how much detail need one give about their sexual history?
December 9, 2013 7:50 PM   Subscribe

In my past, I was very experimental. Now I'm wondering how much of that I'm obligated to tell my SO.

My SO has the broad strokes of my past significant long-term relationships and knows that I used to be a wild partier. I'm wondering if that's enough detail, or if other peoples' assumptions of what being a "wild partier" are different enough from mine that I have an ethical obligation to fill in those broad strokes.

I'm not concerned that my partner will judge me/ be upset at all, but I also don't want to be secretive or lie through omission.

I haven't told my partner the extent of my sexual experimentation, which included a few threesomes with my partner of the time plus friend, some same-sex experimenting, and a pretty heavy involvement in BSDM, as well as a couple of flings. I assumed that the threesomes, flings and same-sex stuff was implicit in "used to be a wild partier", and that the BDSM stuff wasn't important because I no longer enjoy that type of experience, but as this relationship grows more serious, I want to make sure I'm doing things right- I don't want my partner finding these things out by accident and feeling betrayed.

What do you think? Do I have an obligation to lay this stuff out in detail?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think this is one of those things you can ask your partner about. "Hey, this is sort of awkward, but you know the sort of broad strokes of my sexual history and what I'm into-- if other shit comes up later, are you gonna feel betrayed and like I hid it from you if you find out? Because I don't feel the need to tell you anything, but I don't want to feel like I was hiding anything either, because I'm not trying to be deceitful. The etiquette for this stuff is just murky and it varies person to person."

If that's too forward for you, just watch Chasing Amy with him and base your answer on whether he thought the love interest should've told the protagonist about the fingercuffs thing or if he was being a dick about the whole thing.

I tend towards being really over-forward about straight-up asking this sort of thing, though.
posted by NoraReed at 8:00 PM on December 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


The only stuff you're obligated to report is stuff that might cause you to give your partner an STD, but honestly, just get tested.

Other than that, whatever you're comfortable with.

If you do decide to share some stuff, and they do feel betrayed, then they can feel what they feel for awhile. But then they have to get over it, because none of it had anything to do with them. Your current partner does not get magical ownership of your past.
posted by kavasa at 8:01 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


This is kind of an interesting question. I don't know that you have an obligation, per se, but if you think you've got any sort of a future with this person, being open and honest about your past seems like a good thing. And if you aren't worried about their judgement, what's the issue?

And for the record, I, at least, would not assume anything beyond you being involved in flings if you mentioned to me that you were a "wild partier".
posted by johnpoe50 at 8:03 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm sure you'll get lots and lots of different responses about this as I think it's an area where there's no clear right or wrong. The obligation you have to your current partner is to be forthcoming about any STIs you may have and also communicate clearly about your needs in your current intimate and sexual life.

Under no circumstances do you owe your current partner information about your sexual past. You have no obligation to say a single thing. If you are interested in telling them and they are also interested (in a healthy way) in hearing about your past sexual experiences, go ahead and share. If they care not to hear anything about your sexual past, that's fine as well. For some people, knowing their partner's past sexual history can be erosive and a fertile breeding ground for jealousy and feelings of inadequacy. Don't invite that in if you or your partner can't separate the past from the present very well.

This is not a case where you'd be lying by omission or being secretive if you don't lay every last thing out on the table. If your partner learns something outside of you telling them and feels betrayed, I'd consider that a possible red flag depending on how they take ownership of their own hang-ups around sex. No current partner has a right to feel betrayed about their partner's sexual past.
posted by quince at 8:07 PM on December 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't want my partner finding these things out by accident and feeling betrayed.

Talk to your SO and ask them if this sort of information is important to them. If so, discuss it. If not drop it. If you still feel you need to come clean or get it off your chest, then say "I need to get this off my chest and put this behind" and then do just that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:09 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ask him if he wants to know. He probably doesn't if he hasn't already asked
posted by discopolo at 8:15 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


If your SO has never had a threeway, and you tell them you've done it, be prepared to engineer a threeway with your SO if they want to do that. If you aren't prepared to do that, for the love of christ don't tell them about that.

