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How and Why to Talk About Our Sexual Past

Red flags and green flags when talking about your past love life.

Key points

  • Statistical questions don't reveal your partner's feelings about their experiences.
  • Open questions can explore your partner's (or your own) layered experiences of their history.
  • Jealousy, judgement or a sense of inadequacy stop or diminish the usefulness of this new information.
  • Providing emotional safety allows curiosity and learning to flourish about who your partner is or has been in bed.
Petar Chernaev/iStock, used with permission
Lovers having an intimate conversation
Source: Petar Chernaev/iStock, used with permission

A person's sexual life is profoundly revealing about their inner world, secrets, desires, and capacities for love and pleasure. What if knowing about their past could deepen your own intimacy in this relationship? Those who have attempted to discuss sexual histories with their lover know the conversation can elicit different emotional reactions. It can be awkward to ask your partner about their past or have your partner ask you about your sexual past, but the outcome of braving such a conversation is more information, deeper understanding, and shared intimacy. Here is some help for you to find success in discussing sexual histories, including red flags to avoid and green flags to pursue.

Red Flag: The Wrong Questions

In my practice, it’s rare to find a couple who has explored each other’s sexual histories beyond, “What’s your number?” or “Who have you slept with?” The data answers to these questions fail to provide the kind of rich nuances that can deepen a connection. Knowing how many people your partner has slept with or who they are is not something you can learn from, and learning about your partner is the ultimate goal of a sexual history review.

Green Flag: The Right Questions

Having a sexual history conversation is a chance to explore what works and then bring that magic into your relationship. The following list of questions can be helpful starting points for learning more about your partner.

  • Can you tell me about your most intense, exciting sexual experiences and what they were like?
  • What were your favorite moments, and what made them stand out to you?
  • What drew you to others, sexually?
  • What did you find attractive about former lovers at first?
  • How did the sexual relationship begin?
  • Did it make any difference to you if they initiated or you did?
  • Were you able to be more present in your body during sex in different relationships, and if so, why was that possible?

Remember: The goal of the conversation is not to gather intel on your partner’s former lover but rather to help you understand who your partner was inside of that relationship. You can listen here for more about this conversation.

Red Flag: Judgment, Jealousy, Inadequacy

Discussing sexual histories requires emotional intelligence, and there are three emotional red flags to look out for before approaching this topic with your partner.

  • Judgment: If shared information leads to judgment, the discussion will be cut short.
  • Jealousy: If you or your partner are jealous people, this is not the conversation for you. In fact, it could be dangerous.
  • Inadequacy: A sexual history review can encourage feelings of inadequacy. For example, one partner might worry that past lovers are superior in some way: a bigger penis, a better body, youth, stamina, etc.

Green Flag: Emotional Safety

Preparing to review your sexual histories requires that each partner is granted time to self-assess their readiness for the conversation. Both partners should have total control over if they want to have the conversation, when they want to have it, and what they want to share and not share.

  • Create safety by reassuring the partner answering that you would love to understand their mind, heart, body, and spirit in this intimate experience as fully as possible.
  • Offer lots of positive regard for your current partner's desirability.
  • Let the vulnerability of sharing untold secrets and experiences strengthen the intimacy between the two of you.

If you decide to share, remember that what you did is much less important than how it impacted you. For example, maybe your partner did something wild they would never do with you. Without context, it’s easy to create a false story around the why but perhaps the why is as simple as they were young and drunk. Asking curious questions can fill out the story: What was in your body? What was in your heart? What did your spirit feel afterward? What did it feel like in the moment versus now that you’re looking back?

For those brave enough to do a sexual history, there’s a wealth of information to be absorbed. Listen to your partner’s stories or experiences and apply what you can to make your current relationship steamier, stronger, and sexier.

More from Laurie J Watson PhD, LMFT, LPC
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