Retroactive Sexual Jealousy: Talk Therapy to Redefine Masculinity and Sexuality

Troubled young handsome man, woman at the background on the sofaFeeling jealous about your girlfriend or boyfriend’s, wife or husband’s sexual history can lead to obsessive thinking, suspiciousness or controlling behaviour. For some guys it’s related to sexual performance anxiety. But Retroactive Jealousy, as it is sometimes called, is usually not a sign that the relationship is under threat from another party. This sexual jealousy often starts happening to a person whose sexuality has been repressed in their upbringing or by social conditioning. Restrictive ideas about gender differences between men and women can play a part too.

Therapy for Retroactive Jealousy

When men open up to me about their strong feelings of jealousy around their partner’s sexual past, stories about their own sexual repression are often voiced as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean they tell me about desire for sexual intimacy with other men (although sometimes men do open up to me about their shame of gay sex) but they might share different longings or stories of past events they’ve never spoken to anyone else about. Struggling to cope with sexual jealousy and the obsessive thinking that accompanies it can open up a realisation of the complexity of a man’s sexuality.

The Kinsey Scale, a linear range of sexual orientation from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual is now considered quite a dated model for understanding human sexuality (the Kinsey Scale is from the late 1940s!). I sometimes use another model that considers different dimensions of sexuality on several axes: Desire, Action, Orientation and Identity. We are more than who we tell the world we are and more than our actions might suggest. We are also not just our desires or the person we might be at any one point in time. Humans are sexual, emotional and rational beings. We change through our lives and our sexual selves can change and develop as well. On top of this we have cultural and social expections on us. How we relate to bisexuality or monogamy are just two examples.

For men experiencing obsessive thoughts about their partner’s past sexual adventures, or retroactive sexual jealousy, there can come a sense that they’ve been cheated out of experiences they might have enjoyed if not for their particular life course or the attitudes of those around them. ‘Healthy sexuality’ is a contentious concept. Men can be influenced in their actions by the way their parents raised them or the teachings of the church they attended or shame associated with a fear of rejection if they spoke or acted on their desires.

Pornography Addiction as a Reaction to Sexual Jealousy

Some men have reacted to sexual thoughts and feelings by trying to beef up their masculine identity or chase sexual success. Some have taken up the techniques of the Pick Up Artist (PUA) gurus, methods that rely on insulting and manipulating other people (women), by giving backhanded compliments, for example. Being a straight man is largely defined by not being something else, that is, not being a woman or a gay man (of course gay men also suffer from pressure to perform their masculinity in certain ways). Hidden within this is the harmful concept that women are less than men. This in turn gives rise to fragile masculinity and what has been termed toxic masculinity.

Some men turn to porn to live out their fantasies in private but end up fearing they have porn addiction or ‘love addiction’ or some kind of sex addiction. And some end up suffering from undiagnosed anxiety or depression as a result of the imbalances in their behaviour or declining self-care. Trying to ensure he is not a woman or not gay can have a man living a very restrained version of himself, refusing closeness to other men and treating other people without respect.

If it’s time you talked about sexual jealousy or retroactive jealousy, contact me. I specialise in making space where you can be heard and accepted and you feel you can be honest. You can meet with me in-person face to face or for online counselling over Skype webcam. We can also talk on a phonecall. Make an enquiry now and start making changes for the better.

About Forward Therapy

Ash Rehn is a counsellor and narrative therapist with over 20 years experience. He specialises in therapeutic conversations and collaborative therapy for anxiety, burnout, depression, midlife crisis, sex and relationship issues, pornography use problems and counselling for lesbians and gay men.
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