My policy is always answer honestly, but at times, I use the phrase "are you sure you want the answer to that?" or "how much detail do you want about that?"

There are two very dangerous things to talk about, depending on your gender or your SOs gender, that I am capable of hearing about, but only because I'm one of the least jealous people on earth. They are as follows:

If you're a woman, never ever tell a male SO about a previous sexual encounter with a man with a horse cock, unless you're confident that your male SO is extremely comfortable with himself and the quality of the sex he has with you.

If you're a man, never ever tell a female SO about previous female lovers who were highly orgasmic and/or capable of orgasm from intercourse alone, unless you're extremely confident that your female SO is extremely comfortable with herself and the quality of the sex she has with you.

Being hetero, I can't offer any advice on these same insecurities as they relate to gay couples. I do know the two above insecurities can literally ruin a relationship. It's never happened to me, but I've seen it happen to other people.

But basically, I recommend answering honestly when asked, but doing so carefully, and not volunteering too much.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Along the same lines as NoraReed and Brandon Blatcher, I would, at an appropriate time, let him know that you're happy to share as much or as little as he wants to know about your sexual history. I don't think you owe him anything in particular here. It's your life, your history, your business. Sharing it is your choice. I've done it various ways myself - from minimal info to every single detail. No problems either way, hearing or telling.
posted by mewsic at 8:16 PM on December 9, 2013


Dear god, NO.

Look. The broad strokes (;-)) are ALL that is required, and you've already provided these.

- IMHO, no one wants that visual about their partner unless it's a kink thing (which I then approve, BTW!) but you're not indicating your partner rolls that way.

- My rule is, generally, you only talk in detail about your bathroom habits with your doctor, so ditto your sex life. It's just not appropriate to go into detail with most people.

- You're hoping SO is an awesome person through and through, but somewhere down the road, this person could use this info against you in an argument or similar. If one day this person turns out to be petty like that, let them pick on something less intimate. Don't offer up this potential ammunition without very good reason.

Lastly

- There is no such thing as lying about your past intimacies!! These experiences are yours and belong to no one else.

In conclusion, your SO needs to know about any std's that could effect them, and that's it.

The answer is "No" you are not lying and there is no requirement to share any information you don't want to barring any health related concerns. The end.

(If you choose to share this info because you both enjoy delving into your respective past sexual experiences together - have at it! I just want to be crystal clear that you don't have to share anything about your past sex life unless you want to.)
posted by jbenben at 8:17 PM on December 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


- There is no such thing as lying about your past intimacies!! These experiences are yours and belong to no one else.

Could you clarify what you mean by this? Surely if the OP were to say "I've never been in a threesome," she would be lying, yes?
posted by jayder at 8:22 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


- There is no such thing as lying about your past intimacies!! These experiences are yours and belong to no one else.

I really disagree with this. But I'm also ultra-nonjealous, and non-monogamous, so I acknowledge that I'm probably coming from an uncommon perspective. As far as I can tell, conventional relationships require a lot of lying. I suppose redefining lying is one way of reducing the amount of lying required.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:22 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Ethical obligation"? No.

You should be honest, of course. Which includes not equivocating.

If the same-sex stuff and BDSM never comes up, I don't think it's wrong not to mention those things.

Just be 100% open and don't hide anything or obscure the facts by speaking in generalities.
posted by Sara C. at 8:25 PM on December 9, 2013


Metafilter has taught me that people have wildly different ideas about ethics and honesty. You can't know where your partner's ethics or expectations about disclosure or sharing lie without talking to your partner about those ethics and expectations.

If your partner is in the camp that specific details don't need to be shared, and you don't want to share those details - no problem. But if there is a difference in your expectations or ethics about this, it is, in my opinion, only fair that you negotiate this issue (the how much to disclose issue) directly, instead of deciding for your partner how much they should know.

Not to say you have to tell your partner anything you don't want to, but to say your partner has the right to know that you are not going to share details if you don't plan to. Then they can make their own decisions about what kind of relationship they want to be in, with the full information about what their partner's sharing behavior is.
posted by latkes at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


For a data point, I personally feel closer and more intimate when a partner shares details of their history. And at times I have felt lied to or deceived when a partner deliberately omits information with the intent of keeping it from me.

