Relationship

I love my partner. But can I come to terms with her sexual history? | Annalisa Barbieri


I am in my early 20s and met a wonderful girl at the start of the year. I had only slept with one girl before, and since we’ve been together she has told me she has slept with nearly 20 other guys, including one on the night we met. And she’s played around with “countless” more. Some of these are close friends she meets regularly.

I’ve tried explaining that it hurts to hear about this kind of history. But that makes her close down until I apologise. She says her personality is naturally flirtatious and that she doesn’t want to feel controlled or required to change to better fit our relationship. Yet she seems to feel for me the way I do for her. I am even going to meet her parents soon.

I feel quite torn. Never before have I so truly clicked with someone and I am most certainly in love with her. I worry I am setting myself up for disappointment, although I try to remember the philosophy that it is better to have loved and lost. How can I put her past behind us when so much of it is reflected in her current behaviour?

When I had my first serious boyfriend, I was shocked to find out he was still in touch with his ex (platonically, as it turned out, but it took me a while to see that was possible). I thought people split up and then never saw each other again. I changed my view as I got older and gained perspective through experience. Your situation is different, but I understand about the disconnect between you and your girlfriend being at different stages of your sexual lives.

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I think it’s a fine line to tread between being true to who you are and what you believe, and not appearing judgmental and controlling with your girlfriend. Similarly, it’s a fine line for her to walk between being true to who she is and not behaving in a hurtful way towards you. Which is why I wonder if this is more a question of compatibility than of sexual partners. A friend once told me that you know you’ve found the right person (I think there is a different “right person” for different stages in our lives) when they love you when you are most yourself – whatever that self is. For example, if someone is flirtatious, they need to be with someone who isn’t bothered by that, and maybe even celebrates it. The alternative is a short road to misery.

Be careful that you are not seeing her history as a reflection on you, for it has nothing to do with you, just as your sexual history has nothing to do with her. Past sexual partners are no guarantee of anything in a relationship. The man who hurt me the most had little sexual history of his own. The man who hurt me the least was the one who had had the most sexual partners.

It may help you look at this differently if you imagine how you would feel if she found it hurtful to hear about your lack of sexual partners. Because I do wonder if there’s some moral judgment from you and that may be something to do with the narratives around sex, and how women were “meant” to behave, when you were growing up. So much of what we feel about sex has been learned and isn’t what we really feel. Part of becoming our true self is losing those ideas and discovering our own thoughts about, and around, sex, including what we like and don’t like.

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If you were brought up to think that women should have few sexual partners, then you will look at your girlfriend’s past and think there’s something remiss. But if you were brought up to think sex is something that is entirely between consenting adults, and fun, and the number of partners isn’t really anything other than a history, then her past would carry little potency. Digging a bit deeper, in the privacy of your own head, into why her past “hurts” you may be helpful.

None of this means that you have to put up with behaviour you find hurtful but, in turn, you mustn’t hurt back. You need to own who you are and not try to change someone to suit you. It’s normal, especially if you are cautious, to look for reasons you might be let down, but if that starts to dictate the chances you take, your life will narrow to a point where there’s little disappointment – and little joy. And however much you talk about her history, it’s not going to change.

• Send your problem to annalisa.barbieri@mac.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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