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How To Handle Your Partner’s Sexual Past

A couple having relationship problems about to kiss.

They say that ignorance is bliss, but is that the best approach when it comes to intimate relationships?

Since our past profoundly impacts our present and future, the question to ask is: Does your past have a present impact on your partner or the integrity of the relationship?  If the answer is no, there is no need to share the information. If the answer is yes, it’s time to divulge.

If your partner shares and there’s something in your partner’s sexual past that bothers you, the first thing to do is understand what makes you feel that way, says couples therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer.

If your partner cheated in the past, had a problem with sex addiction, or experimented with fetishes, you may feel emotionally insecure. Having had or currently managing a sexually transmitted disease also holds the potential to negatively impact your physical health, says Hokemeyer.

Acceptable behaviors in a person’s sexual past are really up to the individuals in the relationship. Hokemeyer advises to focus on five questions:

  • Was anyone physically hurt or put at risk?
  • Was anyone exploited in the past relationship?
  • Was anyone emotionally hurt?
  • Is the behavior inconsistent with your moral standards?
  • Would you be ashamed to tell your best friend about their history?

If the answer is yes to any of the above, there is a good chance the past will haunt and diminish the quality of the present. Once you’ve sorted through the past, you’ll need to decide how to move forward.

Communication is key. Stewing over event’s from your partner’s past, won’t make the feelings go away. Feeling like you’ll be asked to engage in behavior that is outside of your comfort zone will produce a lingering anxiety. Talking about it is better than constantly being on guard and hyper vigilant about what they may be up to. “Setting firm, clear, and enforceable boundaries is key,” says Hokemeyer. “It is important that you define what does and doesn’t work for you, even if it is having a “we need to talk about it policy” or a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”. That means agreeing that unless the past harms the current relationship, there is no need to discuss it.

If that doesn’t help, couples therapy is always an option to help maintain and build trust. While we hope that our partner’s past is nothing to worry about, intimacy and a strong, long-lasting relationship is a product of trust that is born of vulnerability. If you have trouble trusting your significant other, you’ll struggle to have an intimate relationship with him or her.

Says Hokemeyer:  If you disapprove of their past and turn a blind eye towards it, there’s a good chance you’ll never fully trust them or yourself in the relationship.

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