How much to tell partner about sexual history?

Archived Q&A and Reviews

May 2005

My boyfriend comes from a conservative Catholic upbringing and has had very few relationship experiences. He has asked me on several occasions about my past, which I don't think is a fair question to begin with, and I usually try to avoid answering completely because my past has been somewhat extensive. Other parts of our relationship are great, but this issue is causing us both distress: him, because he can't stop thinking about other experiences I may or may not have had, and me, because I am feeling under scrutiny, judged, and that if I am completely honest it would be the end of the relationship (further complicated because we each have children who have become close). We have talked about getting married at some point. Should I tell him the details and suffer the consequences, or is this something I should just keep to myself? For me, a person's past is their past, and I see no reason to re-hash things that happened what seems like a lifetime ago. Is there hope we can get beyond this issue and have a successful relationship? confused

I just read something about this the other day. Their advice... don't tell. Some historical facts are best kept secret.

Right now he's hung up on not knowing. If you tell him too much, he'll be hung up on knowing too much. And the former is usually less worse than the latter.

The source of his curiosity is frankly a fear of inadequacy, a fear of not having experienced certain things and not being able to measure up to your expectations. Next time he asks you if you've had a certain experience, tell him why don't we do it together, that way we both can say yes. The more he experiences, the better he'll feel.

Or go down the Good Vibrations on San Pablo in Berkeley. They have books and things on all sorts of different positions and activities. Go through the book together and try different things.

Being curious about a partner's past is not unreasonable. However, after a while he should just realize you are who you are today, what happened before he was a part of your life is for the most part irrelevant (and vice versa) and he'll just loose interest.

I have quite an extensive sexual past myself. i have never dated anyone with such an upbringing but i still always lie. it's the one lie i tell in my life and i have decided that it's ok. i've slept with almost 100 men (mostly in my late teens/early twenties) and this is nobody's business, just my shameful past. i've paid for it in different ways so i have chosen not to further punish myself by telling any boyfriends. the question of ''numbers'' always comes up and i always say ''30''. that's that. the details about sexual experiences i am honest about because there's nothing outrageous there.

you've put it off and avioded it so this makes it seem like you have something to hide so you're going to have to fix that some way..... good luck

You can get past it. I'm not sure he can. Tell him point blank that you are not willing to discuss it. Not now or ever. Tell him if he is interested in marrying you or continuing with you, he needs to know that you have a past and you are not interested in his judgment about it. Tell him you live in the present, and everything you are today is a product of all you've learned and done in this life. What he should focus on is the person you are today. Advise him that if he cannot realize this, and let the sexual history go, that there is no future for you two. anon
This is in response to ''How much to tell partner about sexual history?''

Is he asking because he's a really curious person? Or is he being obsessive and jealous about the subject?

I would consider myself a bit of a frisky person. I'm really outgoing and have had several sexual partners in my past. (More than 10 and less than 25 :)) And I'm the one in my relationship from the conservative Catholic family. Ha! I am attracted to shy guys, and my boyfriends tend to have had fewer previous sexual partners than I have had. I have been with the same man for 7 years, monogamously, and we've got a good relationship. I have had several more partners than he has had, and he doesn't happen to mind at all. He likes that I'm outgoing and knows that friendly girls can have has much sex as they want to. (And sometimes do!) He was a shy guy in college and wishes that he had had more sex with more people. And his previous girlfriends have been like me. (several to many partners) I say if your guy seems like he's going to use the information against you then don't tell him anything. In my opinion it is absolutely none of his business. I would say the more talking he does about the subject, and the less you do, the better. And no details!

Your past has helped to make you who you are and he loves who you are, right? If your past had been different, then you would be different. He sounds jealous to me. And jealous people tend to make mountains out of molehills. I think you are right not to tell him. Which is too bad for both of you because you probably have some pretty good stories... Good luck!

Seems like the underlying questions in this situation are ''Will you be true to me?'' and ''Am I a good enough lover?'' Can you address his fears without specific details? Dana
Here's the scoop: Give him a choice.