Again, not saying there is a right or wrong about this. But saying that your decision about this will mean different things to different people, and if your partner was me, this would probably, eventually, become an issue of contention in the relationship.
posted by latkes at 8:32 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


The broad strokes (;-)) are ALL that is required

Requirement?

There is no such thing as lying about your past intimacies!! These experiences are yours and belong to no one else.

These two things seem to be at odds, and suggest (rightly, I think) that there some experiences that you should share. The difference seems to be where the line is drawn (whether it be broad strokes, or something else).

I would suggest not defaulting to too much disclosure, as a courtesy to your SO actually, but to have a general posture of openness and honesty. What this means is that you don't over-share, lest your SO be uncomfortable with it (because not everyone wants to know, actually). But you can also leave it up to her to probe a bit more (if she desires to do so) regarding what being a "partier" might mean. If you are aware of the ambiguity of this wording, she most likely is as well. If you have an attitude of openness, she should feel the need to follow up, if she wants to.

One of the cardinal rules of relationships is not to be a mind reader for the other person. Let your SO ask for what she wants, if she wants it. You've given her the avenue to do so, if she deems it appropriate. But I think an attitude of initial over-sharing or intentional secretiveness would be problematic.

Past experiences are relevant to current relationships, actually, in a number of ways. It's a matter of negotiating a bit what this might mean to each individual.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:40 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


How relevant is this stuff to your daily life with your partner now? For example: I have the impression from listening to Savage Love that those who are into BDSM are always into BDSM and it is a requirement for them in relationships and they will require their SO to take up BDSM as well or else the relationship is doomed. (No, I don't know if this is 100% the case for everyone, but it seems to be a majority opinion among the kinky of my acquaintance.) If this is the case for you and at some point you will want to be practicing BDSM in your relationship and right now you're not doing it, then in that case, you need to tell. Likewise, if you are finding yourself more interested in same sex relationships in the future than you are now, you'll need to tell. If you'd like another threesome, then you need to tell.

On the other hand, if you are by some chance utterly done with BDSM, same sex nookie, and threesomes...then there is no requirement that you have to talk about them. The point where you have to tell is when your past becomes relevant to your present. But yeah, "wild partier" sounds more like "had one night stands" than the rest of it. Who knows what your partner thinks about it, though.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:41 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


No one owes anyone details on their past sex life. Not offering details isn't "lying" it's being Private and Discreet.

I should hope the OP isn't with anyone that makes them feel they must lie about their past sexual experiences. I also hope the OP is with someone sensitive to the OP's privacy and autonomy.

If I didn't feel like telling someone nosey about a past threesome or similar when asked point blank, I might lie to them about my past. Pretty much immediately, tho, I would have to dump them from my life for being the sort that needs to be pushy and pry into issues that are none of the business in the first damn place.

I think it is very bad form to ask these questions of a partner unless the information is freely offered.
posted by jbenben at 8:43 PM on December 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Let me offer one reason why it might, in some people's moral view, be an obligation to share details that are not in any way implied by "wild partying."

What if it is important to your partner that you be at least as sexually open with him as you've been with anyone in your past?

What if your partner were to find out the details of your past and be hurt that you gave more of yourself in intimacy to these transient partners than you're giving to your partner?

You may think "well, he has no right to expect that! My past is my past." True ... but he does have a right to be with someone who has a view of sexuality that comports with his.

"Wild partier" has no fixed or accepted meaning as a shorthand for sexual abandon. For all anyone knows, it could mean you made out with a bunch of guys but never had casual sex.

I think you should have a much more candid conversation about these issues and offer your partner the courtesy of informed consent.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but in my moral world, there very much is such a thing as a lie about one's past sex life.
posted by jayder at 8:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


My SO has the broad strokes of my past significant long-term relationships and knows that I used to be a wild partier. I'm wondering if that's enough detail, or if other peoples' assumptions of what being a "wild partier" are different enough from mine that I have an ethical obligation to fill in those broad strokes.

