It usually happens about one month in.
You’ve moved on from the ‘I can’t believe I’ve found you!’ conversations and starting to feel brave enough to share the grittier parts of yourselves and your past that might not be as complimentary.
Sometimes, this draws you even closer. Other times, there’s a ‘Whoa! This isn’t who I thought you were!’ abrupt halt to proceedings.
But the fact is, all of us have things in our past we might not be super proud of. Sometimes it’s something we don’t have a problem with at all – but our new partner does.
Before I get into how to calm any troubled waters, I want to make it clear that no-one should feel ashamed of their sexual past – and what you got up to is your business alone.
Now that’s understood, here’s what to do if your partner doesn’t quite hold the same view.
Tracey Cox reveals how to best navigate discussions about having had lots of lovers, kinks and cheating, as it’s revealed conversations about sexual pasts often arise a month in (file image)
You’ve had a lot of lovers
If you follow my advice, this is one sexual ‘sin’ you won’t have to atone for because your partner will never know.
‘So, how many lovers were there before me?’ is a question I don’t believe anyone should answer. The reason why is this: numbers mean nothing without knowing the circumstances. Here’s why reducing your sexual history to a number doesn’t work. Let’s say there are two women, both around 30. The first has slept with 26 men, the second eight.
No prizes for guessing which woman would be judged the harshest by a partner. But was she really the most promiscuous?
Here’s some more information: The girl who has had 26 lovers, averaged around two lovers a year since she was 17 and has been mainly single. The girl who’d slept with eight men, put four of those notches in the bedpost during a weekend away at a resort with her friends – while her husband stayed home and looked after the kids.
Now what do you think?
If your partner asks you to put a number on former lovers, say, ‘I don’t discuss things like that. I think it’s pointless and unhelpful. What we both did in our past is irrelevant, I’d rather talk about what we do now and in the future.”
Refuse to be drawn. Say that you’d rather let details about past relationships come out naturally in conversation. The people who matter – in a good way or bad – will end up being discussed. The rest don’t warrant a mention.
What people are usually asking when they want to know how many people have been before them, is ‘How special am I?’ or ‘Are you more or less sexually experienced than I am?’.
Load on the reassurances about how much you like them and what a great lover they are and (hopefully) they’ll stop obsessing over the past.
Tracey (pictured) says no-one should feel ashamed of their sexual past
Too late! They already know
They heard from a third party that you’ve had a lot of lovers or you’ve already confessed?
If it’s a friend/frenemie that pointed the finger, say ‘I’m not sure why X told you that. I’m the only one who knows my sexual history and I’d rather talk about our future than our pasts’.
If you confessed the truth and wish you hadn’t, say, ‘I’m sorry if you feel threatened by how many lovers I’ve had. I told you because I felt safe disclosing highly intimate information and trusted that you wouldn’t judge me for it. I hope that’s the case.”
If they are judging you, tell them – firmly – that your past is your business and only the future is theirs. Then let them know the discussion is now over.
If they can’t let it go, rethink the relationship.
Most women have had enough sexual shaming in their lives. You sure as hell don’t need it from someone who is supposed to love you and wants to make you happy.
You have a kink they don’t approve of
The answer to dealing with this one depends on whether you want to continue to indulge your kink.
Let’s assume you’re into some light BDSM: the idea of whips and chains excites you and you’ve visited the odd fetish club in the past.
Is this something you enjoyed previously but are now happy to park because your partner isn’t into it? If that’s the case, the best place to start is by educating your partner about your kink.
For instance, if it is BDSM, do some research into the link between pleasure and pain (you’ll find plenty) and the psychological reasons why it appeals to so many people (again, plenty), then tell them about it.
Say, “I know you don’t approve of/don’t understand why I explored X sexually and I wanted to explain why it appealed to me and does for other people”.
There are many urban myths surrounding any sexual behaviour that doesn’t conform to ‘standard’ couple play. Dispel the most obvious ones and encourage your partner to ask questions. Ask why they find it so abhorrent/unappealing? They might be surprised – or even intrigued – once they’re given the right information.
They were even less impressed after you’d explained it all?
Tracey says if your partner doesn’t share your kink and it’s important to you, it can be a red flag that you aren’t compatible in other areas (file image)
Now it’s time for the ‘what I got up to before you is my business’ conversation. It’s not their place or right to judge you on what you chose to explore sexually before you met them.
One person’s kink has always been another’s ‘ewwww’ or ‘ick’. Assuming your kink isn’t something that’s so extremely shocking and out there it would make the most permissive, adventurous lover pale, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t appeal to them personally. They should respect your right to have gone there.
Again, make it clear you aren’t going to apologise but are open to explaining and they should get that you refuse to be judged.
If you are ashamed, talk about why and perhaps explain the circumstances that surrounded your decision to indulge. We all make the best decisions based on what’s available to us at the time.
What if I want to continue to indulge my kink?
Breaking up over a kink might seem extreme but it depends on how much enjoyment you get from sex without it.
If your partner doesn’t share your fascination and it’s important to you, it can be a red flag that you aren’t compatible in other areas. Even if you are, what you don’t want is for them to feel pressured to try something they don’t want to and you to feel unsatisfied by having sex that doesn’t arouse you.
You have two options in this scenario: find a new kink that you’re both interested in or indulge your kink solo, if that’s possible.
This might mean using sex toys, watching porn, or safely practising your kinks on yourself. If your partner’s up for it, you could role-play the kink without actually doing it (a little tease might even get them to change their mind).
Another option if you’re both open to it is to have an open relationship or be granted a ‘hall pass’ to indulge occasionally.
You cheated on previous partners
The research doesn’t work in your favour for this one: the majority of it backs up the saying ‘once a cheat, always a cheat’.
A true serial cheater has no moral compass and will often see nothing wrong with being unfaithful. But that’s not you, right? (If it was, you’d hardly be clicking on a story about how to atone your sexual sins – true cheaters don’t think they have any).
Chances are YOU cheated for another reason.
Some people cheat in relationships they aren’t committed to or aren’t happy in. Others have affairs in retribution for a partner who did the dirty on them. Or cheat if they felt ignored or unloved in their relationship.
Explain the circumstances behind why you did what you did. Then reassure your partner that your relationship is different than the rest, loading on lots of complimentary reasons as to why. You might also want to talk about how you are in a very different place now than you were back then, if this is true.
If you make it clear you regret what you did, the circumstances are now completely different and you have no intention of ever cheating on them, they might decide to give you a chance.
But probably with conditions.
Lots of people who find out their new partner has made a habit of cheating in the past demand you to be completely transparent, at least at the start. Yup – that means knowing the password for your accounts, perhaps being allowed to go through your phone, maybe even setting up a tracking app.
If you honestly are intending to keep your nose clean, this might be something you agree to. Yes, it’s an invasion of your privacy. But if you agree you’d be a bit nervous taking a chance on you, it’s in your interest to agree.
Once trust has been established, that’s when you can renegotiate more freedom.
Listen to Tracey’s new podcast, Mom’s Don’t Have Time to Have sex, on Spotify, Podbean or iHeartRadio. Each week she answers three questions about sex, candidly and with a sense of humour. Out Tuesdays.