Her Past is Weighing on Me
June 21, 2006 12:20 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend of one year and I get along famously. She's 21, beautiful, intelligent, super sweet, madly in love with me, and has had almost as many partners as I have at the ripe old age of 33.

At 18, the boyfriend to whom she lost her virginity broke up with her. In the following year, she engaged in ~20 mostly anonymous one-night-stands. This phase ended on the night during which she was drug-raped by two men.

She's already dealt with some negative outcomes of her behaviour - HPV, cervical dysplasia, a conization, feelings of guilt. She claims she didn't enjoy her "experimentation", knew it wasn't good or healthy for her and kept it all secret from friends and family. But she continued with the behaviour, anyway.

She is afraid that I will see her differently now that I know about her past. I told her not to worry, but it weighs on me occasionally.

Am I right to wonder wether she may have problems controlling compulsive behaviour, especially with regards to sex? Is a person with this kind of history less likely to remain sexually satisfied by and faithful to one partner? Is this behaviour perhaps a sign of deeper-seated psychological problems? We have both tested negative for HIV. Should I insist that she be tested for Herpes? For anything else? I have usually dated and had sex in a relationship mode -- one-night-stands have never really appealled to me, and I wonder about our longer-term compatibility.

If I didn't care for her so much, I wouldn't be asking this question, but I do, and thus I am.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

I don't think there are generalizations to make about the behavior of people with the sexual history you detail. You are the only person in a position to take a look at your GF and evaluate her present actions against her past actions. This might not be confined to sex, but might take other aspects of her life into account as well: 1) Do her explanations make sense to you? 2) Does she seem to pervericate or hold back when talking about them in a way that might make you think that she's likely to stray outside the relationship? 3) What has her history been like in the past two years, particularly the year between her experimentation and her year with you (If my math is right)? 4) Is she responsible in other areas of her life? 5) Does she seem to want something in her life that she is not getting with you?

Remember that she did nothing wrong, it's not inherently wrong to have sex with a lot of people anonymously. It certainly isn't wrong to be raped, although it's obviously a tragedy. Even if having multiple anonymous partners isn't something you would want to do yourself, the question you're asking requires you to separate any feelings of distaste you might have about her behavior from the more pertinent issue of what you think she's likely to act like in the future. Unless, of course, you think that there's something irreconcilably bad about her past behavior, which could be, but doesn't seem to be, your question.

Put another way: It seems like she was going through a period of chaos, which she identifies as such, and from which she emerged with a few scars. Is her life now chaotic in any aspects, or does that seem firmly in her past? Only you can evaluate your answers to those questions.
posted by OmieWise at 12:32 PM on June 21, 2006

She's 21, beautiful, intelligent, super sweet, madly in love with me...

Stop right there and count your blessings! You are a lucky man. She only slept with all those guys because she was looking for you.

Oh, and don't talk it about it anymore with her.
posted by LarryC at 12:34 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

In a sense, the feelings of guilt and some of the physical consequences of her actions lead me to believe that's she's "learned her lesson". It may be hard, but I think it's important to make sure she's in good shape and to make sure you're not at risk. You are right to wonder if she might have future problems - it sounds like she would understand if you did. The best solution to this seems to me to have (another) open talk with her and let her know that you have some uncertainty. Point her to this thread, if need be. If she gets offended, that's fine, as long as she understands that you're looking out for both of you two, she'll get over it and you can both move on.
For what it's worth, I sympathize with you (and her) and hope this works out for the best.
posted by hoborg at 12:35 PM on June 21, 2006

There's the obvious - she's 21, it's been presumably less than two years since she ended her possibly-compulsive behavior. That probably means a lot to her since it's the largest gap in her life between the time when she became active, but it's still not that long in the course of her life, and a lot less time when compared to your life.

It's good that you've talked about her "past," but you have to realize that this was not that long ago. I realize that when you start a relationship with someone you must remember that what's done is done and accept the person for who they are, but I'm not sure that there's been enough time for her to step back and evaluate anything, especially if there's been no clear break in her life. Has she been in relationships since that time? If so, is she capable of being outside of a relationship for an extended period without going back to her previous behavior?
posted by mikeh at 12:35 PM on June 21, 2006

On preview, I respectfully disagree with LarryC. A person can be all those things and still have some pretty severe roadblocks to happiness. Having doubts that are unknown to her is really not going to help her or you get through them.
posted by hoborg at 12:37 PM on June 21, 2006

When I said "active," I meant sexually and socially active in regards to openly looking for sex.
posted by mikeh at 12:37 PM on June 21, 2006

not to trivialize your feelings by any means at all, i would like to raise a couple of arguable points:

-20 anonymous one-night stands is not that many by most people's standards, is it? i mean, one way to look at it is she was 19 and having fun. yes, by your standards (and mine btw) 20 one night stands in a year is a lot. but for many people, this is nothing. i'm not sure it's necessarily a signal that she has any uncontrollable, compulsive behaviors.
-was it 20 one night stands of completely unprotected sex? that is very different than the same where protection was used (in regards to your worries about disease)
-also regarding disease, i thought that HPV occurred at a relatively high rate. it's certainly a worry, but it's way more common than herpes and STDs. this last bit someone may correct me on.
posted by poppo at 12:38 PM on June 21, 2006

IMHO, 21 year old, beautiful women are constantly looking for the next best thing. (generally speaking)

OTOH, huge life crises, like rape, have the ability to cause instant maturity in people (as in, they're on the right path to being truly responsible adults).