You're obligated to tell your partner about STDs, but everything else is up to your discretion.

Personally, I think the less you tell the better. That kind of knowledge can eat away at people. I actually think it's *bad* for intimacy.

Intimacy isn't about what you used to do with other people, it's about what you feel together now.

I haven't told my partner the extent of my sexual experimentation, which included a few threesomes with my partner of the time plus friend, some same-sex experimenting, and a pretty heavy involvement in BSDM, as well as a couple of flings. I assumed that the threesomes, flings and same-sex stuff was implicit in "used to be a wild partier", and that the BDSM stuff wasn't important because I no longer enjoy that type of experience, but as this relationship grows more serious, I want to make sure I'm doing things right- I don't want my partner finding these things out by accident and feeling betrayed.

For what it's worth, I wouldn't tell an SO about any of these things. What good could come of it? At best, s/he's OK with discussing and imagining you screwing a whole bunch of people who aren't her/him and shrugs it off, and at worst, s/he can't shake the images and it gets in the way of your relationship.

If s/he asks specifically, or if something is going on *now* that you need to fill in some sexual-past-detail in order for your SO to understand the context for, then that's a different scenario and maybe it makes sense to fill in some (specific) blanks.

But dropping a truth bomb blitz is probably not the best idea, and you're certainly under no obligation to do so.
posted by rue72 at 8:57 PM on December 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


For me personally, I assume I don't have a right to know anything except insofar as it might affect me or our relationship now. I dunno, I'm more interested in my relationship and the future of it than something that happened a few years ago.

But people really are all over the map with this one. I wouldn't be really fazed to hear anything (legal) about my partner's previous sex life - I wasn't a part of it, and we're both okay with our sex life now, so that's all that really matters to me.

But I know some guys and girls that would _really_ obsess over this kind of thing. They have a few hang ups and insecurities about sex/themselves, imho, or have some kind of religious "purity" baggage.

I would suggest that if your SO hasn't expressed an interest in knowing more about this, they probably don't particularly care to. So follow their leads.
posted by smoke at 9:08 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you're carrying a sexually transmissible disease, your partner has a right to know what it is. You have no automatic obligation to disclose the way you acquired it.

Other than that, your only ongoing ethical obligation here is to answer your partner's questions truthfully, and with whatever level of detail matches your best judgment about exactly what it is that your partner wants to know.

Only you can say whether or not the awkwardness of unprompted disclosure is likely to outweigh the risk of awkwardness of inadvertent discovery.

Intimacy isn't about what you used to do with other people, it's about what you feel together now.

Quoted for truth.
posted by flabdablet at 9:08 PM on December 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I didn't feel like telling someone nosey about a past threesome or similar when asked point blank, I might lie to them about my past. Pretty much immediately, tho, I would have to dump them from my life for being the sort that needs to be pushy and pry into issues that are none of the business in the first damn place.

Huh? So, if your new partner asked you if you'd ever had a threesome, you would immediately dump them for being 'pushy' and 'prying'? How is he/she supposed to know that you feel this strongly about not discussing your sexual past, until it's too late and s/he's dumped?!

I concur with rue72. Disclose anything that directly affects your current relationship (STDs being the obvious one), but otherwise, it's very much on a case-by-case basis. (My partner and I have told each other a lot of detail about our sexual pasts, because we figured out early that we are both comfortable with that, but YYMV greatly.)

Do not lie about anything. That is unethical. In the past, I've had boyfriends ask me about things I didn't want to discuss with them. An 'I'm not going there' is sufficient.
posted by Salamander at 9:13 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks, friendly reminder, do not argue with other commenters; thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:23 PM on December 9, 2013


The "don't volunteer" ethic makes plenty of sense to me. That kind of falls into the category of not oversharing and/or not telling people things they didn't ask to know.

I don't really understand how, if an adult asks their significant other a question, the asker isn't responsible for their own emotional reaction to a true answer.

From an ethical standpoint, if I ask my significant other if she's ever been with a guy with a huge penis, and she truthfully answers "yes", and that bothers me, the fact that it bothers me is my problem, not hers.