1. Offer to tell him everything and let him know that there's a chance he will be disturbed by your past. Then spill your guts. It's a crap shoot but, he might stop you even before you start.

2. Wait till he asks again then give him a the impression that your past was a busy one and that he may or may not want to know EVERYTHING.

3. Ask him to be more specific. You know, to challange what exactly he's being thinking about. (ex: have you ever done 'it' in public?, etc.) That way, maybe he will realize that he doesn't actually want to hear the whole of your sexual past.

Give him the benefit of the doubt. He probably won't want all the details anyway. And expect he to be sullen or inward if you do tell him a lot. That would only be expected.

Good luck! A.

Well, think about it this way: if you aren't up front with him now, and you do get married, and then he finds out, what happens next?

Eighteen months after I got married, I found out my husband had told me a big lie -- and no, I wouldn't have married him had I known the truth, and he knew I wouldn't have married him. Needless to say, I felt very betrayed. Five years later we are still married, but I can't say that the relationship is what it was, nor is it the kind of relationship I'd hoped to have with my spouse.

Believe me: better to break up now than to have him find out later and have both of you be unhappy about it for years. If, like me, your boyfriend believes marriage is for life (and if he's that Catholic, he probably does), he will always, on some level, resent you for not having been honest.

Now, mind you, I wouldn't describe specific acts.... The other thing is, are there consequences for having a lengthy sexual history? Yeah, you're going to have a hard time marrying guys who are really turned off by the idea that you have a lengthy sexual history.... Sara

I believe that all relationships should be based on honesty. The one person that you would HOPE that you can be completely open and honest with is your husband. In my opinion, this starts from the beginning when you are getting to know each other and sharing the past. True love will be forgiving and understanding. If not, then that may not necessarily be true love or the type of love that you want.

Though your past is your past, it has ultimately made you who you are today, and it may help him to understand you better or understand where you have come from. With two children involved in the relationship, it is your obligation to make sure that you and your partner are a good match.

Are you always going to feel like you are hiding something from him? I don't think this issue will just ''go away.'' It sounds like he insists on knowing. You seem to feel guilty for not telling him. Guilt may not be healthy for the relationship and could eventually be more damaging than what would happen if you just shared your past with him. ----Concerned

I was in a quite similar situation a few years ago with a man to whom I am now married. I was his first ''girlfriend'' while he was not my first boyfriend, in fact, there wasn't much he was first in when it came to the romantic thing, I'm sorry to say. Since we've been married, we have not discussed this topic whatsoever, although I did feel compelled to tell him when I found out he would be working with one of my past bf's (which about killed me) and is quite difficult for him, too, given that the guy was such a @#$@#% to me. Anyway. I digress.

I know that there are many roads to go on this one. One friend of mine in a similar situation communicated to her now-husband that she had a colored/checkered past, and he said ''that's OK, I love you.'' That was because he had already dealt with that in a previous relationship and had come to recognize that in fact, what's in the past is in the past. I would have enjoyed that experience with my husband but did not have it.

I ended up telling my now-husband how many partners I had, how I met them, why I was with them, and that I was ''clean''. I really think that was overkill. For some time I did feel terrible, especially because he was so crushed, but I really came to the realization that who I am today is who I am -- you can take me or leave me. If he had problems then with my past, he would have them in the future and there probably wasn't room for healthy growth in our relationship. So I kind of got over it pretty quickly. The choice to continue was in his court, since I am who I am, I figured ... you get me warts and all... and you have to decide if that's what you want.

Well thank goodness he wanted me. I really love him a lot. But that has been a difficult point in our relationship, and if I had it to do over again, 1) I wouldn't have the past I have (uh....?? oh well.) and 2) I wouldn't share as much detail with my now-husband.

I wish you the best in navigating this -- maybe you can have a one-time talk where he has a list of all the things he feels he ''needs'' to know and why. You can answer some of them, or none of them, based on WHY he needs to know and how that knowledge being in the open will further your relationship. I think that's key. Some of the important things my husband was concerned about back then were around the concepts of physical/sexual abuse and control issues. Who knows.

-been there, done that, you can navigate it too!