You need to decide whether you feel that her series of hardships has turned her into a better, more committed person, or the hardship was a minor setback and that she might return to irresponsible, carefree fun(since she's only begun her 20s). That's a decision only you can make and based only on your experience with her combined with your ability to accurately judge a person's character.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2006

some of your girlfriend's history sounds very similar to the story my first wife told me. things didn't work out--and it caused a world of hurt 10 years later. i'd be concerned about the way she reacts to emotional disappointment and/or pain.
posted by lester at 12:46 PM on June 21, 2006

She was 18. I can't imagine that many of us can look back at everything we did at 18, especially when faced with major emotional distress, and claim we acted totally maturely or rationally.

What OmieWise says makes so much sense. "Three years ago" to a 21-year-old is worlds away from "three years ago" to a 33-year-old. You have to look at her current behavior, and how she's handling responsibility and commitment now, and whether she's learned from what she regards as mistakes in the past (which, from the way you describe the situation, it sounds like she has).

We all do stupid shit, we all go off the deep end occasionally. It doesn't mean we're always going to do so, as long as we've learned new coping mechanisms and priorities.
posted by occhiblu at 12:46 PM on June 21, 2006

Lots of people go through slutty phases. Just take the relationship step by step and if other behaviour seem like red flags to you, take them as they come.
posted by k8t at 12:46 PM on June 21, 2006

Oh, make it a policy to get tested between each partner. Too bad (I assume) you've already slept with her, otherwise you can inform her of your policy.

But at this point, go get tested together.
posted by k8t at 12:48 PM on June 21, 2006

Watch Chasing Amy. Really. The movie is about a situation almost identical to yours.
posted by malp at 12:49 PM on June 21, 2006

This phase ended on the night during which she was drug-raped by two men.

Do you have any real reason to doubt this is the case? If not, there's your answer.
posted by availablelight at 12:50 PM on June 21, 2006

As with any new partner you are willing to have sex with, you should be willing to also ask for sexual health and testing. If someone is offended that you want to keep healthy, that person is either not responsible enough to have you as a sexual partner, or trying to cover something up.

As for her compulsive behavior, I think it has more to do with her age than anything else. It shouldn't bother you if she has a healthy sexual history, although we all know sometimes it does. However, everything that was before you was ... well before you and holding it against her maybe an irrational reaction, but still something you'll have to get over. She's with you now and if you want to keep her then you'll have to not harp on this and let it destroy you.

As for deep-seated psychological problems? What? Just because she went with her sexual impulses at that age? She made the choices during that time period - an understandable time period where many of us also experiment and test the waters - and that's her business to deal with. If she chooses to share, then it's for you to decide how best to help her move on into a healthy relationship between you two. Don't assume that just because women like or choose to have sex alot that we're somehow having problems. I think this is indicative of the man/female double standard when dealing with #s of sexual partners. If she's got a psychological problem then ok get it treated, but i'd chalk it more up to sexually blooming and experimenting than anything else. Just being a woman and choosing to widen your sexual experiences does not make one psychologically damaged.
posted by eatdonuts at 12:52 PM on June 21, 2006

The actual number of partners shouldn't matter, but, despite the poster trying to be open minded, some of how this question is framed makes me think that the numbers matter to them.
"Is a person with this kind of history less likely to remain sexually satisfied by and faithful to one partner?"
For instance, this sounds like a fear of inadequacy. A person with a large sexual history is just as likely to be insanely happy to finally be in a stable relationship. A trusting, stable relationship might even lead to a better, freer sex life. Isn't it usually a stereotype about men that they only judge their sex life by quantity instead of quality?

Numbers don't matter, but a history of risky activities, consequences and ultimately resulting in a horrible, unjust trauma is important. Did the girlfriend ever seek professional help? She needs to and if you want to be in the best place to help your girlfriend, you would do well to see an individual therapist yourself. Living with and loving a survivor of trauma is a difficult road in and of itself. Just because things seem rosey at the one-year mark, there's still a lot of trust that may need to be built and rebuilt to overcome past trauma. You also need to know, it's likely that your girlfriend has had more than one traumatic experience. You will learn more as your relationship grows in trust and these points in time will test your relationship. These revelations should be approached with empathy, understanding and no judgement.

STD testing is probably a good idea in any long-term relationship, and if you choose to approach this subject, it should be approached in that context, not in a, "Wow, with your history, we better do this!" kind of way. That is to say, you should get the test as well.
posted by Skwirl at 12:55 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm stuck in this pit, working for less than slave wages, working on my day off. The goddamn steel shutters are closed. I deal with every backward-assed fuck on the planet. I smell like shoe polish. My ex-girlfriend is catatonic after fucking a dead guy, and my present girlfriend has sucked 36 dicks.


