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‘I love my husband but sex with my ex seemed more fulfilling, almost primal’

Ask Roe: I don’t ever want to act on these thoughts about my ex but I feel like I am betraying my husband

Dear Roe,

I am a happily married woman. I love my husband. However, I struggle with sexual fantasies involving my exes. Sex with my exes seemed more fulfilling and exotic, almost primal. Sometimes to get those feelings out of my system I turn to porn and pleasure myself that way then those thoughts are gone. However, there are times when I would like to act on these feelings. But, I don’t. I don’t ever want to act on them. But I feel racked with guilt and like I’m betraying my husband by having these thoughts. Help me. What do you suggest?

I suggest going easy on yourself. Fantasies are not action, memories are not betrayal, feelings are not facts and we do not live in a Minority Report-style dystopia where you can be arrested for your innermost thoughts.

There can be a territorial and binary-driven rhetoric when it comes to thinking and talking about our exes, with too many people believing that once you get with someone new, you should never think about or have any feelings towards your exes, as if the current partner has a monopoly on your memories and experiences. If you have spent a significant amount of time, emotional intimacy and/or sexual experiences with someone, however, these memories can, of course, be important and even formative. Thinking back on them is natural.


All too often when it comes to relationships (and even politics), we pretend that emotions are all-or-nothing, all-encompassing, permanent states, claiming that if we ever feel a flicker of longing, regret, guilt or affection, then these feelings must somehow crowd out any other reality and present some irrefutable truth. So, if we experience even a moment of nostalgic affection for an ex, or a flash of regret about a life decision, or a flicker of desire for a person outside our relationship, we can panic ourselves into believing that this emotion must invalidate or overrule all the others and be evidence of how we “really” feel. Instead, we should acknowledge and even appreciate that as humans, we can and do experience a wide range of emotions about almost everything.

This one-dimensional, binary view of emotions can cause issues in relationships. It’s not healthy if people believe that their partners can’t still care about or think fondly of exes, viewing such thoughts as a betrayal or evidence that they aren’t invested in their current relationship. In fact, the ability to allow relationships to evolve and even end while still respecting everyone involved can be the sign of a secure and emotionally mature individual.

Now, of course, there is a difference between thinking fondly about someone and deeply yearning for them; a difference between enjoying fun memories and obsessing over them; a line between remembering and longing for the past to the detriment of your present. If you told me that your sex life with your husband had never been good, that you didn’t even bother trying to enjoy sex with him because your ex was the best you ever had and you knew you’d never rekindle that fire, that you couldn’t look at your husband without thinking about your ex or were arranging an illicit affair – then we’d have a problem. As it is, though, you occasionally remember or fantasise about exes to pleasure yourself, have no desire to ever cheat on your husband and you love him. This isn’t an emergency.

Fantasies, like emotions, aren’t always facts nor are they necessarily signs that you actually want to act on these thoughts. Fantasies are ways of exploring ideas of pleasure in our minds precisely because it’s not real life and therefore it’s safe, it’s under our control and there’s no chance of getting hurt, betraying a relationship or simply discovering that some experiences that are fun and enjoyable to think about are disappointing in person. This can also be the appeal of pornography, as we get to watch and imagine and explore sexual dynamics and scenarios in a safe way, learning what excites us, what’s a turn-off and think about what we would like to try – and what is best left to the realm of the imagination. In this way, a bit of fantasy can be incredibly healthy, particularly in a long-term relationship, as you get to explore aspects of your sexual being in your mind, enjoy yourself, while still maintaining your connection and relationship with your partner.

If these fantasies are bringing you some guilt or are making you feel disconnected from your husband, it could help to become curious about them, rather than getting stuck in cycles of guilt. It’s interesting that you describe your fantasies featuring your exes as being “exotic, almost primal”, which could indicate that what you are connecting with is the idea of a new, novel, overwhelming sense of lust and desire – something that can feel in short supply in a long-term marriage where familiarity and routine can take over. What if you tried to bring some of these feelings into your dynamic with your husband, to embrace some novelty and bring back a sense of exoticism into your relationship and sex life?

It can be easy in long-term relationships to neglect novelty, seduction, even romance that makes us feel excited and connected and can evoke that sense of real lust and desire for our partner. Could you and your husband try to carve out some time for some date nights where you get dressed up and go out so you get to connect – or even have a weekend or holiday away together where you break out of your every day routine and have some new experiences together?

Having new experiences together, whether it’s visiting somewhere new or trying a new activity, can help make even long-term partners see new aspects of each other, form new memories and capture a sense of excitement and interest that can easily squashed by the stressors of everyday life. In the bedroom, you could also try something new or something that you haven’t done in a long time – whether that’s trying new positions, buying a new sex toy, dressing up or trying some role-play. It could also be a really connecting experience to show your husband some of the porn that excites you and masturbate to it together or see if there’s anything you would like to try. Seeing each other in a new way sexually and embracing some novelty could help you not only feel connected to yourself and your husband but will transform your fantasies from a guilty secret that is making you feel disconnected from your husband into a source of inspiration for exploration and play that actually brings you closer.

Be curious about your desire, allow yourself some fantasy and enjoy a new chapter of exploration and play with your husband.