Sex Advice

How Sexual Nostalgia Could Be Getting in the Way of Your Current Pleasure Needs

Emily Laurence

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Good sex doesn’t end with the physical act itself. Whether the session in question is partnered or solo play, reminiscing about what went down and how good it made you feel can help set the mood for a follow-up performance days, weeks, months, and even years later. And while indulging in some sexual nostalgia—that is, fantasizing about past sexual partners or specific past sexual experiences—can be beneficial, it’s not always the most helpful tool in your pleasure tool box. That’s because sometimes, according to recently published research, sexual nostalgia can get in the way of prioritizing certain physical and emotional needs.

In an analysis of three studies published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers looked for connections between fantasizing about past sexual partners and maintaining sexual satisfaction over time. According to study author and psychologist Amy Muise, PhD, a big takeaway from the research is that fantasizing about an ex could indicate a certain lack of fulfillment you may be experiencing in a relationship with someone else. “Sexual fantasies about past partners, or sexual nostalgia, might be a unique type of sexual fantasy, as it might provide validation at times when people have unmet needs in their relationship,” Dr. Muise says. That is to say, sexual nostalgia can provide you the comfort that your current real-life relationship may not be able to.

Another connection researchers found between sexual nostalgia and present-tense sex is that those who have a secure attachment style (people who are able to establish healthy romantic relationships while also being comfortable being alone) are more likely to fantasize about a past sexual experience. And in this case, sexual nostalgia can serve as a positive. “[This may mean that] when they feel lonely or socially disconnected, they are more likely to draw on nostalgic memories,” Dr. Muise says. “In some instances, nostalgia helps people feel more socially connected or motivated toward social connection. We reasoned that something similar might be happening with sexual nostalgia; when people feel unfulfilled, they aim to maintain their sexual esteem or confidence by reflecting on positive past experiences.”

“When people feel unfulfilled, they aim to maintain their sexual esteem by reflecting on positive past experiences.” —psychologist Amy Muise, PhD

Dr. Muise says the jury is still out on the scale tips more toward “pro” or “con” as it relates to sexual nostalgia, though. “On the one hand, it is something that secure people draw on when they have unmet needs, so it could be serving some function such as helping people maintain their sense of sexual value,” she says. “On the other hand, [we found that] people who more chronically reflected on sexual nostalgia felt less satisfied with their sex life and relationship over time. So, if people constantly feel nostalgic for past partners, this could detract from their current relationship.”

If find yourself daydreaming about your past more so than enjoying or even considering your present romantic situation, there’s a good chance you could benefit from better communication. “If sexual nostalgia has you poorly assessing your current partner instead of ruminating, use the energy to communicate with your partner about how to improve the ways you move together,” says relationship expert Laurel Steinberg, PhD, who adds that you’d also be wise to remind yourself why the sexual memories that have you waxing nostalgic ended to begin with. “Remember that if the [past] relationship had been so great for both of you, you probably wouldn’t have broken up in the first place.”

But how can you know for sure whether sexual nostalgia is getting in the way of your current partnership, or if your X-rated mental interludes are generally benign (because, to be sure, they can be)? Well, according to Dr. Steinberg, if you’re fantasizing about your ex more than your current partner or you feel guilty after you snap out of it, you may have reason to believe sexual nostalgia is getting in the way of your partnership. In this case, she suggests pinpointing what, exactly, it was about your past sexcapades that you physically enjoyed and then bringing that into your current relationship. “Remembering what you used to find fun can help you build on those skills so that you and your current partner can further expand your repertoire,” she says.

Basically, with devoted intention, it’s possible for you to use your sexual nostalgia to the benefit of your current and future sexual experiences. This way, you may end up having something entirely new to fantasize about.

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