You're being insecure, anonymous. It's all OK. Really. Relax.
posted by matteo at 12:55 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and not all of my sexual partners were that great either until my current love ... but they were useful steps along the road to recognizing how amazingly awesome my cohabitating boyfriend of 6 years is now. It's all experience, anything in a vacuum is less interesting and less wise.
posted by eatdonuts at 12:56 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I Am Not An Anything, but for those of you who don't think there are higher psychological issues, there are some red flags: She claims she didn't enjoy her "experimentation" I don't believe this is an example of a young person testing their sexual freedom. Healthy people do not continue activities that they do not enjoy, and they especially do not continue those activities in spite of consequences.

If the claim was a white lie to save face, then it's not as big of a red flag, but it certainly points to something, such as a flaw in his or her trust in their relationship, that may lead to further friction.
posted by Skwirl at 1:15 PM on June 21, 2006

Is a person with this kind of history less likely to remain sexually satisfied by and faithful to one partner?

On the contrary, someone who has already played the field, and says she's now ready to be with you exclusively, knows what she's talking about more than someone who hasn't had much experience.

As for the herpes testing, I'm betting that it was already tested for after she was raped. There's also chlymidia and various other possiblilites; unless you have sex only with virgins, there's a certain element of risk in all sexual relationships. But I would ask yourself whether your doubt really isn't about her purity in some non-physical sense.

On preview, Skwirl is right, but my interpretation was that the comment was a white lie, because she knew (correctly) that you would have a problem with her history.
posted by bingo at 1:21 PM on June 21, 2006

Skwirl writes "Did the girlfriend ever seek professional help? She needs to and if you want to be in the best place to help your girlfriend, you would do well to see an individual therapist yourself."

I am a therapist and I suggest therapy all the time here, and I'm not interested in picking on Skwirl, but this statement is just not true. Plenty of people do fine going through something traumatic without seeking professional help. People should absolutely consider therapy if they are in distress, but there's plenty of research indicating that most people deal with trauma perfectly well on their own. It's precisely my belief in therapy as a treatment for psychological distress of all kinds that makes me vrey weary of people suggesting it because it seems like it might be a good idea.

The issue remains: What in your GF's current behavior leads you to think she may repeat behavior she has explicitly disavowed?
posted by OmieWise at 1:22 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Possibly Skwirl, but I've been known to gloss over facts to make my significant other feel better... and he's surely done it to me also. I don't necessarily think protecting your partner's feelings once in a while is an extreme flaw in a relationship or an issue of trust - particularly not in a long relationship. Life is life, we aren't all saints.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:23 PM on June 21, 2006

Duh, she's telling him she didn't enjoy it so he doesn't think she's a nympho. Look how he reacted when she played the cliched female victim who couldn't control her sexual urges? She enjoyed the attention, the sex and the sense of danger (throw in a few other things too probably). Work off the assumption that she just enjoys sex. That doesn't correlate automatically with her enjoying sex with different people, just that she enjoys sex. Don't assume she's some sort of passive participant that will cheat on you next guy that comes by with a perfect set of abs, that would be condescending.
posted by geoff. at 1:27 PM on June 21, 2006

I knew a girl of that age and had the same wild late teens. Even the cervical thing. And when she was 21 she dated guys in her early 30s [which pissed me off since I was her age]. She mellowed out around 21 and turned out OK. She and I are still good friends. She's married [to an older guy, natch] and has a great kid. In other words her past is not that much to worry about.

It isn't like your girlfriend was a prostitute turning 20 tricks a weekend. It isn't that bad. And even if she "rounded down" her estimate of how many partners she had. As long as she's with you now -- and does have an STD you'd need to know about -- that's all you need.

What she doesn't want is you to always be thinking about her past. It is the past. If you can't get over it, you need to find a nice virgin girl. You don't want to be like Dante in the "Clerks" quote above.

And getting tested for STDs is a good thing. Instead of telling her she's a tramp and needs to get tested, you both get tested for the same stuff at the same time. Even if you're as pure as a saint, taking the time, expense and embarrassment of getting the tests done shows you care.
posted by birdherder at 1:35 PM on June 21, 2006

I do not know you and do not wish to sound judgmental, but as my younger sister has gone through a lot of what your girlfriend has, I'd like to offer an alternate point of view.

My sister is 22, and for the past couple of years has been in the pattern you dsescribe. Even though she was clearly participating in a party lifestyle and freely experimenting, during the days she would beat herself up wondering why she didn't have a boyfriend. "What am I doing wrong?" She'd ask. Most of the men she has dated/slept with have been over 30, most of them she met in bars or clubs. I have tried to explain to her that when men in their 30's "just so happen" to keep winding up with 21 year old girls, it says quite a lot about what they are really looking for, not just in terms of sex, but in the terms of someone who they are clearly ahead of in terms of maturity, financial stability, and worldliness. It's subconsciously about power. She admittedly has daddy issues. I think that for all her experimentation, she has had a very unsatisfying sex life.

I can tell that the idea of attaching herself to someone who already appears to have their life figured out is attractive, because she feels so unsatisfied with her own. When these guys turn out to be either fickle or controlling (and they have never failed to) she always imagines that the problem was with the guy and not the kind of guy that she chose.

Bottom line, if your girl has these kinds of issues in her life, then you may be part of the problem even if your intentions are great. Because her gravitation toward you may be chiefly due to what you symbolize to her, an escape or a way to raise herself above this troubled past. And while part of the fun for her will be having you to rely on, unless she fixes her problems on her own and regains her independence and self-esteem, eventually she will probably grow bored with this relationship.

