Q: How do I discuss my sexual history with my partner? I don’t want to scare him off or have him judge me by my past.
A: Many women (and men) are afraid to discuss their sexual histories with their current partners. For some people, their sexual past is filled with regret and disappointment, particularly if it involved booze-fueled one-night stands or infidelity. This is especially true for women, who are more likely to feel guilty about prior exploits. It is also more common for women to feel judged and to be subject to the proverbial double standard. A woman with a history is more likely to be looked down upon — and criticized — than a man. Even though we live in a modern era and are well aware that women have the same rights and desires as men, there is still a certain faction out there that believes “nice girls” don’t have sex…at least not without commitment or even marriage.
In reality, we know this isn’t true. Many women explore their sexual desires and fantasies with a number of different partners, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Just as men have the right and the freedom to enjoy their sexuality, so should women. As long as both parties are willing and as long as safer-sex practices are employed, a rich sexual history can be fulfilling. Indeed, the more experienced and uninhibited you are, the more likely you will be in touch with your body and your own sexual response, which means that your committed relationship can be that much better. No shyness and fumbling in the dark for you two!
That being said, many couples can’t seem to get past the issue of…the past. Even the most committed and loving partners might find themselves fighting with ghosts of the past as they try to establish trust and intimacy in the present. Since this is such a common issue and one that many couples have discussed with me in therapy, I have established a few guidelines that can help you and your partner navigate it with ease:
- First, try to practice a form of “don’t ask, don’t tell” when it comes to the number of sexual partners. You don’t need to know that your man had 20 women before you, and he doesn’t need to know about the threesome you had in Cancun. The only questions two people should ever ask about sexual pasts are with regard to sexually transmitted infections; i.e., Have you ever had an STI? When is the last time you got tested? Questions such as these have a role in safer-sex practices, but unnecessary details and in-depth reminiscing are not required or advisable.
- Second, if you have already broken the first rule, it’s time for some immediate repair work. Don’t let it fester between you or become a bone of contention that gets brought up every time you have a fight. Be honest, upfront, and straightforward about the matter at hand, such as, “Yes, I have had a number of partners. I am sorry that upsets you, but it is in the past and I want to focus on the present with you. Is that something you can do?” If your partner can’t get past your past, then he might not be the right partner for you.
The same is true for you. If you don’t fully trust your partner because he used to be a player, then you either need to move on or seek help from a therapist who can help you establish healthy communication and trust. Until you put the past where it belongs, you can never have a future with your partner, or anyone else for that matter.
— Dr. Laura Berman