What Therapists Say It Means If You Think About an Ex During Sex

Photo: Stocksy/Michela Ravasio
Ever find yourself in the heat of the moment—with a new or not new partner—when all of a sudden, your ex pops into your head? Your mind starts racing because you don’t understand what’s happening. You wonder, "Why am I thinking about someone else or dreaming about my ex? Should I tell my partner? Does this mean I don't even like my partner?" While the situation can be confusing and potentially even anxiety-provoking, you can take solace in knowing you're hardly alone in your extra-relationship thoughts. In fact, there's some evidence to support that your bedmate might be having the very same thoughts—but, um, why is this a thing at all?

Experts In This Article

According to a survey by British sex-toy brand Lovehoney, 46 percent of women and 42 percent of men say they've thought about someone else during sex. Furthermore, 60 percent of men and women say they thought about an ex during sex, with 15 percent noting that this happens often. Beyond it being a common thought, there are a number of reasons to explain why an ex might pop into your head at all while you’re having sex with someone else.

“Maybe you haven’t created a sexual narrative with your current partner yet, and you might just need more time getting to know your partner sexually.” —relationship therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT.

“Maybe you haven’t created a sexual narrative with your current partner yet, and you might just need more time getting to know your partner sexually,” says relationship therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT. Other possible reasons you can't figure out how to stop thinking about your ex during sex? Maybe certain smells or images bring an ex to mind, since those senses trigger our memories. Or perhaps you're in the mood to try something different, sexually, with your current partner. Or, "maybe you don’t miss the person, but you might miss what it was like to have sex with them." And if you do miss your ex, is that definitely a problem?

The short answer: Maybe but not definitely. “In this situation, context is everything," says clinical sexologist Cyndi Darnell. "Sometimes during sex, our mind wanders off. Sometimes we start thinking about errands, work, and even domestic chores rather than sex. None of these things indicate that we'd rather be doing something else.” So ask yourself, are you thinking about an ex during sex because you'd rather be with them or because you're simply being reminded of them for a reason that skews innocuous? And, based on that answer, when (if ever) should you tell your current partner about what's going on in your mind?

“It’s okay to have private thoughts," Earnshaw says. "You do not need to let your partner know you were thinking about your ex during sex. Instead, it’s more important to try to get at the root of why you were thinking of them." Once you're able to pinpoint what brought the memory to mind, you can judge whether it's important for your current bedmate to know. Hint: If the reason has nothing to do with potential improvements that could be made within your current relationship, consider keeping it to yourself to avoid confusion, jealousy, and hurt feelings.

For instance, if your current partner's sheets are the same brand as your ex's? Your current partner likely doesn't need to know that detail brought your ex to mind. But, if you think sharing what's going on might lead to increased connection and satisfaction, there are ways you can address this using some finesse. “You might not say ‘my ex used to do this thing I really like—can you do it, too?’" Earnshaw says. "But maybe you instead can say, ‘I think I’d like you to try to do blank.'"

Your wandering mind, it turns out, isn't necessarily an issue to get to the bottom of. Rather, the more important intel to glean is deciphering whether the reason you can't figure out how to stop thinking about an ex during sex has to do with something lacking in your current relationship. So, commit some time to critical thinking (though, perhaps not during your next romp with your current partner).


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