Recently my sister met a guy who is only a few years older and is in the first real relationship between equals that she's ever known and is very happy. As an older brother I am relieved, because if she hadn't learned to cobble something together with someone in her league, she might never have grown to think of herself as capable of doing so.

Again, not to judge you, I don't know your story, and you are anonymous so you can't offer rebuttal-- but as an older brother I couldn't resist offering these comments. If you are 33 and your circle of friends or list of girlfriends includes more girls ten or more years younger than yourself, you may want to wonder whether you are setting yourself up to play the role of safe-and-savvy-older-guy out of genuine concern, or as a subconscious bid to attract younger women with low self-esteem. Confront yourself honestly, because if you keep dating her you are going to have to meet her family, and that's what they are going to be wondering too.
posted by hermitosis at 1:43 PM on June 21, 2006 [7 favorites]

I sometimes wish you could respond anonymously on these threads because, even not as the poster, there are times I want to say things that I'd like to be anonymous for.

Since I can't be, I'll just say that hermistosis' post bears very careful consideration.
posted by jammer at 1:57 PM on June 21, 2006

She (and you) should be tested for STIs if there have been 20 partners, a million partners, or one partner. If she's been for an annual anytime recently, she's likely been tested for a few.

I wonder if, were the sex roles reversed (I assume that you, the poster, is male; so, if you were female), you would be as consumed with a male partner's history. Likely, your partner wouldn't be as wracked with guilt, too, as she is as a woman. Perhaps ask yourself if it would bother you more or less if she told you she regretted nothing about her past (maybe to put things in perspective).

You say that she's had nearly as many partners as you have... I also wonder, would this bother you as much if she was your age? If it's the fact that there were 20 different partners in one year, versus an average of 2 or so/year that is weighing on you -- you can't rely speculation of what she could possibly do in the next 12 years (until she's your age; provided, of course, that you're not still with her, and that she has remained faithful). If she says "that behavior" is over, then you have to believe her. No use crying over milk that you haven't even purchased yet, let alone spilt.
posted by penchant at 1:57 PM on June 21, 2006

Did she become a "born again" Christian or something?

Tell her not to worry about it. So she slept with a few people in her past. Big deal. As long as she's not cheating on you now, it's all good.

But it sounds like both of you need to take a deep breath and say "I'm over this." Bringing it up and especially the "oh, you might have an STD" chat will do nothing more than make everyone feel guilty.
posted by drstein at 2:09 PM on June 21, 2006

What if she hadn't told you anything? You'd have no worries or you'd only worry about the present. You'd be taking it as it comes. So, why not do that anyway?

There's no point in indulging in that kind of speculations about the future. You can never, ever know how things turn out.

Even if it was someone who'd only had 1 partner before you, there is no automatic guarantee of higher faithfulness or immunity of the relationship from any other kind of potential crisis.

I had friends who were with their high school sweethearts for ten years. They'd been together since fifteen, it was their first kiss, their first sex, their first relationship, their first everything together, and everyone thought they're going to get married by now. They split up after all that time. It wasn't cheating, they just broke up. They hadn't had time to grow up separately and have their fun before getting serious. They did that afterwards.

It doesn't have to be like that, but that's just an example of how the 'had lots [where lots is subjective] of partners before' can just mean she got that out of her system already.

Healthy people do not continue activities that they do not enjoy

Hmm, define 'healthy'... Just imagine it's about someone who got drunk/stoned a lot [again, subjective] for a certain period when they were 18. Looking back, they say didn't really enjoy it. They might just mean, they did enjoy the fun parts of it, but not the consequences and feeling they were left with afterwards, so overall they wouldn't really do it again.

It doesn't have to mean they were full blown alcoholics or addicts and doomed to a life of chronic repetition of same behaviour, unless they actually *are* repeating the same behaviour years later.

People experiment as teenagers not just for pleasure, it can also be a temporary outlet for frustrations rather than some full blown obsessive compulsive behaviour as per psychiatric manual.

In the end, you have to take people as they are now.
posted by funambulist at 2:09 PM on June 21, 2006

I have had phases where I had numerous partners in quick succession. Not always sex, but people I wasn't dating. I was generally lonely and depressed when I did these things. And yeah, I didn't enjoy them that much.

You might talk to her about why she sought out one-night-stands if she didn't enjoy them. Maybe there was an underlying emotional need she was seeking to fulfill. Maybe you can provide that for her now.

Is she going to be promiscuous again in the future? There is no real way of predicting. If you can't trust her to pledge faithfulness by being with you, it isn't much of a relationship in my opinion. Put another way, her word that she is over that phase should be good enough. Not because it is a total guaruntee, but because you will never be able to predict the future and her word is the best you are going to get.

Are you feeling insecure because she has had so many partners? I suggest you get over it. Maybe some of them were better in bed than you - there's nothing you can do about it except be glad that she's with you now.