Adults should know what questions they can and can't handle the answers to. If a partner asked me a question about my sexual past and got a truthful answer that upset her, assuming it wasn't about something like an STD that actually might affect her, and she responded very negatively, I'd probably see that as a sign of jealousy issues and be inclined to leave the relationship.

I previously said, however, that I like to ask "are you sure you want a complete answer to that question". I stand by that. Sometimes people don't think through the consequences of what they're asking, and it's OK, if not wise, to remind them to do so.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 9:33 PM on December 9, 2013


I assumed that the threesomes, flings and same-sex stuff was implicit in "used to be a wild partier"

I've always heard wild partier used to mean someone who does substances rather than people. And if you just said you were wild when you were younger, that seems to imply things like graffiti, trouble at school, fights, etc.

I'm not concerned that my partner will judge me/ be upset at all, but I also don't want to be secretive or lie through omission.

Think about (and maybe talk to your partner about) how open you'd each want to be about your own pasts, and what you want your partner to share about their past with you. How you do things in your relationship is between the two of you, and it doesn't really matter if others would keep it secret or explain with live demos or just talk about it like any other thing in your past. What people you aren't in a relationship think is right isn't relevant.

Even if you wouldn't otherwise decide to share details, and your partner otherwise wouldn't want to know -- you might want to tell if you are worried someone else will someday. Don't leave the decision to tell (or to inadvertently spill the beans) in someone else's hands.
posted by yohko at 9:50 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing is, in a good relationship, there's gonna come a point when you want to talk about some of this stuff: either like "oh that reminds me of a hilarious story" or like "oh hey, you want to be verbed in the noun? I know all about verbing dudes in the noun!" or like "holy shit, that thing you are doing right now is setting off some unpleasant memories and I want to tell you about how I'm feeling" or whatever.

So I don't think you're obligated to tell about it — but I do think it would suck for you if you painted yourself into a corner where you could never bring it up.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 10:22 PM on December 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


You are obliged to tell nothing.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:24 PM on December 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty firmly in the "I'm aware that my partner was not a virgin when we met, that's about all the specific information I need or want to know about her sexual past" camp. I know everyone probably has a different level of tolerance for this kind of thing, but I would be absolutely mortified if my partner, unsolicited, started reciting her entire, detailed sexual history resume to me. From the wording of your question, it does not sound as if your partner is pressing you for more information on your past than you've already provided. I would use that as your guide here.

As to the fear that this might come up by accident, unless you have a particularly vindictive person in your past intent on messing with your current relationship, I think this is probably a fear with a very low probability of coming true. I don't think I travel in particularly conservative circles and I can't think of a single time where anyone has made a comment of the "Hey, remember that time you were pulling a train at that party?" variety to anyone in front of his or her current partner. I'm having difficulty imaging a scenario where this would ever come up.
posted by The Gooch at 10:52 PM on December 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


One thing to consider is how likely your partner is to run into people who are familiar with your past as a "wild partier"- particularly if those people are not people you were doing these wild things with, but third parties who might gossip and get into potentially uncomfortable conversations with your current partner about the details of your past. I think the problem is that "wild partier" is so vague that it's practically meaningless, unless you've been clear that you're referring to sexual stuff. I could imagine your partner feeling hurt and lied-by-omission-to if say, most of your social circle knows all the details about this stuff already and it seems like you're weirdly keeping them in the dark about things that aren't secrets. Obviously the likelihood of this being an issue depends on a lot of factors, but it's something to keep in mind if you or your current partner are in touch with people from your "wild" past.
posted by MadamM at 10:58 PM on December 9, 2013


I actually disagree with many of the comments here. I would say that the information that you choose to tell your partner should, at least partially, be determined by your partner's belief structure.

Unfortunately, some people: are against same-sex stuff of any kind, think that threesomes are gross, and are squeaked out, if not disgusted, by BSDM. I've done a bit off all of the above, and the deciding factor on whether I tell my partner is based on whether or not I have reason to believe that my past activities could be considered a deal breaker to the person that I'm currently with. If my history would be a problem, I believe that I'm morally obligated to tell my partner so that he/she can make an informed choice about being in a relationship with me.

