Q: I’m feeling bad about my sexual history. I don’t have that many previous partners, but I have had a one-night stand and some other casual sex. My boyfriend has been with me and one other serious long-term partner. He hasn’t asked to know about my sexual history beyond us talking about if we’d both been tested. Sometimes he will say things about not understanding how people could have one-night stands or casual sex, and I end up feeling guilty, even though I don’t think I actually regret any of those experiences. I know that I have very different views and emotions when it comes to sex with him than I ever did with partners that I didn’t really care about, but how can I get over feeling bad about my past? I don’t really keep anything from him, and I know he would be understanding, but I’m scared to talk about this with him.
A: Holy shit are you us? We come from similarly mismatched sexual backgrounds – future Mr. with only one previous partner (albeit relatively long-term) and paperispatient with a handful of prior friends with benefits and some other hookups. It might be helpful to start by thinking about why you feel guilty. Your boyfriend might not understand why casual sex appeals to some people, but he doesn’t really need to understand that – meaning, he doesn’t need to be able to put himself in the shoes and mentality of somebody who can enjoy sex just for fun outside of a relationship. And that’s okay; you don’t owe him any explanations or justifications for the sexual decisions you’ve made, and it sounds like you know that. (What he does need to do, if you ever choose to discuss this with him, is not be judgmental or shaming in any way, but that should go without saying and it sounds like you know that he would be understanding.)
It’s also okay for you to have enjoyed sex in a different way in the past – I (paperispatient) can definitely relate to that. I had never had sex out of fondness and love for my partner until now; I had it because it was fun and I was horny (well, those are often still my reasons, but now there are more reason in addition to those). All of those reasons are valid ones if they work for you and feel right at that time. Despite what the occasional hyperbolic newspaper or magazine article might tell us, having sex only in a relationship is not objectively “better” or “worse” than having casual sex, and having had many partners is not “better” or “worse” than having had one or two – it’s about what works for you and what you’re interested in when you’re having it. Even though a few hookups may have never been your boyfriend’s speed, there is nothing wrong with that having been what you were interested in before you got together. It doesn’t make your feelings for and the sex you have with your boyfriend now less important or meaningful.
Is it possible that you may also feel guilty because you feel like you’re keeping things from him? Different levels of sharing work for different couples – you two have had the #1 sexual past-related conversation, which is about STI testing and which is one that every couple, committed or casual, ought to have. We know a few couples with “no number” rules, meaning that they may share some information about their pasts but not their number of partners. Other couples share everything, which can work wonderfully for some people and terribly for others. Even though you don’t owe your boyfriend any explanation of your past, do you think you would feel better if you brought it up with him? From my (paperispatient’s) experience, talking about whatever is bothering me, even if the prospect of doing so is really intimidating or scary, almost always results in me feeling better.
And not to project here, is it possible that your partner may be making comments about not understanding one-night stands because he feels a sort of equal-but-opposite insecurity over his own past? He may wonder if you came to your relationship more experienced than him and, if so, how he measures up. Future Mr. had those concerns when the two of us first got together, whereas paperispatient worried that he would be bored with her since he had the opportunity to explore some things with his previous partner that were still new and exciting to her. We both stewed about this for a little while but eventually had a few long conversations about it, and that allowed us to better reassure each other if one of us started feeling regretful or insecure. We realized that what mattered most right now, regardless of our different pasts, was that we were together and happy in the present, and hopefully whether or not you decide to bring this up with your boyfriend, you know that the same is true for the two of you.
Got a question you’d like us to discuss (or myth you’d like us to bust)? You can e-mail us at FriskyFeminist@persephonemagazine.com, and we’ve also set up a Tumblr for the sole purpose of receiving completely anonymous questions at paperispatientsexqanda.tumblr.com. In honor of all the new Persephoneers, remember that we are not experts or doctors, we’re just a couple who research, read, and talk about sex a lot.