In short, I have to say that I understand where you are coming from - it's only human to worry - but I don't think you have much to worry about.
posted by mai at 2:19 PM on June 21, 2006

TMIfilter: Just for perspective, I had HPV and cervical dysplasia after 3 partners (over, like, 4 years), and I had never had unprotected sex. That has nothing to do with how many people she slept with. Also, you both should get any STD test your doctor can think of anyway, if you haven't already. ESPECIALLY if you and this girl want to have no-condom sex. I don't know why her history would affect this, either; the "When was your last test" conversation has happened in just about every relationship I've ever had, and pretty early on. It's not awkward, I (and most people I know) would ask it of anyone I was dating, no matter their history. I'm more of a "relationship" person, too, and I think you're way overreacting.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 2:22 PM on June 21, 2006

Because you can get it from groin to groin contact, or even more casual contact, HPV has nothing to do with someone's promiscuity.

I think a lot of wise comments have been said in the thread, and I would urge you to look at yourself and why her sexual history weighs on you so much, and why you are dating someone so much younger than you. It sounds like you thought you had the experience card, and now feel insecure because she is just as experienced as you. Also you mention how in love she is with you, but not whether you reciprocate. Do you?

As for her saying that she didn't enjoy her sexual encounters, none of that sounds compulsive. Women often sleep with men and then regret it or realize that although it was physically fun, it was emotionally draining or in some other way negative. But it can take a while before someone acknowledges that a physical experience, sex drugs, etc. is not fun.

Overall, I agree you are over reacting and that if you want to keep the relationship, drop the subject and love her as she is.
posted by zia at 2:48 PM on June 21, 2006

Plenty of people (women even!) have lots of sex for good or not-good reasons. For what it's worth, your reaction is exactly why when I was dating I consistently refused to have this conversation other than to verify my STD status. Women are in a lose-lose situation at least 80% of the time with this question, becuase if you've had too many partners, you're a floozy or have a head problem, or if you've had too few, you are either frigid or suspiciously under-experienced. It sucks, and I bet it especially sucks if she feels like she needs to tell you because it's part of her reaction to a traumatic experience. I have to agree with birdherder -- the last thing she wants to happen after she's been honest with you is to have you punish her endlessly because of it.

As far as the HPV goes, if her doctor convinced her that only bad, dirty girls get HPV, her doctor is an asshole. Something like 80% of the population has HPV. It is the common cold of STDs. The fact that she had HPV at one time (she may have cleared the virus from her body by now) has no bearing on her character or anything else. I once engaged in a similar behavior due to a traumatic incident, and since I recognized it and got help figuring out the nature of my problem, I've been fine. Has she gotten help? Does she need or want it? Based on my own experience, as long as she's gotten her issues sorted out, she's no more likely to engage in the reactionary behavior now than she was beforehand.

Also, in order to offer a counterpoint to hermitosis: I was 22 when I met my husband (who was then 30). I never dated guys my age because they were immature pains in the ass and every single one of them I'd given the benefit of the doubt to had turned out to be an idiot, a psychopath, or something comparable. As with sex, people have a lot of reasons for selecting the people with whom they choose to be. I liked my husband because he was witty and intelligent, and he and I held similar interests. In fact, in some ways I arguably had my life together better than he did, and I was unemployed at the time. Similarly, there were ways in which he had his life together in which mine was in disarray. It's about being complimentary to one another.

Do you think she has her head together? Are you guys happy? Do you have a good time? Are your strengths and weaknesses complimentary? At this stage of the game, that's about all that matters. As time goes on, you guys will have to determine whether you match up on stuff like kids and religion and whatever else, but the number of sexual partners you have or have not had isn't one of the things that matters.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:54 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's useful for her or for you to try to examine her motivations at the time of her more promiscuous phase. No matter how anyone tries to explain or justify or analyse a decision made at a different time in one's life, it comes out sounding, and feeling, defensive. And she doesn't have to defend herself. It's normal to have mixed feelings over decisions made in the past. Those years between 18 or 19 and 21 are long and complicated ones in terms of maturity and figuring out the kind of person you'll ultimately become.

If appropriate, reasure her that you know her well right now, and are not concerned with who she slept with well before she met you. And hey, turn it around -- haven't you done things in the past (and not just sex) that you're not be proud of? Should she doubt your character over it? Nahhh.
posted by desuetude at 3:13 PM on June 21, 2006

matteo, you missed the funniest line in that whole situation, possibly the movie. "My girlfriend sucked 37 dicks" "In a row?"

Seriously, though, I'd worry more about the fact that she's 21 than that she's slept with a bunch of guys.
posted by dagnyscott at 3:28 PM on June 21, 2006

Unless she's doing something now to make you doubt that it will work out, leave it alone. Everyone's entitled to a lost weekend.

Also, I don't know if anyone has mentioned this, but my understanding is that most people don't get tested for herpes because the test isn't accurate enough to distinguish between genital herpes and plain old cold sores. So no, don't insist that she get tested for it.
posted by 912 Greens at 3:31 PM on June 21, 2006

Medieval Maven, I totally agree with your comment, and your questions to the poster are very good ones. My only response is this:

22 to 30 = 8 year difference

21 to 33 = 12 year difference

Big difference. Yeah, I know, age is totally subjective, individuals vary, "just a number," etc. But the younger the person you are involved with is, the more you can be sure that you are two people living in two different versions of reality, not sharing the same one.