Now, you did say: I'm not concerned that my partner will judge me/ be upset at all. Which is why I'm going to go ahead and say that if you don't want to share aspects of your sexual past, you're probably in the clear. However, I would still keep in mind that the difference between "private" and "lie of omission" is many times determined by how your partner would value the information that you're choosing to withhold.
posted by Shouraku at 11:51 PM on December 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Call me old school but I feel sex is a private topic. Not going into details is not lying. Declining to give details is your prerogative.

A new partner deserves to know about STD's. A new partner deserves your clear communication about likes, dislikes and possible sexual issues as far as they affect the current relationship and time. If a particular pairing or kink or fetish is a part of your sexual expression that you intend to keep in your repertoire then your partner needs to know.

If the topic of children becomes serious then they need to know anything which may affect your reproductive options.

Everything else is between you and the past. Delving into the past particulars with a current partner is generally not beneficial.
posted by cat_link at 12:25 AM on December 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Wild partier" definitely only evokes alcohol/drug use in my mind -- nothing about sexual behavior. Casual googling seems to support this.

If I were your partner (especially if we were monogamous), I'd feel it was really important to have a full picture of your *current* interests, in the context of making sure you had a whole and fulfilling sex life with me. Your past interests/history would be important just in terms of my desire to understand your life -- the general curiosity that comes from loving someone.

I think it's clear from the thread so far that there's no global ethical standard here. You seem to think of your sexual past as experimentation rather than current self-defining inclination, so I think no 'obligation' exists. But it seems like a great chance to get clearer about communication desires/expectations.
posted by kalapierson at 12:51 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I assumed that the threesomes, flings and same-sex stuff was implicit in "used to be a wild partier"

[...]

I don't want my partner finding these things out by accident and feeling betrayed.


Just to this particular point... if I was your partner and was upset about finding out this way? Then "I told you I was a big partier!" would sound like a really lame and insulting defense and may even make things worse.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:32 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


You are not obliged to tell anything. Say what you want to say. Reveal or don't reveal. Lots of things come up over time, there's absolutely no need to have a big purge about your past sex life.

It's impossible to know everything about someone, particularly at the beginning of a relationship. That's one of the good things about loving someone and growing with them - you discover one another.

And there's absolutely no obligation to ever feel like you have to do something with anyone just because you have a history of having done it in the past, that's just absurd.
posted by h00py at 5:06 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Everyone is different. Asking your partner how much he wants to know and being candid about how much info is probably the best way to handle this.

Some folks don't really care, like putting their fingers in their ears and going LA-LA-LA.

But really, unless it impacts your SOs health, I'm not sure it really matters one way or another.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:08 AM on December 10, 2013


For me, I am hapoier not knowing. Which is why I don't ask.
posted by jander03 at 6:42 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I heard "wild partier", I'd assume you had drunken hijinks a lot.

Be honest with him.
posted by corb at 6:46 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm with @cat_link: Refusing to go into details does not necessarily equal lying. Lying in this context means making an intentional misstatement. Partners deserve the truth about STD risk and have the right to protect their own reproductive integrity. But it is up to them to ask you, OP.

These kinds of disclosures to potential sex partners are about signaling your own general ballpark STD risk level in a way that can be understood. When you say "I was a wild partier" that certainly does not let the reasonable person know you've had sex with over 50 people or what have you. "I was a wild partier" says absolutely nothing sexual.

For example, a liar would say very exact things like "I've only had sex with 5 people" when they know their number is actually somewhere north of 20. Intentional misstatement. That's a lie that impacts your partner's right to know and to honestly assess the STD risk they're taking on by having sex with you. Why?

Obviously, the more people you've had sex with, the greater your risk of transmitting an STD such as HPV, which loads of people have, probably every 3 out of 4 people commenting here have HPV but are asymptomatic. So from an STD risk perspective, there is a significant difference between 5 and 25 partners. Most hetero men have no idea what their STD status is, unless one of their female partners has told them about a diagnosis she has received. Men are pretty much never tested for HPV, which among other health concerns causes oral cancers in both men and women, as well as cervical cancer in women. That's why being honest about the number and sex of a male's past partners actually matters.

