Communication is an important part of healthy relationships because it can build trust, improve your sex life, and facilitate understanding. However, questions like ‘What’s your number (of sexual partners)?’ and ‘What was your last relationship like?’ tend to be avoided in conversations with partners.
A study asked male and female college students to list topics they avoided discussing with their romantic partners. The results show that the most avoided topics of conversation are past romantic relationships and sexual experiences.
Study participants said that they avoided talking about past relationships because they wanted to respect their partner’s privacy, did not want to be compared with past partners, or thought that discussing the past may threaten closeness in the relationship. Some even disliked discussing the past because they did not want to know if their sexual experience level differed from that of their partner’s.
A lot of people probably share the concerns found in this study, and obviously you do not want to know everything about a person’s past on a first date. However, eventually talking about past sexual experiences can protect your health (you may learn about your partner’s STD status), and talking about past relationships may bring a new level of understanding to the current relationship.
Here are some tips for communicating about your past:
• If your partner brings up a past relationship, don’t immediately change the subject because you think their past is none of your business. Give it a second and listen; you may learn something worth knowing (good or bad).
• Find your own way of telling your partner that they are not in a competition with your past.
• Keep it honest. Never lie about what happened between you and another person, your health, or your sexual history.
Getting to know each other is part of being in a relationship. So go ahead and bring the past up. Your health and the health of your relationship may benefit from doing so.
Reference: Anderson, M., Kunkel, A., and Dennis, M.R. (2011). “Let’s (Not) Talk About That”: Bridging the Past Sexual Experiences Taboo to Build Healthy Romantic Relationships. Journal of Sex Research, Volume 48, Issue 4, p.381-391.