Changing how I think about my girlfriends' sexual history
April 1, 2011 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Problems with my girlfriends' sexual history. How do I change the way I think?

I am 22. I was a virgin before I met my girlfriend, because I grew up in an abusive household and then spent time in a military hospital (injured in training), so I didn't have the social opportunities. My girlfriend is 24, so she's had more time to be an adult, and therefore has had many partners.

She's lived in the same town her entire life, so she told me about her entire sexual history upfront when the relationship began because she knew we would run into these people (some of them are friends, some she doesn't even want to speak to in public). In the six months we've been together, I've pretty much met all of them (over a dozen) at least once. It's been overwhelming, but I appreciate her honesty and that she trusted me with the information and I always worry that it being difficult for me to feel okay about makes her regret telling me.

To start, I have no negative emotions toward my girlfriends' sexual history that have anything to do with judging her. I don't view anything she's done as gross or morally wrong or slutty or embarrassing. This has to do with how I feel about myself.

I feel intimidated, inadequate, and sometimes I feel unimportant and/or irrelevant. We pretty much run into someone at least half the time we go out in public in her town, and I always feel awkward or upset about it. When we hang out with friends she's slept with (not often, they've all moved out of town so I only meet them when they visit - I haven't hung out with any specific individual in person more than 2 or 3 times), I feel uncomfortable and awkward. I deal with this by being as polite as possible despite feeling uncomfortable and treating the other person with respect. I used to feel bad that I felt uncomfortable, but I've learned to validate my emotions more (problem as an abuse victim) and separate my emotions from my behavior.

In addition, most of my encounters with these past people weren't fun. Only one person was nice to me. The rest were overtly jealous or weird. The worst instance is a couple that she had a threesome with, who she has been friends with for years. The guy was a total ass to me and ignored me the entire night. I'd ask him a question about his hobbies and he'd ignore me then talk to my girlfriend more. It made me feel really irrelevant and that there was some sort of weird inappropriate dynamic with my girlfriend - on his half. I've mentioned how that made me feel to my girlfriend before, but she didn't say much about it. It's hard to talk about it because she feels embarrassed about having a threesome with them. I don't think that has anything to do with me, because I've told her that I don't think it was weird or anything, so at this point I just have to respect that she feels embarrassed about it. I've never had embarrassing sex, so I can't empathize with that, but I can understand it.

However, whenever she mentions the couple (fairly often, they're friends), I feel upset. I don't have the years of history that she does with them, so all I think of is the threesome (which is the only bit of her sexual history that makes me feel intimidated/inadequate, as a virgin) and how the guy wasn't nice to me. I worry that it'll drive a wedge in our relationship. I feel like I'm dwelling and I don't want to do that. It's not like I can ask her to not mention them anymore.

In addition, I have no reason to feel inadequate. Our sex life is fantastic. We have sex regularly and it's always amazing. She tells me that I'm the best sex she's had and I feel sexually desirable for the first time in my life. She tells me that she orgasms more regularly with me than she has with anyone else. It's perfect. So I feel even worse for caring about it.

I know that it's all in the past. She's been very sweet and patient about talking about it all. She reassures me that I'm what's relevant and that her past sexual experiences either weren't good, or they were good but she doesn't compare me to them mentally and that all of it is irrelevant to her. I try to tell myself over and over that if it's not relevant to her, then it shouldn't be relevant to me, but the prominence of her sexual history in our lives makes me feel super intimidated.

Oh, another problem is that her best friend used to bring up her sexual history constantly around me. At first I thought he was just joking and I felt bad for being bothered by it, but then I realized he was being passive aggressive because he felt jealous that he didn't get to hang out with his friend as much (not my fault - they live further apart now, and I always encourage them to hang out alone when it is possible. I understand how he feels though because I've lost friends to the relationship coma). My girlfriend agreed he was being passive aggressive (because he does stuff like this a lot) and asked him to stop, though he still does it sometimes. I don't think he does it on purpose, and he's otherwise very nice, so I don't dislike the guy at all, but that's been another thing that was really hard to deal with.