My previous caveats on my advice still apply-- just wanted to clarify.
posted by hermitosis at 3:49 PM on June 21, 2006

A personal example that may or may not help: a friend of mine lost her virginity her freshman year in college (18, like your girlfriend). After they broke up, she had one other relationship that only lasted a few months, before it self-destructed. Throughout the next few years, she had a string of semi-anonymous ("At least I know their first names!"), generally pretty drunken sexual encounters with various men. She eventually stopped at the end of her junior year (when she was 21), when she realized that she didn't like that lifestyle, and would eventually get in trouble (like your girlfriend did) if she didn't quit.

All my friend wanted, that whole period, was a serious relationship with a nice guy who wouldn't judge her the way she judges herself. It sounds like your girlfriend may feel the same way.
posted by muddgirl at 5:00 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Sometimes you just have to work out your demons in your own way, for better or worse. Don't hold her past against her if you want your relationship to last.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:24 PM on June 21, 2006

I don't want to start a shitstorm and I realise that I may be misreading your post but in terms of the relationship lasting I'd be a lot more concerned by the fact that you seem to think that rape, STDs, guilt and possible mental problems are her just desserts for having slept around a bit. It's not your place to be making demands on her or trying to make her prove her worth to you. If you really think she's damaged goods do her a favour and walk away.
posted by fshgrl at 5:48 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Might as well get tested for everything. It seems like someone with HPV would be much more likely to have herpies. Your health is more important her feeling. As for the rest of the stuff? Meh, who cares?
posted by delmoi at 5:57 PM on June 21, 2006

There has been a lot written about getting tested for herpes. Unless you have an active outbreak, a test for herpes is useless. All it will show is that at some point one or both of you were exposed to the virus and thus developed antibodies. Men tend to be asymptomatic, so if you do test positive for herpes you will never know if it was one of your 20 partners or hers that exposed you. Also, if you have ever had a cold sore on your mouth you have herpes antibodies, anyway.

Do yourself a favor and don't bother getting tested for herpes, it will be a good way to create ill will and pointless finger pointing in your relationship.

Also, like fshgrl I'm a little amazed that you are not more compassionate towards your girlfriends suffering and a bit dismayed at your judgemental tone towards her; like muddgirl my interpretation of her behavior is more towards the young girl sleeping with guys trying to find the right one.
posted by zia at 6:16 PM on June 21, 2006

You say she's madly in love with you. So let her put all that stuff behind her.

Just love her.
posted by beandip at 7:33 PM on June 21, 2006

I think what hermitosis said is very insightful. I speak as someone who had a brief phase of dating much older men when I was about 19. What I was trying to do by being with them wasn't really healthy and wasn't helping me; today, I still wonder what they thought they were up to. While family and friends will often intervene by questioning a woman's behavior in relationships with a great age disparity, in our culture men often get only positively reinforced for being with younger women, and might be less likely to be urged to evaluate their reasons for choosing such a relationship.

I understand that this isn't really an answer to your specific question about whether the relationship has long-term viability, but it is part of thinking about it. The reasons for dating outside one's age cohort can be fine and healthy, or not so fine and healthy. It sounds as though both of you could use a chance to reflect on why you are attracted to one another at this point in each of your lives. Only you can really figure out whether it feels positive, healthy, and likely to work out or not.

Anyone you date will have a sexual history of some sort. IN many cases, you may never hear all of it. In this case you know of some details. The age difference is more of a concern than sexual history, but the issue of sexual history could be interwoven with the age disparity. There's a possibility that someone who had experiences like hers, and felt she went too far to be comfortable and wants to distance herself from them, might be attracted to the stability and security that someone your age seems to represent.
posted by Miko at 7:49 PM on June 21, 2006

I'm going to be the cynic's advocate, and suggest that you are creating a bit of a storm in a teacup, because there is a 98% or higher chance that you will break up anyway, before too long.

21YOs are still little more than teenagers & have a lot of thrashing about to get through, on the whole, before they are ready to settle down permanently with somebody. What was the story here again? Had one boyfriend who was her first, slept around aimlessly, then fell madly in love with you. That would make you #2. That sounds pretty inexperienced in relationship terms to me, which could create major headaches, especially considering the age difference between you.

Then again, maybe you will marry & live happily ever after. Good luck! :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:59 PM on June 21, 2006

As far as diseases, *both* of you should be tested for Hep. B and C. Both are extremely contagious. And if you haven't already had your Hep.B series, look into it.
posted by 6:1 at 8:40 PM on June 21, 2006

She's 21, in my opinion, she can grow out of that type of behavior if she develops some healthy self esteem. Girls change an awful lot in their 20s. I sure hope neither of you is in a hurry to make a lifelong commitment during such a dynamic growth period.
posted by GIRLesq at 10:55 PM on June 21, 2006

It sounds like you're already holding it against her (your choice of language is revealing), and I'm not sure anything anyone can tell you will change that - it's probably a gut reaction.

I think what hermitosis wrote about the age disparity is quite insightful.

She's suffered enough for her choices, and she recognizes that they were detrimental to her. She's left that behind her. Can you leave it behind too? If you can't, don't string her along. Let her find someone who can accept her fully, without reservation.
posted by beth at 12:52 AM on June 22, 2006

beandip has it.

