More often than not, I think my wife and I don’t have sex enough. Our libidos are very different. I’d be happy having sex a few times a week, while she is happy with two or three times a month. Over the years, we’ve learned what works for us and negotiated what hasn’t. For us, communication about sex is important — before and during. When we began talking about “sex before kids,” it led us to talk about sex before one another and our previous sex partners. Until recently, the one thing we didn’t share was how sex was with our exes. We kept them in the past (where they belong), but I now know that these conversations, for us anyway, are equally important to share.
After watching a passionate sex scene on ‘The L Word: Generation Q,’ my curiosity got the best of me. I wanted to know about my wife’s sexual partners, the women she’d been with before me, what worked in bed for them, what didn’t. Maybe a part of me wanted to know what worked for them, my wife and her exes, so I could spice things up in our bedroom if she wanted that. I was a little nervous to start the conversation, but once we began, it felt long overdue, almost urgent even. “So, what did you like with her…in bed?” I could feel my fear of her answer written all over my face. But a half-smile appeared on her face. “I was the one who tried things,” she began.
Now fear took up residence in the pit of my stomach. The insecurity tried to sneak in. Had we done these things? Does she want these things tried in our bed? They were questions I knew I wanted to ask but was scared to. I did, in the end. This conversation was one of the best we’d had in our entire relationship about our past sexual partners. Why? Because we weren’t that insecure, new couple, who in the beginning tried to woo the other with how well we could perform oral sex on the other.
In those moments, we were seasoned lovers, looking to understand the other and, in part, maybe just a little, remind one another how grateful we were to be this couple, mature enough and secure enough in who we were to understand how necessary this conversation was.
In an article called Should Couples Really Share Their Sexual Histories?, psychologist Aaron Ben-Zeév Ph.D. says, “Despite difficulties in disclosing previous intimate details, self-disclosure enhances intimacy. Indeed, many counselors recommend disclosing your sexual past to your new partner enabling consequent benefits, such as enhancing mutual knowledge, strengthening trust and sincere communication, avoiding repetition of past mistakes, and reducing suspicion about your past.” Maybe that’s what it was for us too — we just didn’t want to make mistakes in the bed, again.
By the end, we learned that we could be honest about what had pleased us in the past even if it wasn’t what pleased us now, as a married, committed, older couple. We could admit that once, using a mini-vibrator had worked with an ex, but the toy had not found its way in the drawer of our nightstand. I admitted that tossing my salad would only ever happen in the kitchen and not in our bed.
The self-disclosure in these intimate moments, the ones in which we spoke about what pleased us in the past, this honest conversation, showed us we had nothing to hide. We weren’t covering up anything we didn’t mostly know already — like, we hadn’t ever been promiscuous. We’d never cheated. We didn’t have some undisclosed sexually transmitted diseases.
Knowing what happened (in bed) between your partner and their ex means you get to understand your partner better. You get to ask follow-up questions, you get to clarify what’s worked in the past and ask if they’d like to explore some of those things with you. New doors just might open up for you both when you communicate in such an intimate way.