I don't know how to deal with how I feel. I like to think I'm doing okay with dealing with it, and I've made a lot of progress in these short months, but I need direction because sometimes it feels like too much. How can I think about this stuff differently? It's hard for me to understand any of it and its super overwhelming because I've never had similar experiences (casual sex, embarrassing sex, etc) and I don't want it to be any more of an issue in our relationship. I've adopted the policy of not talking about her sexual history unless she brings it up (in which case I consider it safe to talk about), or if its super relevant (someone from the past acting jealous around me), but I feel like I think about this way too much. Please slap some sense into me.
posted by Reaveg to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The "sex partner" background is a red herring. If you are dating someone and her friends are treating you like shit, she needs to lay down the law and explain she cares about you and you deserve their consideration. The specifics of her history with them does not change this.
posted by schroedinger at 9:49 AM on April 1, 2011 [43 favorites]

The "sex partner" background is a red herring. If you are dating someone and her friends are treating you like shit, she needs to lay down the law and explain she cares about you and you deserve their consideration. The specifics of her history with them does not change this.

Seconded. I've met, and been friendly - or outright friends - with my partners' past sexual partners. I've been introduced to my past sexual partners' new boyfriends and, I like to think, not pulled this kind of shit at all.

The fact that sex is involved may make the problem a little more acute, but the real problem is that your girlfriend's friends don't respect her choice of partner, and are treating him (eg, you) like shit, and that is Seriously Not Cool.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:56 AM on April 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

You and your girlfriend need to hang around with different people.
posted by Slinga at 9:58 AM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I am part of a pretty closeknit (read: in-group incestous) community where the person you're dating has definitely dated or at least slept with a few people you know. I am subletting a room from a good friend - I slept with her boyfriend before they started dating. One of my roomates - my best friend dated her boyfriend before she did. Things like that, and to a somewhat more extended degree, are more commonplace among our age group and friend circle, I guess. And guess what else? Everyone loves each other. Not in a hippy-dippy free-love kind of way, but this is an incredibly close group of people and they all love and respect each other. Even new people brought in as partners are treated immediately with respect, and kindness.

If you are feeling like her friends, whether or not they've been her sexual partners, are treating you poorly, that is a valid problem and something worth discussing. I am glad you are aware enough of your emotions on this topic, but it only has to do with sex tangentially. Yes, they've slept with your girlfriend. But she picked you, is currently picking you, and will in the future pick you. They need to stop acting like asses.
posted by hepta at 10:02 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound like a prince of a fellow who is behaving really well in an understandably stressful situation. I don't think you need sense slapped into you.

I'm seeing 1. other people behaving badly and 2. low self-esteem, which probably feed into each other. You're all fairly young, so it may be difficult for your girlfriend's friends/exes to treat you in a mature fashion even if they'd like to do so, especially if you seem to be nervous. Also, when you're feeling insecure, other people's awkward or shy behavior reads as mean or judgmental. (I know this only too well from experience.)

Your girlfriend should be able to assess whether her friends are being jerks or just awkward. You shouldn't be expected to hang out with the ones who are being jerks.

My partner doesn't like my exes, for whatever reason. We don't hang out with them as a couple; we don't talk about them in detail. It's not an awful situation or full of jealousy, and I certainly see them when they're in town, email, etc etc. It's great to be friends with exes and with partners' exes, but it's not a moral requirement. If it's bugging you, don't feel obligated to do it.

Are you getting therapy about your childhood? That might be a place to talk some of this through.
posted by Frowner at 10:02 AM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

Step one: Stop beating yourself up for how you feel. Next time you feel a sense of inadequacy (or whatever), say to yourself that it's OK to feel that way. Give yourself total permission to feel whatever you're feeling. This works best if you can be alone in a safe place. Concentrate on the physical feeling - is your chest tight? Stomach churning? Just feel it, just experience it. Don't add to it by thinking thoughts of "I shouldn't feel like this," "I should be stronger," etc. Those thoughts will arise; just let them pass like clouds in the sky. (It helps me to literally picture clouds in the sky.) I promise you that if you do this regularly, you will feel better even if you don't do anything else about it.

