I once made an offhand comment about something I tried in bed with my ex and regretted it immediately. But now my partner thinks he’s not as exciting as my ex in bed and is paranoid. He thinks our sex life is unadventurous, which it isn’t.
When we are getting to know a partner, a certain amount of disclosure about previous sexual relationships is inevitable. It helps us to understand each other, and that in turn builds intimacy and connectedness.
However, information about particular practices requires sensitivity. No man wants to think about the woman he loves with another man. No woman wants to think about the man she loves with another woman. At a rational level we accept that our partners had sex with people before they met us, but graphic disclosure is problematic because, while the narratives may be historical, the insecurity and angst that they generate are immediate.
Thinking about the experimental sex that our partners had with other people can make us feel uncomfortable. Firstly, because people usually do not want to imagine their partner having sex with someone else. Secondly, because it is uncomfortable for us to know that our partner had great sex in a relationship that ended, because it means that this relationship, with all its great sex, could end too. To accommodate that uncertainty there is an understanding that past intimacies are best not shared with each other. It’s an unspoken strategy of tactical omission, which helps both partners to believe in the possibility of monogamous passion.
Telling the truth is fundamental to good relationships, and deceit undermines trust, but altruistically motivated white lies help us to avoid everyday conflict. Research shows that couples constantly fudge the facts to protect their relationships.
In their paper Tell Me Sweet (And Not-So-Sweet) Little Lies, published in Communication Studies in 2013, the researchers Jennifer Guthrie and Adrianne Kunkel explored the extent to which deception is used in romantic relationships and the common motives for this. They found that, on average, people deceived their romantic partners five times a week and that it was most often intended as a strategy for avoiding arguments and unwanted reactions.
Relationships are hugely complex and inherently fragile. Sexual difficulties — apathy, conflict and dysfunction — are often the first manifestation of more fundamental problems in a relationship. If you and your boyfriend were on firmer ground, he might have been able to shrug off your careless comment and move on. The fact that he has not been able to do that implies a deeper lack of trust between the two of you.
Although you put his insecurity down to a single remark, I wonder whether he was already feeling insecure about your feelings for your ex, and when you made that statement it confirmed something that he had suspected. If this rings true you need to ask yourself if there is any justification for his paranoia. Did you enjoy more adventurous sex with your ex and are you dissatisfied with your present partner?
If you don’t put your sexual past behind you it will continue to come between you and your boyfriend.
If you want to be with him you need to find a way to convince him that you are fully committed. You also need to persuade him that this relationship is more meaningful and sexually satisfying than your previous one. That will require lots of sex and lots of positive affirmation.
It will take time, but if you can get through this bump in the road you will eventually forge a couple identity strong enough to erase the ghost of your boyfriends past.
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