OP, when you're asked (and ONLY when you're asked, OP) how many partners you've had it would be fair game to say: "I've been with A LOT of PEOPLE... but you, my dear, are fucking delicious." "A Lot" is a sufficient descriptor for >15 partners. Saying the word "people" to include both the men and the women you've had sex with is sufficient. But, purposely lowballing the wrong number does not work. Purposely saying "a lot of women" when you've also had sex with men, does not work either. See the distinction there?

Yes, a new partner deserves to know about STD's, and they deserve to know anything which may affect their reproductive and health options, including whether sex with you means they are going to be having sex with a man who has ever had sex with a man. You should disclose if by "wild partier" you mean you have ever exchanged money for sex, or been an IV drug user. If yes to any of the above, then your partner should never be able to donate blood again or donate an organ to a health-challenged loved one, because sex with you is going to put them in a higher disease risk category. BTW, thinking you've disclosed any of the above when you say "I was a wild partier" would be ridiculous. Again the trouble with "wild partier" is that it does not clearly suggest anything sexual.

If you do make the choice to give those details, give them honestly. I wouldn't want someone to never be able to have children or to someday get a cancer diagnosis because I was too ashamed and selfish to tell them my truth. Get rid of the shame in your game! Tell your truth honestly. Know your status. Own it. Of course, this also goes both ways: early on in a sexual relationship we should all use universal precaution. Condoms, lube, dental dams - folks also need to be protecting themselves at all times. If you've been together awhile and s/he asks to start taking the protective layers off, your S.O. should have an accurate picture of your overall STD risk level by then so they can give you their informed consent. That's the only real consent there is.
posted by hush at 6:50 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you need to disclose? No, especially not in a serious I-need-to-tell-you info-dump kind of way. Broad strokes are enough.

Should you tell him if he asks? Yes.

From what you have said, it doesn't seem like your experiences would be surprising, given what you have already said to him. What do you know about his sexual history? If you are worried about him finding out accidentally, maybe ask him, when you are happy and safe and comfortable, whether he has done this or that, or whether he is curious about this or that? That way you can go one thing at a time, exchange information, and grow closer. Could even be kinda sexy.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:47 AM on December 10, 2013


(Oh gosh I just realized I assumed genders. Sorry!)
posted by likeatoaster at 7:54 AM on December 10, 2013


I think to me, the full disclosure is only ethically necessary if for some reason you've done something to change STD status or if STD risk/testing hasn't been addressed by, you know, actual testing.

So to me, when I'm in partnership with a sexual partner, I usually default to wanting to know they test clean or to wanting to know what their tests say so I can make an informed decision about how much protection I feel I need.

But if that's addressed then yeah, I'd only want full disclosure if it were something my partner wanted.

I'm deeply sexually experienced and was pretty adventurous as a young'n, but it doesn't really matter to my partner. She also doesn't really seem to be interested in sharing full details but would if I asked. I don't really need to know though.

It's not something I leave unexplored because I don't want to know. It's because it's a lot of history, digging it up might not be comfortable for her, and I don't need to know it.
posted by kalessin at 8:48 AM on December 10, 2013


It's weird to me that a lot of the discussion here is about what you have the "right" to keep to yourself or what you are obligated to share, or weirder to me still, the discussion of how to contort your words in such a way that you can keep information from your partner without having to feel like you're lying.

I mean, this is the person you are romantically involved with. You can make any choice you like about what to share and what not to share, but the goal is to build intimacy and increase happiness for both people, right? In that context, if you feel private about your past, why not just say to your partner, "I feel private about my past. I hope you don't mind if I keep some of it to myself, but know I will tell you anything I think will directly effect you."