Step two: I don't know, follow some of the other advice here.

I will say this: you are not required to discuss her sexual history even if she brings it up. I've stopped my husband with "TMI!!" and he has never wanted to know anything at all. The only time it's "relevant" is if she has an STD or is pregnant.
posted by desjardins at 10:06 AM on April 1, 2011

There's a lot to deal with here, but first, like schroedinger says, no matter what these previous sexual relationship these people have, they should be treating you civilly. Get them to treat with you with basic respect the same way you would anyone else. Ask people to not talk about things you don't want to hear about. Point out when people ignore you repeatedly (not in a mean way). And if they don't come around, stop interacting with them and let your girlfriend know why.

As for the feeling intimidated and inadequate:

The rest were overtly jealous or weird.

One way to think of it is this way: They are jealous of you. They are the ones that feel intimidated and inadequate. Kind of like snakes, they are more afraid of you than you are of them. So, you can relax, you are the one with your girlfriend, and you in a good position.
posted by ignignokt at 10:08 AM on April 1, 2011

You describe feeling awkward/insecure around people that come from her life pre-you. Sex or not, these people have an advantage of time over you.

How do you feel around your common friends or your friends from prior to the relationship? Because it's these friendships that truly reflect on you as an individual. Focus on that and don't let her exs get under your skin.

Oh, and when you are around her exs remember the one thing you have that they don't. Your relationship with your girlfriend ISN'T OVER. :)
posted by m@f at 10:08 AM on April 1, 2011

schroedinger is correct. The problem is not with you. It's with her friends.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2011

I have a big group of friends where pretty much all of them have paired off at one time or another in every possible configuration. The only time it's ever been a problem is when someone was actually cheating on someone else. Everyone gets along with everone else's ex's pretty well, for the most part.

If this isn't the case for you, the problem isn't that she's slept around. The problem is that she's slept around with really jerky people who are being jerky to you.
posted by empath at 10:20 AM on April 1, 2011

Yeah, there is really no reason to discuss anyone's sexual history the way you and your GF do.

That said, we've all done it at least once in a relationship and have felt exactly the way you do now - which is how we learned to stop talking about anyone's specific past sex partners unless absolutely relevant!

I think your GF should move on from some of these folks and also stick up for you more. Does she realize that when her "friends" are disrespecting you, they are dissing her, too?

If you are excessively shy or nervous, I'm sure that isn't helping. But I feel like you and your GF should only be participating in group social activities that make both of you feel comfortable and have fun.
posted by jbenben at 10:34 AM on April 1, 2011

Schroedinger and tomorrowful are dead on. I've been in a similar situation twice. This is less about her sexual history and much more about the fact that people around her aren't accepting her choices of her to be with. And honestly, if you think for a second that her friends are jealous, that speaks well for your connection with her.

You need to let her know how you feel about this. Again, this is about her friends being dicks to you -- nothing more, nothing less. The threesome issue is less about your not having a similar sexual past and more about you feeling like an outsider when there's clearly a bond there that goes beyond sex, and both of those friends are slapping you with it.

Focus on your girlfriend's present situation -- the one that includes you. If you're both having great sex, that's awesome. Unless you are in a situation where you feel like your girlfriend is just using you (financially, or as an emotional crutch, or whatever), then there's no reason she would stick with you if she wasn't actually into the relationship. Obviously she's had no trouble in the past getting attention from guys, so why would she settle for less, right?

If you two are really solid for one another, then the fact that her friends are passive-aggressive jerks to you (which it sounds like she recognizes) will be a serious concern for her.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:39 AM on April 1, 2011

I'm the girl that's had a more interesting sexual history than most of my partners, so I want to fill a few things in from that perspective.

I agree with the above comments that her friends should be treating you well, regardless of their history with her. This is something I did not always understand, because I was really self conscious that my "numbers" were higher than those of the people I was dating, and I didn't quite understand where the problems were and what they meant - so she could just not quite be figuring that out herself. I'd say have a discussion about what kind of treatment you deserve, there.

