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Why Wanting to Have Sex with Someone Else Isn't Always a Problem

The feeling is natural, and common.

Key points

  • Longing to hook-up when you are in a committed relationship is a common reason people come to therapy.
  • The desire for sex with someone other than your partner can be strong and very upsetting.
  • Sexual interest in a novel partner may mean nothing more than you are human.
  • It’s not your interest in a novel partner that matters, it’s what you do about it.
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You love your partner – or at least like them a lot. You enjoy spending time with them. From the outside, some might say that you’re the perfect couple. But you carry a secret that makes you a little crazy: You want to have sex with someone else.

Maybe it’s a co-worker, or your partners best friend. Problem is, you can’t get them out of your head. You fantasize about them, and then feel guilty when it’s challenging to get excited for your partner. You start to question whether you should stay with your partner: Does this mean you aren’t meant to be together? That you aren’t sexually compatible? Or maybe you have intimacy issues, cause you always seem to get bored with sex after being with a partner for a while.

As a sex therapist, I hear stories like this regularly. In fact, in my 3 years on this blog, the post, When People Still Want Sex, but Not with Their Partners, has been my most popular. People are clearly in pain, even distraught, by this dilemma. “I want to want my partner!” people exclaim. It is indeed a challenge that we can’t tell the body what, or who, to want. Our sexual selves have a mind of their own and they are shockingly disinterested in feedback from our conscious minds. We can judge and criticize our sexual fantasies and longings much more easily than we can modify them.

Of course, sexual longing for someone other than your partner is complex. As much as you want to understand it, there may be a variety of issues playing out. Maybe there’s stuff going on in your relationship that kills your interest in sex with them. Maybe you no longer find them attractive. Maybe there is something special between you and your fantasy partner, something that you really can’t replicate with anyone else. Or maybe not. In truth, longing for another partner could mean nothing at all.

How is it possible that such strong feelings can mean nothing? You are a primate, and a product of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. Your sexual proclivities have been honed by those who came before you. Behaviors that facilitated successful reproduction got passed on to the next generation, and ultimately made their way into your sexual unconscious. Sexual attraction to novel partners is one example, as it facilitated reproduction (and thus gene transmission). In contrast, our ancestor’s sexual behavior that didn’t result in offspring didn’t have the opportunity to be passed on. It’s as simple as that. So, your desire for a new partner very possibly means nothing more than that: You are human.

It's interesting to me that we rarely discuss how our evolutionary past impacts our sexual behavior. The more ancient parts of our brains — those that impact our sexual instincts — aren’t modified by cultural ideals. In fact, one reason porn can be so compelling is that it can gratifies our more primal sexual instincts, even though people can simultaneously feel guilt or shame about it. Guilt and shame are what happen when our more evolved, conscious minds critique what the primal brain finds alluring. Similarly, the ideal that you should love and want sex with only one partner for a lifetime is a creation of our modern minds, not supported by our evolutionary biology.

That being said, what should you do if you want sex outside your committed relationship? Of course, there are many possible reasons why you are feeling this way, and many possible ways to proceed. Perhaps your preoccupation with someone else is a signal that you and your partner are growing apart. Many relationships end, even when people care deeply for each other. Couples therapy may be helpful at times like this. But you don’t want to damage your current relationship if this extra-curricular longing doesn’t mean that much. Maybe it really is just your evolutionary biology doing what it was designed to do, which is to make you want sex with a new partner!

If this is the case, then chances are you’d feel this way again once your current crush was no longer novel. Sometimes couples discuss the possibility of opening their relationship. Probably more common, though, is sexual experimentation — putting more energy and creativity into your love life.

For example, doing something with your partner that makes you feel sexually vulnerable is one way to amp up passion. We tend to feel closer and more sexual attraction after being open and vulnerable in sexual situations. The problem is, when you’ve been with the same partner for a while, it can be more difficult to feel vulnerable cause you’ve probably experienced a lot together already.

But there’s always a creative way for you to experiment with stretching your own boundaries. Ask for something you’ve wanted to try but haven’t had the guts to put it into words. Talk to your partner about making things more exciting together. Approaching your sex life as a team is likely to result in more improvement than staying silent about your concerns.

Facebook image: Valery Sidelnykov/Shutterstock

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