It’s probably safe to assume that the person you’re currently sleeping with slept with someone else before you, but learning about their sexual past can be a tricky issue. In fact, they might have slept with someone else immediately before sleeping with you, if you’re not monogamous.
It might also be safe to assume that they perfected that move you like so much with someone else. Or that they realized they were into light spanking with yep, you got it, that Brazilian ex who “helped the flower of their sexuality blossom.” (P.S. puke)
Some of us – my partner included – don’t worry much about what, (or who) came before us. She says infuriatingly reasonable things like “It’s none of my business,” or “It had nothing to do with me.” Comments to which I soundly reply by walking away indignantly and cracking open my copy of When Things Fall Apart.
For others – myself included – hearing about our partner’s sexual past can be difficult, bringing up feelings of fear, insecurity, and a desire to pierce our eardrums with the nearest Q-tip.
You’re not cold, overly rational or avoidantly attached for not having feelings about your partner’s sexual biography, and you’re not weird, broken, or needy if you do.
According to a Russian proverb, “jealousy and love are sisters.”
I suggest you make them sisters who see each other a few times a year and laugh about old times, instead of sisters who share a bed and wear each other’s clothes.
Here are some suggestions to help you do that:
1. Set ground rules for sharing: Ask yourself what about your partner’s history is relevant to your relationship today? Revealing your STI status, health concerns, past trauma, or ways your like to be touched is important. But is it necessary to spill every single bean? Ask yourself if what you’re sharing serves the essence of what you’d like to communicate (i.e. I’m kinky, I’m afraid, I’m confused etc). I doubt that you’ll ever find yourself on a game show where knowing the nickname your girlfriend gave to her ex’s penis comes between you and the grand prize.
2. That they are even telling you about their past is a really good thing. They’re making themselves vulnerable enough to communicate with you and trusting that your relationship is steady enough to withstand it. Thank your partner for being open with you, and if you’re sharing, try to be sensitive to how your partner receives the information.
3. Remind yourself that their physical relationship with you is probably better because of their relationship with someone else. With experience, we grow more in touch with our body, we realize what feels good and what doesn’t, and we learn to lock the door to our office (sorry everyone). Be grateful for this.
4. Focus on your sexual future together instead of your sexual past. Remember, there is nobody else just like you. The chemistry you share with your partner is unique and stands alone. It’s a waste of time and energy to compare yourself to anyone. So unless you’re into freaky paranormal phantom sex, throw those ghosts out of your bed and move on.
5. Guess what: The jealousy, anger, insecurity, resentment, and fear that you may feel, stem from YOUR fantasies of your partner’s past, and YOUR relationship to those fantasies. Believe it or not, your feelings have much more to do with you than with your partner. So if you have a problem with what they did between the sheets circa 1994, it’s ultimately your problem to take care of.
Do let your partner in on how you’re feeling, but the worst thing you can do is lash out, blame, shame, or make them responsible for your feelings.
This is the thing – while your partner’s past had nothing to do with you, if it’s coming up now, it is affecting you both right now, and how you respond to it will affect your relationship today.
Retroactive jealousy is a common topic of conversation between couples in my psychotherapy practice. As a Gestalt Therapist, I like to ask:
a. How is the past present? That is, how are you using yours/your partner’s past to influence your current relationship?
b. What’s it like for you to hear about your partner’s sex life before they met you?
c. Are you using it to create distance between you?
d. Are you using it to scare yourself?
e. Are you seeking validation from your partner? Or can you allow it to be something that brings you closer?
I suggest you share the answers to these questions as well!