And then being the girl with more "experience" this thing happens where people get really insecure - but I don't get in relationships with people I don't enjoy...I don't have sex with people who are consistently bad at it. She's with you because she wants to be. So when you have the conversation about the friends, be sure you remember she's with you for a reason.
posted by nile_red at 11:25 AM on April 1, 2011

I think it's really weird that your girlfriend volunteered specific information about her 12+ previous sexual partners. She's still young at 24, but she's experienced enough to know better -- and that plus her failure to tell her friends to stop treating you badly is entering "red flag" territory.

It's okay to not talk about her sexual history, you know, even if she brings it up. In fact, you might want to tell her that you're not comfortable talking about it unless it's something you need to know. Beyond that: time. Just like any life experience, new information to process takes time to process and you'll feel more comfortable with it after you have.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:36 AM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

You don't need any sense slapped into you. I think everything you're feeling is fine and normal. IMO the problem is that your girlfriend is being extremely inconsiderate and immature by allowing her friends to treat you badly - nothing to do with her sexual history per se. IMO the only thing to "feel differently about" is the acceptability of her behavior.

We pretty much run into someone at least half the time we go out in public in her town, and I always feel awkward or upset about it ... most of my encounters with these past people weren't fun. Only one person was nice to me. The rest were overtly jealous or weird.

The worst instance is a couple that she had a threesome with, who she has been friends with for years. The guy was a total ass to me and ignored me the entire night. I'd ask him a question about his hobbies and he'd ignore me then talk to my girlfriend more ... I've mentioned how that made me feel to my girlfriend before, but she didn't say much about it. ... she mentions the couple (fairly often, they're friends

Oh, another problem is that her best friend used to bring up her sexual history constantly around me ... My girlfriend agreed he was being passive aggressive (because he does stuff like this a lot) and asked him to stop, though he still does it sometimes.

So, her friends are weird, jealous, and weird to you. One friend in particular ignores you the entire night you hang out and tries to make you feel excluded; your girlfriend doesn't say much about this when you bring it up. And her "best friend" brings up her sexual history constantly to upset you, she asked him to stop, he doesn't, and she doesn't do anything about it.

WTF? This is completely uncool and not okay at all. What she's doing is not normal and it's not how you treat people. It's not okay to sit by and watch as your friends treat your SO like shit.

Your girlfriend needs to make it crystal clear that she won't accept any of her friends treating you rudely, whether that's ignoring/excluding you, deliberately bringing up things that make you uncomfortable, or just giving you the stink-eye. If they ignore that and continue to do so, she need to drop them until they can grow up and not act like jerks.

Honestly, it sounds to me like your girlfriend kind of enjoys being at the center of all this attention and drama, having all these different people fighting over her. You don't deserve that.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:44 AM on April 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

I think growing up in an abusive household sometimes gives people a higher threshhold for being treated poorly, in a bad way. Meaning, most people would walk away in digust when the poor treatment is at a 3, whereas someone who grew up being abused might keep looking for ways to make it work, or ways that they can change, or reasons to be understanding and accepting, not walk away until it's at an 8. Just a thought.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:59 AM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

OK. I read through the responses and a lot of them were very helpful. Thank you, everyone. I sincerely appreciate it.

First, I hope I don't sound defensive, but my girlfriend is totally great about sticking up for me. There's been two cases where people were hostile toward me (a friend that she didn't have a history with yelling at me at a party because he got too drunk, and a crazy person in town at an event she was hosting - in the former case, she isn't friends with that person anymore, in the latter, she loudly defended me in public) and she was great with both. Also, she told me about her sexual history at the start of the relationship because she knew I would find out eventually (and I have - everything she's told me, I've found out the information later from other people) and she wanted to ignore future problems and wanted me to accept her. Which I do. She worries that telling me was a mistake and that she created problems in our relationship by doing so. I think my default answer to that from now on will be that I appreciated her honesty, and that she hasn't created any problems in our relationship, only other people have acted inappropriately.