Or, on the other hand, if your partner is someone who wants to know more about your past, why not just tell them? I mean, you have the "right" to keep it to yourself, but this isn't a legal relationship. This isn't your boss or the police. When my partner asks me for something, I try to say yes as much as I can. Especially if it causes me no harm to do so. Why not just have an attitude of openness toward your partner? No need to rush into a big info dump, but elaborate obfuscation seems, in my world, a kind of sad way to interact with the person I'm most intimate with.
posted by latkes at 8:48 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


For a point of reference, I would not assume things like threesomes/same-sex encounters would be part of "wild partier." But, I wouldn't be terribly upset if my partner didn't tell me about these things from his past, PROVIDED they were never going to be part of our present or future. I think you need to tell if:
a) There is any chance of STD issues -- definitely get checked but tell your partner in the meantime if there are any concerns.
b) There is a chance you will want to do these things again in the future, with your partner. I have had so many friends who I feel like have been fed a bait and switch by partners -- only after things get serious (sometimes AFTER MARRIAGE!) is it revealed that suddenly the partner wants "an open relationship" or other stuff in the bedroom that could and should have been revealed much earlier. If you're 100% done with threesomes, wanting to experiment with partners of the same sex, BDSM, etc. then that's fine and I think there is no need to disclose. If you think there's a chance you will want to explore these things with your partner in the future, you 100% owe him/her the right to know this information upfront and make an informed decision about whether this is something he/she would want to share in.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:07 AM on December 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


You are allowed to and should own your life.

Did you deliberately lead partner to think you had a prudish, pristine past? No, partner has a general idea that you were wild. Partner is okay with your wild past. You haven't been secretive or lied by omission.

Focus on the future.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:35 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have always gone by the motto that if my partner asks, they want to know. If they don't ask, then they're not curious about it. Therefore, if your partner hasn't asked, then you don't need to go into anymore detail about your past sex life. My past sex life is probably as colorful as yours, which I'm not ashamed of. I don't shout it from the rooftops, but I don't hide it under a bushel either. Things come up in conversation, sometimes people ask... I married last year, and my husband doesn't give a rat's ass about my past sex life, but he knows it was pretty interesting.
posted by patheral at 10:44 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are only a few things that I think you're obligated to share about your past history: permanent STDs, marriages, kids, etc.

I don't think you're obligated to share things like # of sex partners or details about which sexual activities you've done.

Datapoint: I would actually prefer that a partner not volunteer that he's been in threesomes or done XYZ kinky things in the past. I'll probably ask about them at some point, but if someone brings them up I'm going to feel pressured into doing it (whether that's the intention or not). However, I do think it should be mentioned if it's something that the person really wants to do again. Still, it can be mentioned in the abstract rather than "I really liked doing X with Susan, we should do X!!!"

Anyway since you say you aren't interested in doing those things again, I'd strongly recommend not volunteering the details unless it comes up in conversation naturally and your partner expresses a desire to know those kinds of things.
posted by randomnity at 12:50 PM on December 10, 2013


In my relationships (where sometimes I've been the relatively wild one but usually not), this has come out in bits and pieces in conversation. Like, someone's telling a story and it's part of the context. For me, it's less of an active fear that someone will judge me, and more wanting to know my sweetie will love and understand me as a whole person, of which my past is part. I think it's fine to want to share more about your sexual history, even if it makes your partner a bit uncomfortable. I've heard some stuff I didn't really want to know, but I suspect it was a way of testing that I really meant it / knew what I was signing off on when I said I didn't care about sexual pasts, and it didn't cause problems in the relationships. Also, if you have friends who sometimes reminisce about those days, it's good to give your partner a heads up so they aren't visibly surprised.

All that said, you certainly aren't obligated to tell unless you want to. It sounds to me like it's bugging you that you haven't shared more, and I wanted to give an alternate view to "nobody wants to know that".
posted by momus_window at 1:09 PM on December 10, 2013


NoraReed and Meanwhilebackat… are on point here.

"View of sexuality that comports with his," well, that's a broad, loaded phrase that isn't very helpful. And it kind of presupposes that Anon's partner is a sort of weird, insecure person, with a retrograde view of sexuality. Which, sure, both Anon and their partner would be better off knowing that, but it's not necessarily a net positive.

So, no, don't spell this out in detail, do ask your partner what kind of detail they'd like if they ask, and otherwise, what, they'll think you're a rotted flower unworthy of their affection?
posted by klangklangston at 2:15 PM on December 10, 2013


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