I’ve been with my girlfriend nearly six months. Early on in our relationship she said she’d had a few partners before me. I’ve recently discovered she’s slept with more people than I have. I feel like she misled me and I’m upset. I am also worried she will have had better experiences in the past. We had a big row about this and she’s warned me if I mention it again she will end things. I can’t stop thinking about it though.
Asking about your partner’s sexual history, and disclosing your own, has long been recommended within a sexual health context. It’s assumed knowing about who your partner has been intimate with can help you make decisions about safer sex or perhaps the need for testing for sexually transmitted infections. It is important if you need to talk about your HIV status. And be relevant if either of you have a recent or historical experience of sexual or physical abuse that might impact on your current relationship.
This is all well intentioned but as you’ve found, asking about someone’s relationship past can leave you feeling anxious or inadequate and cause problems within a relationship when asking doesn’t always bring you the answer you wanted to hear.
Unfortunately in these situations the person who is deemed to have had ‘too many’ partners tends to be viewed as being at fault. A more assertive way to view this is their past is their business. It is unfair to judge someone for enjoying relationships with other people before you. Even if they are unhappy about past relationships if these are now over their current situation is more important and they probably want to focus on that.
Rather than seeing what she has done as a problem it may help you to unpack why it is troubling you so much. Do any of the following apply?
- A lack of sexual confidence or worries about technique or turning your partner on
- General anxiety or fears about relationships due to being cheated on in the past
- Problems around confidence and communication
- Being raised to believe either women should have fewer sexual partners than men or that having a sexual past is wrong, bad or a form of infidelity
You may find writing about how you feel helps pinpoint specific worries from which you can think about how to help yourself (using the links above). Or seek additional support from friends or family, via your GP (in the case of sexual problems), or through counselling.
Time to face the truth
You say you feel she ‘misled’ you. But is this what really happened? Didn’t it actually go more like this: your girlfriend told you she had had a few partners in the early stages of dating, but over time, as she’s come to trust you, she has been specific about her sexual past. Rather than this being dishonest it might be seen as her clarifying things as your relationship became more serious.
Maybe she’s never considered the number of partners she’s had before as important. Perhaps she didn’t disclose much before because it just wasn’t an issue for her. Or was focused more on enjoying a blossoming relationship with you?
To move forward can you think about things more positively? That she had obviously come to trust you enough to share past experiences and felt it was important to disclose this to you? Aside from this recent problem is the relationship good overall? Can you focus on all the positives you have together rather than dwelling on things that happened with other people before she even knew you?
You worry you may not compare well with her past partners but it is worth remembering that we are all different and what worked or was enjoyable with one person may not be so good with someone else. It’s not just about how bodies fit together, techniques, or shared turn-ons but the wider relationship – how you communicate, show affection share values, interests and so on.
She has clearly told you she does not want to discuss this further and given she probably feels judged for being open with you it would be sensible to respect this.
Hopefully by thinking about why you hold these views and reconsidering how you view her and the relationship you can move forward. If you feel you are still judging her, are angry with her, or cannot stop thinking about her past it would be better to end the relationship while you address these issues yourself.
Petra Boynton is a social psychologist and sex researcher working in International Health Care and studying sex and relationships. She is The Telegraph’s agony aunt. Follow her on Twitter @drpetra.
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