How do I enjoy sex in my twenties without prejudicing my future partners?
June 14, 2008 5:27 AM   Subscribe

So, I'm 21 years old and trying to figure out the appropriate way to treat sexual relationships. On the one hand, I want to become more experienced and enjoy my youth. On the other hand, I don't want to be too hedonistic if this might damage future relationships or my ability to trust or be trusted. I would like to try out a few relationships first before seeking something long-term, but I don't want this to hurt my chances for something long-term. Are there any ground rules I need to lay down beforehand? Am I expecting to have my cake and eat it too?

So, I'm a young male graduated from a great college. I've traveled, I can hold my own in a conversation, and I stay fit. But I just broke off a "friends with benefits" relationship--perhaps prematurely--because I didn't want to hurt or be hurt by the girl.

To provide some of the details of that relationship, she was a few years older than I, and explained that she had had a string of men who occupied similar positions to mine--monogamous sex, but not necessarily boyfriends. She had tons of psychological baggage--the lingering effects of her previous long-term relationship, drug abuse, depression--which may have arisen from an early abusive boyfriend, and which certainly meant that she felt too emotionally immature for any sort of long-term commitment. Still, the sex and conversation were great, and it was fun to hang out together. When she started getting clingy, I was willing to act more as a boyfriend for her--and I think this is where the arrangement failed. She was willing and demanding that I act as boyfriend, but unwilling to commit to that, and came dangerously close to breaking the monogamous aspect of our relationship when she got drunk and spotted someone new--even if she was right next to me. When I broke it off, it was out of a recognition that I could not trust or expect her to be monogamous any more, even if I would hold myself to an even higher standard while we were together. I knew that I would wind up hurting her, so I stopped it.

Now I have an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with my own relationships--short-term and long-term, serious and just for fun. But this girl demonstrated to me that even relationships supposedly without emotions can in fact be very painful to both sides. I'm getting over whatever pain I felt from this specific detachment, and she admitted to struggling with the way she treated me on repeated occasions. While our personalities had a lot of similarities, she just wasn't mature enough for anything more than sex and conversation. However, I still feel a twinge when I think about her having sex with someone else.

I know it's impossible to have relationships without pain, but are there rules I can set to make sure that the pain is minimized both entering and exiting sexual relationships without being callous? I am no longer interested in one night stands and would prefer sex in a monogamous situation, since I think that familiarity is hot and allows for better communication of needs and hence better sex. Friends with benefits always seems to hurt someone, and even if the rules get set, they don't necessarily get followed. Moreover, since I recognize that I am not particularly proud of my own sexual history of meaningless hookups and find myself extremely judgmental of others--particularly when it seems they had irresponsible sex that may endanger me as a partner (i.e. didn't ask about STDs, couldn't provide an STD history)--how can I be responsible in sexual relationships? Can there be a sane approach to entering into a sexual relationship with a person while still knowing their history?

Finally, will I be prejudicing future partners if I have a string of sexual encounters in my twenties, since I think that eventually every serious relationship requires a revelation of past sexual history? If I can provide a good reason for entering and exiting previous sexual relationships, will any future (serious) partner judge me and distrust me when I say that I will commit to them for the rest of my life? Thanks.
posted by whitedoor to Human Relations (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
The person that you'll end up with long-term will hopefully have the quality of not being judgmental about your past behaviors.

In my experience, it may be better to sew your wild oats now so that you really know what you're getting into later.
posted by k8t at 5:33 AM on June 14, 2008


Finally, will I be prejudicing future partners if I have a string of sexual encounters in my twenties, since I think that eventually every serious relationship requires a revelation of past sexual history?

Lighten up whitedoor. It sounds like you are the one carrying some baggage here. Every serious relationship is different and special and unique.

Every opportunity to get laid which you pass up, is one less opportunity to get laid.
posted by three blind mice at 5:46 AM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


I believe the saying is "go with the flow." Don't overanalyse. Why would anyone want to be with someone who appears to be treading carefully or altering their behaviour for fear of influencing future relationships?
posted by fire&wings at 5:49 AM on June 14, 2008


It sounds like you already have a set of values - monogamy only, no friends with benefits, full disclosure of sexual history requirfed in a relationship. You need to be the sort of person you'd eventually like to end up with. The amount of sex some random mefite answering this question would be having in your situation is irrelevant.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:53 AM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Finally, will I be prejudicing future partners if I have a string of sexual encounters in my twenties, since I think that eventually every serious relationship requires a revelation of past sexual history?

It will bother some, others won't care

If I can provide a good reason for entering and exiting previous sexual relationships, will any future (serious) partner judge me and distrust me when I say that I will commit to them for the rest of my life?

Some of them might, others won't

You're thinking way to hard here about things that haven't even happened. Take it one day at a time.
posted by poppo at 6:22 AM on June 14, 2008


yep, you're overthinking this. some women -are- made insecure by being less experienced than their partners, but it's overcomable. it's not a reason to limit your sex life.

so yes, date around. sleep around, even. as long as you are ALWAYS safe and respectful of the women you spend time with, and dial back if you start to feel bad about it, you should be fine.
posted by thinkingwoman at 6:31 AM on June 14, 2008


Be honest with yourself and your partners. You can't avoid pain, but honesty can mitigate it.