How many partners once or one partner how many times? It's all BS. We are more than the sum of our pasts. I'd guess that your insecurity has as much to do with how you feel about yourself as how you feel about her.

People is people. Different histories, chronological ages, favorite flavor of ice cream... let it go.

Dive in, do the love thing. Listen to the Beatles until you break down and propose.
posted by ewkpates at 3:49 AM on June 22, 2006

The original poster contacted me and asked me to post the following response to the many responses here:

I really appreciate all of the thoughtful answers here. It was cathartic for me to simply submit the question, and your answers have helped me think more reasonably about the (non-) issue. I think what bothered me the most was the rapid succession coupled with the quasi-anonymity of the encounters. I feel that that kind of behavior is unhealthy, whether the actor is a man or a woman.

Background on me: I'm a reformed staunchly conservative Southern Baptist Republican (now more of a leftist agnostic social democrat -- mefi had and has a lot to do with my reformation). You can imagine some of the baggage that goes along with that profile. I have never dated someone so far out of my own age group. Most of my friends are my age, but I also have plenty of friends who are 10 years older or 10 years younger than I.

Background on her: Her father died before she was born, and her mother never married (textbook candidate for "daddy" issues). In many ways, she seems much older than 21. I'm not the only one who thinks this - many of my friends have told me that she seems older to them, as well.

mikeh: She was much tamer during the year-and-a-half between her "wild" time and meeting me. She spent some months in one relationship, and outside of that relationship, she was not seeking and did not have any more semi-anonymous encounters.

eatdonuts: I don't automatically think that a woman who has lots of sex is psychologically unhealthy. On the other hand, it didn't take many semi-anonymous one-night-stands for me to realize that they were unhealthy (for my psyche). She also seems to have realized that they were unhealthy for her, early on, but she continued the pattern, which was cause for some concern.

Skwirl / matteo: I don't think it's insecurity or a fear of inadequacy. I'm an intelligent, attractive, athletic guy with a great career and an interesting history. I get lots of attention from interesting women whenever I'm out. And Skwirl, I fear that you may be right when you say that she has likely had more than one traumatic experience. I would not be surprised to learn that she was abused as a child, although I hope my hunch is wrong, for her sake.

OmieWise: We slept together on our first date. That's something I don't usually do, but I didn't know until recently if that was par for the course for her. It appears to be (or at least, to have been), and it's the only thing she's done during our relationship that has given me any cause for concern about her propensity for unfaithfulness. I guess I feel that someone who makes a habit of sleeping with other people on the first date (or soon after meeting them at a bar) has lower barriers against having sex, and might, thus, be more likely to "slip up" and make a mistake. She's also told me that she has a hard time saying "no", which was cause for concern. She has since clarified that she is convinced that she would not have a hard time saying "no" to someone pressuring her to cheat on me. I also know that there is a special intensity inherent in sex with a new partner, and I wondered how easy it would be for a person to be satisfied with (any) one partner after having become acclimated to the excitement of a (rapid?) succession of new, quasi-anonymous partners.

geoff: She does enjoy sex.

hermitosis: Thanks for the insightful reply. I'll have to internalize it and think about how it might apply to my relationship. I'm not consciously seeking a controlling or powerful role, but I have noticed recently that the balance of power in the relationship seems to be shifting into my hands. That trend makes me feel uncomfortable, and I do not want to abuse or hurt her.

mai: You're right, I won't be able to predict the future, and her word IS the best I am going to get. Thanks.

zia: As I understand it, likelihood of HPV infection is closely correlated to the number of sexual partners an individual has had, but it's not a focal point of my worries. As to your second comment, I do feel compassion for her, on many levels. My question was specifically about how I should deal with the other half of my feelings regarding this issue. After reading the comments here, I feel fairly confident that I will be able to forget the whole (non-) thing and focus on my compassion and caring for her.

fshgrl: No, I don't think that rape, STD's, guilt and possible mental problems are just desserts for having slept around a bit. On the other hand, the little (informal) research that I have done seems to suggest that the risk that one may have to deal with any of those problems may be correlated to how much they sleep around (especially with multiple quasi-anonymous partners over a relatively short period of time).

beth: Yes it was a gut reaction. I believe I can leave it behind me. If I can't, I'll do what is right and best for her.

Again, that was a response from anonymous, the original poster.
posted by OmieWise at 5:35 AM on June 22, 2006

That trend makes me feel uncomfortable, and I do not want to abuse or hurt her.

Not to be flip, but from some of your comments above, I'd be more concerned that you'll turn into a condescending jerk, rather than abuse her. Please take the following as frank advice, not an attack.

You keep talking about things that give you cause for concern. But from your post, she hasn't done anything within your relationship that would you any cause for concern, other than how you feel about her past. In other words, it's you, not her.

You're trying to be nice about the fact that you don't trust her based on her previous decisions about sex and relationships. Make a decision: get over it and focus on the woman in front of you now, or end the relationship and look for a relationship with someone who has a sexual history more like yours. Otherwise it's just ammo-for-an-argument waiting to happen.
posted by desuetude at 6:13 AM on June 22, 2006

I've said this before here and been lambasted for it, but I still think it is generally a bad idea for couples to talk about their sexual and romantic histories. Every relationship should begin with a clean slate. You seem to understand this is a non-issue. Just drop it.
posted by LarryC at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2006

These are some important points in my mind:

I guess I feel that someone who makes a habit of sleeping with other people on the first date (or soon after meeting them at a bar) has lower barriers against having sex, and might, thus, be more likely to "slip up" and make a mistake.

