How do I have sex with new partners without thinking of my ex?

How do I have sex with new partners without thinking of my ex? | Soho House

This week, our sexpert Olivia Petter unpacks what it means if you’re still sexually hung up on them

Friday 16 December 2022   By Olivia Petter   Illustration by Rosa Viktoria Ahlers

Judging from the tone of your question, my guess is you’re fresh out of a relationship. In which case, let me start by saying that I’m sorry, and you have every right to be wary about having sex with someone new. But you don’t need to be quite so wary of thinking about your ex when you do it. I know that’s not the most conventional advice, but bear with me on this one. 

Sexual pleasure is usually a little complicated. In short, it’s rare to be completely sexually satisfied the first time you sleep with someone new. Confidence, comfort and alcohol intake can all play a part. But so does your past.

I think we bring all of our old sexual experiences into new ones. Yes, even the one-night stands. Every kiss. Every touch. Every sensation. All of it contributes to shaping our sexual selves: a soft curve here, the odd bump there.

By this I don’t just mean it affects how we have sex, but how we think and feel about it, too, which is arguably more important. And it’s mercurial. One bad encounter can completely re-shape us, inciting dread, anxiety, and in some cases carry trauma into the next, just as a really wonderful one can put us back into place.

This is a thesis best embodied by a piece of art. ‘Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995’ by Tracey Emin is a tent featuring the names of the artist’s lovers and bedfellows appliqued inside. They might not all be sexual partners, but the message is a similar one: that the people we are intimate with become integral to who we are. And that it doesn’t matter if that person was someone you had a relationship with for two years or a stranger you met in a pub. 

This brings me back to your question. I can see why you’d feel ashamed of thinking about your ex when you’re with someone new – and I’m not suggesting you divulge that to either party. But if your ex is that last person with whom you felt sexually confident, I don’t think it’s a problem. In fact, I think it’s very normal. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean you have unresolved feelings for them, either – God knows that sex and love are hardly mutually exclusive. All it means is that your ex was the last person who made you feel good in bed. And it’s only natural to think of them when you’re with another partner, at least at the start. They might even be doing the same. But everyone is different, and so your sexual chemistry will be entirely unique with every partner. That’s part of the fun. 

So don’t worry if you’re thinking about your ex; the more sexual experiences you have, the less space they’ll take up in your mind, body and soul. It might be a slow process, but that’s OK. Because eventually, you’ll discover new things with new partners and that will inform your sexual self as it stands today. It will be worth the wait. 

The quick-fire round

How can I enjoy sex after having a baby?
I haven’t given birth so this isn’t something I’ve experienced, but friends of mine have and all of them say that sex is tricky after childbirth. Aside from the technical stuff, you’re dealing with a lot of hormonal and physical changes to your body, all of which will inevitably affect how you feel in bed with your partner. If you’re feeling insecure, or less sexually confident than before, my advice is to gently communicate that to your partner. They can reassure you and help you see that you’re just as sexy as you were before. In fact, I’ll bet you’re even sexier.

What do I do if I have unrequited feelings for someone?
There is no easy way to say this, but you simply have to be patient and get over them. Take it from someone who has spent years pining after people that barely registered them as a friend, let alone anything else. All those films you’ve seen and songs you’ve listened to about holding out for your one true love, waiting for them to suddenly realise they love you too? They’re selling a fantasy. And your time is far better spent rooted in reality. Trust me.

If you want to get in touch, please email me at All submissions will remain anonymous. 
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate