I have been with my lovely boyfriend for six months and it’s all going brilliantly. We are starting to have conversations about moving in together and about our hopes for marriage and children further down the line. My worry is that he is rather sexually conservative. Our sex life is good, but I have, in the past, experimented with threesomes and other kinks. I have no desire to go there again, but in the spirit of honesty, do I tell him? What if he thinks less of me?
This makes us think of the old-ish adage: when asked how many people they have had sex with, women will tend to divide the real number by three, while men will tend to triple it. Which just goes show what society continues to tell us about female purity and male machismo.
Couched within your question is something about the shame we can feel when we think about past sexual situations – not necessarily because of what we did, but because of why we did it and how it made us feel. A one-night stand where no one walks away with a disease, unwanted pregnancy, or sense of worthlessness and disposability and everyone feels fully safe and empowered? Well, we can’t see the problem there. But past sexual partners can feed into our desire for a clean moral slate; our yearning to go into new, important relationships somehow untainted. But then we would not be who we are today with all our texture.
At these moments of transition, we remember all the women we have been. All the times we have not served ourselves well. We remember the other moments of transition – the summer when we were so promiscuous we felt like pirates/the winter when we were so heartbroken we felt like shadows – and we fret about what our yesterdays mean for our todays.
So you did some kinky stuff. Presumably you have also been mean, silly, jealous, judgmental… any number of things in the past. You’ve also – we assume – been wise, kind, funny, supportive and industrious. We are all full of frailty and adventure. We are all travelling through life and the journey is the prize. No one got hurt (unless they wanted to) when you conducted your sexual experiments and here you are, sexual itches scratched (more of which later) and ready to commit to Mr Perfect.
Now, of course, is when we tell you that no one is perfect. Don’t pedestal this man. Don’t make him the arbiter of all moral justice; the person who makes you worthy or unworthy of love. That is the way to give all your power away and start to slide towards codependency.
Our concern is this: your worry about triggering disapproval. When you say “conservative” do you mean traditional or do you mean judgmental and condemnatory? When it comes to sex, is he saying, “This is not for me” or “No one should ever do that and if they do it then they are filthy”? There is a big difference and this extends to all sorts of values, including how you bring up children.
“Sexually conservative” is an intriguing phrase. We feel that it used to mean no sex before marriage, then (if you insist) missionary position only, with the lights off and no eye contact; with my body, I thee worship – but no oral sex please, we’re British. Or is it a belief that sex is at its most beautiful and profound when it is between two people who love each other? If it’s the former, then think hard about how you will feel when the glow of “this could be the one” wears off and you are staring down the barrel of 50 years of missionary. Sex, within a relationship, must be given room to flex. Like everything else. We all change and grow.
Hiding your true self for fear of rejection will never lead you to happiness or that feeling of personal freedom that commitment to a fulfilling relationship can – at its best – bring. But if you are sparing his feelings, then that is understandable. Talking about ex-lovers does not, generally, enrich current relationships. Even in the most honest ones, few people want to listen to blow-by-blow accounts of past escapades.
So, finally, here is our advice: tell him if he asks. Be “conservative” in your response. Serve up neither lies nor detail, but here’s the crucial part: do not let his reaction or even your conjecture about his potential reaction change how you see yourself. No one is worth that.
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