I think I need to be clearer about telling her what upsets me and what I need from her, though. I've felt insecure about talking to her about all of this (and when we did, I was probably too vague because I was worried about red herrings) and I think that's a large part of the problem. I couldn't distinguish if I felt bad about her sexual history or if I felt bad about what was going on in present-stuff, so I felt insecure talking about it because I was worried I would make her feel bad about her sexual history.

I need to clearly communicate that I have no problem with her sexual history and never have. It was overwhelming and difficult for me to figure out at first, but for the most part I feel OK about it. I need to clearly communicate that it's not OK for her friends to bring up her sexual history around me. It makes me uncomfortable, it's inappropriate, and in some cases it is clearly passive aggressive. I also need to clearly communicate that I feel uncomfortable around her couple-friend because he was disrespectful to me and it makes me feel excluded, and that it's inappropriate for people from her past to be disrespectful to me. I've told her before that I don't feel upset at her when people from her past are unfair to me, I just feel upset at them, but I think I need to communicate to her clearly that I need her to be on my side and that she needs to not tolerate disrespectful or passive aggressive behavior toward me from her friends. If someone is being weird to me, they're being weird to both of us, because we're a couple.

I know she'll be totally receptive to all of this because she's awesome. I just need to clearly distinguish how I feel to her, and what my needs are. And I need to be better about demanding respect from people.

Ashley: thank you for the response, but I promise I'm not tolerating any bad behavior. It is definitely something I watch out for because I tolerated a lot of bad behavior in the past. I am super happy with my girlfriend and shes great to me - like I got in a car wreck recently, and she took off work to take care of me that week. It's just been difficult for both of us in figuring out the sexual history gap and how to handle stuff from the past.
posted by Reaveg at 12:33 PM on April 1, 2011

And thanks again, everyone. A lot of these posts really put this stuff in perspective for me.
posted by Reaveg at 12:35 PM on April 1, 2011

Nthing that, when you are feeling down or sad about being the less experienced partner, you can remind yourself that she's with you, not any of them, and that she's with you because you are clearly cooler to hang out with and better in bed.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:18 PM on April 1, 2011

I'd just like to mention that I don't think it's necessarily weird to discuss one's sexual history with one's partner, and I really don't understand why everyone seems to think that it's inappropriate. In every relationship I've been in, I've talked about it with the gentlemen in question. It's never bothered me. It just helps me understand better where they're coming from in terms of history and experiences, which I find helps the relationship run more smoothly. I know my husband's entire history, and he knows mine. I don't know the names and addresses of everyone he ever kissed, or anything, but I have a good grasp on the highlights. I guess discussion of these matters makes some people feel insecure even if they have a similar level of experience to their partners, but, well, not always. It's another thing that has to be negotiated between the partners.
posted by Because at 2:51 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you are being disrespected, it is YOU who need to speak up -- both to the offending parties, and to your gf. Don't let your gf convince you to enter unpleasant social situations. Don't be a puppy dog, tagging along thoughtlessly.
posted by blargerz at 4:59 PM on April 1, 2011

I'm just a random stranger on the internet, but to my ear you sound remarkably 'together' and mature about all of this.

It sounds like your gf is lucky to be with you.

(Keep in mind that when somebody tries to fit a new partner into an existing social circle, you will never be friends with all of her friends, even without the drama of sexual histories. Some people will never hit it off.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 8:34 PM on April 1, 2011

Reaveg - your second post was great. Sounds to me like you have had some counseling or therapy and really took advantage of it - you are very clear about you would like and you sound like are in a very good relationship where you can talk about things. It is OK that it took you a while to figure out what you were feeling - complicated stuff - but you made the effort to post here, read the responses and figure out what was true for you. Congratulations. I'm predicting happy, healthy relationships in your future.
posted by metahawk at 8:38 PM on April 1, 2011

Just chiming in to totally agree with Frowner, Aizkolari and Because.

By the way, you (Reaveg) sound like a great guy. Kudos.
posted by StrawberryPie at 9:31 AM on April 2, 2011

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