It's safe to question that assumption about barriers. A lot of nice girls do (do have sex on a first date with someone they genuinely like; do have one night stands, etc.). Not everyone considers sex to be an act that has to be protected by a series of barriers. If a woman has sex early in a relationship or outside the context of a relationship, it doesn't necessarily mean that she has 'loose morals' or any such thing. Sometimes women can accept that if two people both want sex, and are both ready for sex, and the only reason they are not having sex is some archaic social construct that says the girl is somehow morally bad if she does so, that that is really no good reason not to have sex.

But one strong caution. The litmus test is whether the woman is in control of the choice to have sex soon after meeting someone: taking full ownership for it, knowing her reasons for making it, and respecting any considerations (such as being in a monogamous relationship, or not having protection!) that should prevent it. If all those things are true, there is no chance of a 'mistake' or 'slipup'. Her sexuality is under control - she's not acting at the mercy of urges she doesn't understand.

She's also told me that she has a hard time saying "no", which was cause for concern. She has since clarified that she is convinced that she would not have a hard time saying "no" to someone pressuring her to cheat on me.

This may very well be cause for concern, because it indicates that what I said above about being in charge of your own sexuality may not apply (yet) in her case.

But I'm not saying this is impossible for her to deal with. And the idea that once you've had many short-term partners you can never be happy in monogamy is just not supported. In fact, nothing would make monogamy more attractive than having many short-term partners, IMO. There is a certain novelty factor in discovering how cheaply available sex can be, but if having lots of sex is motivated by seeking things sex alone can never give, the novelty wanes. That's when people begin looking for things sex doesn't provide all by itself - companionship, support, love, security, ease. That is, a relationship. It's not a situation where once you get a taste of something, it's an insatiable desire forever.

You also sound like a genuinely nice and caring person, and I'm sure she appreciates that. She is going to have to work through this stuff either in your relationship or on her own, if the relationship comes to an end. So I agree that the question for you is -- can you take her as she is and love her for who she is right now, knowing she is working hard to figure all this out, and needing not to be judged on her past actions?
posted by Miko at 8:01 AM on June 22, 2006

You've been happily together a year, and you're still mulling over the sex on the first date thing?
posted by funambulist at 8:29 AM on June 22, 2006

Second watching Chasing Amy. Seriously (as well).
Silent Bob: [to Holden] So there's me an' Amy, and we're all inseparable, right? Just big time in love. And then about four months in, I ask about the ex-boyfriend. Dumb move, I know, but you know how it is - you don't really want to know, but you just have to... stupid guy bullshit. Anyway she starts telling me all about him - how they dated for years, lived together, her mother likes me better, blah, blah, blah - and I'm okay. But then she tells me that a couple times, he brought other people to bed with them - ménage a tois, I believe it's called. Now this just blows my mind. I mean, I'm not used to that sort of thing, right? I was raised Catholic.
Silent Bob: [to Holden] So I get weirded out, and just start blasting her, right? This is the only way I can deal with it - by calling her a slut, and telling her that she was used - I mean, I'm out for blood I want to hurt her - because I don't know how to deal with what I'm feeling. And I'm like "What the fuck is wrong with you?" and she's telling me that it was that time, in that place, and she didn't do anything wrong, so she's not gonna apologize. So I tell her it's over, and I walk.

Jay: Fucking-A.

Silent Bob: No, idiot. It was a mistake. I wasn't disgusted with her, I was afraid. At that moment, I felt small - like I'd lacked experience, like I'd never be on her level or never be enough for her or something. And what I didn't get was that she didn't care. She wasn't looking for that guy anymore. She was looking for me, for the Bob. But by the time I realized this, it was too late, you know. She'd moved on, and all I had to show for it was some foolish pride, which then gave way to regret. She was the girl, I know that now. But I pushed her away...

[Silent Bob lights a cigarette]

Silent Bob: So I've spent every day since then chasing Amy...

[takes a drag from his smoke]

Silent Bob: So to speak.
Jay: [to Holden] Bitch tasted life, yo, now she's settlin' for your boring, funny-book-makin' ass.
posted by jeversol at 8:58 AM on June 22, 2006 [3 favorites]

There can be a huge difference in how one acts when one is not in a relationship versus when one is in a relationship. When I am not in a relationship, I feel I am free to act in any way I like toward the opposite sex; when I am with a partner, I constrain myself to some extent.

This seems obvious to me. Just take flirting -- someone who's not attached is likely to flirt (with everyone) more than someone who's in a relationship. If I flirt with lots of guys when I'm single, it's because I'm looking for a relationship (or validation, or fun, or whatever). It does not really in any way follow that I will continue that same behavior once I have what I want.

Just because someone has one-night stands when she's not in a relationship does not mean she's going to continue to seek out one-night stands when she *is* in a relationship. It has nothing to do with lower barriers or "slipping up," and everything to do with treating my partner with respect -- which I obviously don't need to worry about when I don't have a partner.
posted by occhiblu at 10:04 AM on June 22, 2006

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