do you think prevents couples from being vulnerable?

Kristen believes fear of judgement from your partner and presuming a partner’s reaction keeps us from opening up. We rather let the problems pile up than have a conversation that leaves us with shame and guilt. But If you want to do something differently, give them the opportunity to surprise you, to say something differently even though you know what they’re going to say. Kristen talks about how important it is to “just listen” and she emphasizes that you don’t have to get judgmental or commit to something but just express gratitude for sharing and then revisit it later. It makes the partner feel safe to have an open and honest conversation with you. 

Exercises for couples around these ideas: 

Kristen suggests practicing “Pancake talk”. It involves processing an experience and talking about it at a later time in a neutral territory. It gives you an opportunity to not be reactive and get away from high intensity emotions. She refers to ‘four horsemen of John Gottman’ while talking about being mindful with your responses and listening without getting defensive. She suggests repeating it back just like in ‘Imago therapy’ and mirroring exercises which compels you to slow down and listen to what the other person is saying.  

She also talks about risky conversations about a kink or a fetish or wanting to talk about being polyamory doesn’t have to be difficult. Your partner might understand what you’re communicating with them and acknowledge that but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re agreeing with you. Kristen explains that with an example, you can be mad at your partner about something and have consensual sex and still not forgive them. Kristen encourages people to look at their childhood and connect the dots with who they are now. It can be done by questioning how you got your sex education. She talks about unwinding the messages of religious upbringing and false information. 

Other sections in the book

Apart from talking about communication and vulnerability in a couple’s sex life, the book has several other sections about fantasy, open relationships, low libido, sexual assault and trauma and how to process this and how to normalize these topics. 

Resources and Links:

Kristen Lilla’s website – ​

Kristen’s Book – ​Boxes and How We Fill Them: A Basic Guide to Sexual Awareness

Kristen’s Book – ​Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book 

More info and resources:
How Big a Problem is Your Sex Life? Quiz –
Access the Free webinar: How to make sex easy and fun for both of you:
Secret Podcast for the Higher Desire Partner:
Secret Podcast for the Lower Desire Partner:

Background: Kristen Lilla, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, is Nebraska and Iowa’s only AASECT Certified Sex Therapist(CST) and AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator(CSE) through the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). She is also one of four dually Certified Sex Educator and Therapy Supervisors in the world. 

Kristen is an international speaker and has spoken at conferences including the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), National Sex Education Conference (CSE), Eyes Open Iowa Conference, Bangladesh Sex Therapy Training, and AASECT Annual Conference. Additionally, Kristen published two books in 2019; Boxes and How We Fill Them: A Basic Guide to Sexual Awareness, and Vaginas and Periods 101: A Pop-Up Book. 


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