ASK ARIA: My boyfriend says his ex was better in bed — help!

Category: Advice

Author: Aria Vega

Dear Aria,

My boyfriend and I have been together for about six years now, and we've been living together for the last year. I really think he’s my person and, at this point, I’m basically ready to marry him. We’ve talked about that a little and he’s not at the same point yet but I’m not in a huge rush. I’m just worried that the reason he’s not on the same page about our future is because he finds our sex life lacking.

Recently, I told him he was the best sex I’d ever had. It wasn’t even necessarily true; I just wanted to start a conversation about our sex life, which we’ve never really had. Plus, I wanted to boost his confidence. But when he didn’t really reply, I asked if I was the best sex he’d ever had. And then he said no! He clearly felt guilty, but still. Then I couldn’t help but press him further, until he revealed that he may have had more fun in bed with his ex-girlfriend.

I was really devastated! If we’re going to spend the rest of our lives together, shouldn’t we be each other’s best? I can’t imagine either one of us signing up for a lifetime of sub-par sex. But since we’re so bad at talking about this, I don’t know where to start, and now I’m starting to worry that his ex could be a threat to us. Please help!

Sincerely,

Blindsided

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Dear Blindsided,

Oh dear… It can be tempting to ask direct questions we don’t actually want the answers to, right? Sometimes it makes us feel like it can help us shape a narrative the way we want, but all it does it leave us less equipped to handle difficult truths when they come. In fairness to your partner, you’ve admitted yourself that his reply was the first honest part of that exchange.

I don’t mean to pile on; I definitely understand why you might have felt compelled to press your partner about his old girlfriend after he made his admission. Lots of us want to be the lover in our partners’ lives who puts everyone in their past to shame, especially if you plan to be the last. But now that you’ve learned that you haven’t quite earned that distinction yet, it’s time to decide how you’ll try to claim it.

If you’ve got the stomach for this approach, you might want to consider inquiring more about what made sex with his ex so much more “fun,” as he put it. Did they try lots of new positions or locales? Did they play with toys, or maybe watch porn together? The point it, the answer is most likely something the two of you can incorporate into your own sex life. In that case, his ex likely isn’t as much of a threat as you fear, though only your gut knows that for sure.

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Either way, you and your boyfriend are going to have to do substantially more talking, especially about the tough stuff, if you’re going to do this for the long haul. I do wonder what makes you feel “basically ready” to marry the man, given how the two of you struggle with that. You don’t mention your age but if you’re young, I imagine you might be feeling some pressure to settle down since you’ve been in a committed relationship for so long, and are now living together.

Progressive ideas about sex and relationships seem to be de rigueur these days, but conservative ones still rule our institutions, to which social norms have clung stubbornly. Marriage is still widely considered to be the bedrock of a stable and happy life, despite decades of divorce being normalized. I’m getting the sense that the two of you have discussed marriage more than sex, which I’m afraid might be putting the cart before the horse.

I blame pop culture, which has done so much to create the mistaken impression that the right person should just know how to please you without you having to tell them. While that’s the easiest way to tell a story in visual mediums like cinema and pornography, it’s not how real life works — there’s no avoiding potentially awkward conversations.

So why not make it a little easier on yourselves? I recommend starting with what’s known as a ‘yes-no-maybe’ list, where you review a list of kinks, sex acts, and other proclivities on your own, and then join together to compare notes afterward. You can find stock ones online; I’d recommend this one from kink expert and POV podcast guest Bex Caputo. This will give you a really clear sense of where your interests align, and help you two build a sexual ‘menu’ that gets you both going.

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Lastly, I just want to highlight the assumption you’ve made about your sex life being what’s holding up a proposal. There are many possibilities as to why your partner isn’t quite keen on marriage yet. Maybe he wants to be further along in his career before he feels ready, or maybe he’s still undecided about kids when you already know what you want. Your sex life could totally be a factor, but being too focused on that when he hasn’t expressed it directly would be a mistake.

It sounds like you’re due for two different conversations: one about sex, and the other about marriage. When it comes to the latter, this is where you can get super direct: “What are your feelings about us being married? Is it important to you? Why?” Life is long, and if you two stick together, your marriage might be too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that might reveal fault lines. That kind of information has greater value the earlier it’s received.

If you were hoping this response would amount to more than an impassioned plea to communicate more clearly, I’m so sorry to disappoint you. When it comes to sex and relationships, communication is the lifeblood that makes all the rest of it possible. In your case, it’s the root of why you feel unsure about essential aspects of your partnership, and it’s the quickest way to the clarity you need. Best of luck, and all my love.

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Aria

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