Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through Formspring. This week’s question is: I am alarmingly insecure about my partner’s past sexual encounters and my body/abilities in comparison. They are a different person now and claims nothing super wild happened, but I still obsess. Any thoughts?
[Note: This question has been deliberately edited to be gender-neutral, as to be applicable to a wider audience.]
It’s not uncommon for insecurity to rear its ugly head in relationships. Unfortunately, it’s also a matter that can be difficult for people to cope with and eradicate, and requires much time and willingness on your part to combat your self-doubt.
First and foremost, I suggest that instead of examining your insecurity as caused by your partner’s past, you understand and frame your insecurity through an understanding of your personal fears and anxieties. To put it another way, focus on your feelings and dealing with those rather than focusing on your partner’s past. Try and think about exactly why you are feeling insecure in your relationship; what makes you think that your body or abilities are somehow less pleasing to your partner? What do you feel the consequences of your inadequacies might be: do you think your partner is unsatisfied, that they will be unfaithful, etc? This will help you understand your fears so that you can then better be able to tackle them honestly.
Also, when doing some self-reflection, it might be worth asking yourself what judgments you hold about your partner’s past and how you think your ideas might be influencing your relationship. In this vein, ask yourself, what if something “super wild” had happened? Would this change your perception of your partner? If so, how? Why? Morever, you may discover that what unsettles you has less to do with your partner’s sexual past in general and more to do with what you feel are patterns or behaviors that seem dangerous or negative to your partner’s well-being and to your relationship, such as unprotected sex or self-destructive drinking. In this case, it may be worthwhile to discuss this with your partner as to address these concerns head-on.
Furthermore, during this self-reflection, ask yourself, “What would make me feel less insecure?” At the end of the day, you cannot change your partner’s sexual history, nor should you wish to. As a wise friend once told me, “Each of us is the sum of our scars.” This is not to say that your partner’s prior sexual history are “scars,” but rather, that your partner’s past experiences have shaped who they are today– the person that you are in a relationship and may care for and love. In any case, you can attempt to alleviate your insecurity by doing activities, both in and outside the context of your relationship, that make you feel good about yourself. It may also be helpful for you to consider visiting a therapist to help you explore your insecurities, especially if they are interfering with your relationship and/or with other areas of your life.
With that said, my second recommendation is that, after reflecting upon your insecurities, you discuss this issue with your partner. Be honest about your fears and anxieties, while taking care not to shame your partner or attempt to make them feel guilty about their past experiences. Not judging your partner is incredibly important, as it is key to building trust and honesty between you and your partner. Establish a system of open communication so that you feel comfortable asking that your partner help you navigate your feelings of self-worth. It may help for you to express to your partner that you desire additional and specific types of affection to make you feel cherished. By this I mean, not everyone gives and receives love the same way, so it’s important for you to consider and verbalize the ways that you personally like to be treated. For example, while some adore physical affection, others enjoy receiving attention in the form of a home-cooked meal, kind words, or planned dates. You can learn more about this on the website, 5 Love Languages, where you and your partner can even take a short, helpful quiz.
Thirdly, one way that I suggest coping with relationship insecurity of this sort is to remember that many people do in fact come to relationships with a sexual history of some kind. This tends to become truer the older you are. Moreover, I will say that it is possible that certain partners are better in bed for a variety of reasons; this is a fact, but is not one that requires comparison or feelings of inadequacy. After all, people form and stay in relationships for a many reasons, and furthermore, people are more than their body parts and their sexual abilities. Indeed, people should trust the intent and desire of their partner(s) and the relationships they form, and not get caught up in past relationships or experiences.
Also, I think it’s worth mentioning that sexual comparisons are not necessarily clear-cut– having a bigger/smaller body-part is not automatically indicative of sexual prowess, since plenty goes into being a good lover, such as attentiveness and sexual compatibility. In this sense, if you are concerned that your partner is or will be less satisfied with you than with previous lovers, it may help to talk with your partner about y’alls desires, fantasies, turn-ons, and turn-offs. Build on your sexual experiences together by practicing, being considerate, and paying attention to your partner’s body and language cues before, during, and after sexual activity.
Lastly, I’d implore you to consider that this insecurity may in fact be all in your head. Remind yourself of this in moments of self-doubt. When you catch yourself thinking negatively about yourself or comparing your body and sexual “abilities” with those you imagine your partner experienced in the past, stop this train of thought immediately. While this takes a lot of practice before it becomes second nature, at the end of the day, this is necessary for you to eventually overcome what can be obsessive and frankly self-destructive behavior. Furthermore, it might be worthwhile to consider other ways in which you doubt yourself in daily life. Is this a pattern? If so, there might be more issues at hand, and relationship insecurity is a single manifestation of that pattern. In this case, visiting a therapist may be helpful.