- Retroactive or retrospective jealousy is a form of jealousy about ones' partner's past sexual experiences.
- Some men report arousal, rather than jealousy, at hearing their wives' stories.
- Men's interest in their wife's sexual history likely reflects known aspects of sexual psychology, including sperm competition.
Historically, men prized virgins as wives. Even today, in some parts of the world, women are submitted to medical tests to “verify” they’ve never engaged in penetrative intercourse. But, these attitudes are changing dramatically, and research in 2016 found that virgins are now actually less desired as sex partners. Some men choose to ignore their wife’s sexual past before them, some feel insecure and jealous about it, and some find that past intensely arousing.
I first heard about this last dynamic from men I interviewed for my first book, Insatiable Wives, Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them (coming soon as an audiobook). I heard from countless men who had started down the path of sharing their wives with other men after hearing stories of their wife’s sexual past and being aroused at these ideas. Now, a trendy Reddit forum known as Hotpast has 64,000 members, all sharing the stories they’ve heard from their wives. Interestingly, this group excludes stories of wife-sharing and limits discussion and posts solely to the excitement of hearing one’s wife’s past experiences. People in the group were kindly willing to share their experiences and insights for this article.
Many of the men who now experience arousal at thoughts and stories of their wife’s sexual past at first felt very differently. Many describe that they experienced intense jealousy, insecurity, fear, and even loss when they found out about their wives’ sexual history. The men reported worry that they might not be able to compete with that past or felt insecure that they were less sexually experienced than their wives.
For some, this turned into intense, pervasive, and intrusive feelings of jealousy. This form of jealousy is now known as retroactive or retrospective jealousy, and PT colleague Robert Leahy offered suggestions on dealing with it. For some, retrospective jealousy may become a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and responds well to cognitive behavioral therapy techniques effective for anxiety disorders.
Some men, however, found their feelings of jealousy transformed into surprising feelings of arousal.
- "I want to know every detail of my wife’s past, not out of prurient interest, or just the vicarious sexual thrill that it gives, but because that is how I control my reaction to it…By knowing as much as I now do, there is no fear of being blindsided again, and I am free to enjoy the knowledge for what it is."
- "I had a fair amount of retroactive jealousy when we first dated, given her experienced past. I consciously tried to get over it by visualizing her past acts. I got desensitized to them and then got turned on. I let her know that I was no longer jealous, then that it was a turn-on. She reacted with both puzzlement and relief that I was no longer so jealous."
- "It helps to process feelings of jealousy, that we are not unique and there were others before us, experiencing what we are sharing now with our wife. Working through a hotpast is rather like working through a trauma with a therapist."
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage has suggested that this transformation may represent a process called "eroticization of fear," whereby people overcome something they fear by turning it into a sexual experience, transforming the power of their fear into an erotic engine. In these cases, this may well be, though there are many things that people fear and never eroticize. For instance, despite the frequency of arachnophobia, there’s very little spider-themed pornography out there. It seems likely that there were unique things about these men, and these fears, that made eroticization possible.
Sexual jealousy also represents processes involved in evolutionary psychology, such as sperm competition. Sperm competition describes psychological and biological processes that spur sexual arousal to compete with other men and achieve procreation with a female partner. Thus, jealousy can turn into a turbocharger for sexual arousal.
A well-known psychological phenomenon in courtship and mating is that we want someone more when we know others desire them. This phenomenon also has a surprising result on one’s self-perception:
- It’s a boost to my ego in two ways. First that she was and is hot sexually, and other guys found her attractive means, in caveman terms, that I got a good one! Secondly, since she gave up the possibility of sex with those guys and chose me, I must be special.
- Hearing my wife’s extensive past made me realize that back then, she was the kind of woman who was unattainable by me. But now, she’s with me. So, in a way, it relieves some of my personal insecurities.
In Insatiable Wives, I playfully described this as the “king bee” feeling, where men feel like a king, having a wife that other men want. Some husbands take this into a fetish known as “candaulism,” where they show off their wives to voyeuristic friends. But for some husbands, themselves voyeurs, hearing their wives’ stories allows them to fulfill their voyeuristic desires in powerful but purely imaginary ways:
I’ve always been a voyeur, so hearing her stories is a natural progression.
In my case, I’ve always been a bit of a voyeur, and she’s forever been an exhibitionist. It’s a match made in heaven.
It’s like her being with other men, like a hotwife, but without actually stepping outside our marriage.
Freud first described the Madonna-Whore complex, saying, “Where such men love, they have no desire, and where they desire, they cannot love." For Freud, these were men who could only sexually desire women who were debased but feel attached only to women they see as saintly mothers. For Freud, this was a form of “psychic impotence” that inhibited men, but for these men, the conflict feeds their fantasy and actually helps them create a new, more holistic view of their wife.
The hotpast stories from my wife turn me on so much because they are such a contrast to my image of my wife as a good, sweet, innocent spouse and mother.
Some of the things in her past are negative, and traumatic, and I feel guilty that I get turned on thinking about them, because I know they were and are painful for her to bring up and think about. I don’t want her to feel pain like that.
In research I conducted with Justin Lehmiller and Dan Savage, we found that fulfilling a fantasy of partner-sharing was generally healthy and positive for couples, often drawing them closer together. I suspect the same is likely true here. Sharing these hotpast stories is likely a net positive for these couples, reflecting increased acceptance of each other’s erotic selves, past and present.
- A big part of it is understanding her desires better. Also, since I know she did these things before and liked it, she’s more likely to be receptive if I suggest it.
- It’s really COVID’s fault! We were stuck together during lockdown, getting bored, and started sharing things we’d never talked about. At first my wife was hesitant, worried I’d shame her. But I was like ‘More!’ and so she started sharing more and more. She said, ‘Well, everyone’s got their kink, so OK...'
- Ultimately, it’s brought us much closer in a deeper way, because we know things about each other that no one else knows. Me accepting her, celebrating her sexuality, has made her feel much more comfortable being herself and not hiding parts of herself that were shamed in the past.
Mae West famously said, “Men love a woman with a past; they hope history will repeat itself.”
I am left still wondering what it is about these men that they find their wives’ past arousing, where other men may be enraged into violent, possessive jealousy. I suspect that these men likely tend to be lower on antisocial tendencies and higher on empathy, and lower on characteristics of "hostile masculinity," but this remains to be seen empirically.
I also find it fascinating that this interest appears to be largely and uniquely male-driven. While I don't find a hotpast forum for gay husbands, I'm sure it is only a matter of time. In contrast, very few women report similar interest in their male partners' sexual exploits; A comparable Reddit group for wives to share their husbands' hotpast has only 23 members, compared to 64,000 fantasy-hungry husbands. The hotpast sexual fantasy may represent a rich well for future research, highlighting unique aspects of sexuality, relationship, gender, jealousy, and fantasy.
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