ROWAN PELLING"S SEX ADVICE: My new husband holds a torch for his ex – how can I compete?

My new husband holds a torch for his ex – how can I compete

I got married for the first time last year at the age of 43. My husband is ten years older than me and has been married twice before.

A few weeks ago we had a drunken supper and were talking about our previous love lives when my husband said the only woman he had been physically obsessed with was his first wife. I was distraught to hear this, as I wouldn’t rank any of my past lovers above my husband.

Although he tried to backtrack afterwards, the damage was done. Now I feel so unattractive that I can barely make love to him. How can I cope with this confession

The ex factor: A reader is upset her husband rates his previous wife as more attractive than her

The ex factor: A reader is upset her husband rates his previous wife as more attractive than her

You husband won’t win any prizes for tact, but your interpretation of his drunken words is almost certainly too drastic.

Let’s look at this clearly. Many people (if not most) don’t find lasting happiness with the person they lusted after most strenuously.

There are plenty of good reasons for this. Sexual obsession is, by its very nature, a transient state, which has much to do with pheromones, novelty and being thwarted in your desires.

It also has something to do with age. Many of us experience our most virulent lust when we’re young and overpowered by hormones.

This is truer of men than it is of women, since testosterone is at its most distractingly rampant in their teens and 20s, while girls often take longer to get going and reach their sexual peak a decade later.

It’s no wonder a large number of women don’t feel confident about their sexual appetites until they’re in their 30s or later.

Also, as you get older, you learn to differentiate pure lust from deeper and more lasting attraction.

It’s not that you scorn people who are sexually attractive, but you don’t prioritise va-va-voom to the exclusion of all else. You begin to realise that you prize other qualities as more integral to your personal definition of love, such as kindness, empathy, intelligence, humour and the sense that your partner is your soulmate.

If your husband’s been married twice before, I imagine he’s had plenty of time to evolve his notion of the perfect mate.

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It’s not that I don’t understand your hurt: it is always galling to discover that your beloved ever found someone else more foxy.

The husband of a close friend told her that he had experienced sexual obsession only once, when he was 23 and in love as a student.

It was, he says, the only period of his life when he had sex three or four times a day.

The couple became engaged, but a year later he realised the only thing they had in common was sex, and that the whole thing would flounder when the lust diminished.

My friend did not interpret this story as a slur upon her own attractions. The relationship had happened 12 years previously at a time when hormones overrode his better judgment.

I must tell you that when I was editing the Erotic Review magazine, I was intrigued to note that many of the male authors we used wrote about their youthful sexual obsession for early girlfriends, or unconsummated lust for former childhood sweethearts.

But the female writers tended to locate their desire in more recent, fully-fledged relationships.

So it seems to me your husband is expressing a common — but not threatening — form of nostalgia.

What he isn’t saying is that he loved his first wife more profoundly than you, or had better sex. In my experience, there’s not necessarily a correlation between youthful lust and sexual satisfaction.

I need to ask you a question now. You say you wouldn’t rank one of your past loves over your husband. Fair enough, but has there been no one else in your 43 years for whom you felt equal lust, even if it faded

If I’m honest, I must admit to finding at least one man as attractive as my spouse, and I know for a fact that my husband has several girlfriends he found irresistible.

Nor is this surprising, as he was 40 when I met him.

My point is that past relationships don’t negate the present ones. When you meet someone late in life, you have to deal with their history — and your own — and not allow the ghosts to follow you into bed.

You must also bear in mind that men aren’t always the masters of emotional nuance. Your husband probably thought he was being admirably honest. I am sure he believed you felt secure enough in his love to feel unthreatened.

Meanwhile, most of my close friends agree it’s generally tactful to tell any significant man in you life that he’s the best lover you’ve ever had. One woman says: ‘It’s only polite to tell your current beau he’s the hottest,’ she declared, ‘but it’s not necessarily true.’

The wonderful thing about your marriage is that you are open with one another and your attraction is not skin-deep. Don’t punish your husband or yourself for one small slip when you’ve so much to celebrate.