I think that eventually every serious relationship requires a revelation of past sexual history

Not that honest. I don't want to hear about Mr. 26.2's sexual past.
posted by 26.2 at 6:58 AM on June 14, 2008


I don't want to be too hedonistic if this might damage future relationships or my ability to trust or be trusted.

It's a false (and immature) premise that you're working with here.

All relationships are different and new. Each relationship is a chance to start anew.

I think that eventually every serious relationship requires a revelation of past sexual history?

Why on earth would you think this? I haven't had that, "So... how many people have you slept with?" conversation since I was... well, since I was your age.
posted by wfrgms at 7:21 AM on June 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Just treat everyone with dignity and in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself and your character. The rest doesn't matter.
posted by footnote at 7:34 AM on June 14, 2008 [2 favorites]


even relationships supposedly without emotions

Does not compute. If it's a relationship of any sort, whether or not it's short term, long term, sexual or romantic, there are always some emotions involved, and there is always the potential for hurt feelings. You can't totally protect yourself from relationship-related pain unless you're celibate and live on an island and grow your own food. Yes, you can have friends-with-benefits and casual sex with strangers and it might go splendidly. Or not. But to deny the presence of emotion is to rob the encounter of its passion.

Also, nthing what everyone else says regarding sexual history. I know the basic outline of my fiance's past - he dated so-and-so for six months, lived with whats-her-name for a year, etc., but it's all vague and general and if he's ever picked up a girl in a bar for a one-night-stand, I don't know and don't need to know. He's disease-free and he's monogamous, that's what's important to me.
posted by desjardins at 7:41 AM on June 14, 2008


You can't figure these things out ahead of time. Anything you decide now is more about reducing current anxieties, not about the future.

However, you can work to keep one thing in mind--realize that you are built with the resources to work through these problems. Knowing that allows you to keep on plugging even when reward isn't immediately in sight. This is the hallmark of eventual success.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:49 AM on June 14, 2008


Like someone said above, it totally depends on the woman. Some may prefer a partner with no sexual history to speak of, while others may not care at all. Most fall between these two extremes.

An extensive sexual history wouldn't necessarily make me worry about a partner's ability to commit, but I'd worry a little about this if I were you, because a "wild oats" period seems to eventually make some people less interested in casual sex and others more used to and attached to it.

I think it's responsible and helpful to your overall goals to consider your future priorities now. Whatever you do, be careful... being informed about sexual health can increase your chance of making good choices. there are some infections, like the many, sometimes asymptomatic, untestable and incurable strains of hpv, that you are pretty likely to pick up more of the more sexual partners you have. some of these things may not matter at all, and others, like hpv which can cause cervical cancer, could cause problems eventually for you or your future partners. Others, like herpes, will just decrease your future dating pool if you are honest about them. Partners can lie or be misinformed, and condoms aren't 100% effective against stds or pregnancy, but they are sure as hell better than nothing. Different types of sexual behavior also carry different levels of risk.

If you're concerned about a partner's safety history, go get tested together. If they're clean, that's good (though generally not 100% accurate, as I mentioned above). If they're still clean six months after they've been celibate or monogamous, that's better. Asking for these things before having sex, especially unprotected sex, is not unreasonable.

That said, I'm not necessarily anti casual sex, I'm just pro information. Most people do it, to some extent. In this case, I think it's very important to talk about your expectations from day one. Mention at intervals how you are not ready to settle down and will not be for some time/until you've had more experiences. Don't stop mentioning this as you get comfortable in a relationship, or the woman may assume that you are changing your mind. However, the single biggest piece of advice I would give (well, after condoms) is to go with the flow on this issue too. If you meet someone totally amazingly awesome sooner than you meant to by accident, give it a second thought or even two before you assume that you should throw it away.
posted by lgyre at 7:56 AM on June 14, 2008


If I can provide a good reason for entering and exiting previous sexual relationships, will any future (serious) partner judge me and distrust me when I say that I will commit to them for the rest of my life?

I'd suggest that you're only likely to come across problems if your own expectations for that person's past sexual history isn't anything like the history it sounds like you envisage creating for yourself before you then.
posted by puffmoike at 8:16 AM on June 14, 2008


/agree footnote. Be scrupulously honest and wear protection.
posted by Manjusri at 8:52 AM on June 14, 2008


As long as you are honest with yourself and the people you date/sleep with, I think you will be fine. In any relationship, trouble begins when one parties expectations aren't the same as the others. I've found personal satisfaction in having no expectations at all- hey, we're just two people enjoying each others company. If at some point in the future either of us wants to change the dynamic of the relationship, let's talk about it. I think it's good to enjoy our relationships for what they are and were, than for what they could be or could have been.
posted by gjc at 9:17 AM on June 14, 2008


There's a lot of good advice already mentioned around honesty, respect, and not overanalyzing things.

But I want to reiterate something that selfmedicating hit on: "You need to be the sort of person you'd eventually like to end up with." That's such a key concept to retain; one that's more forward thinking than we commonly go about seeking relationships.

If you sow your oats now, that's wonderful, but don't expect any future serious relationships to have abstained. If you value full disclosure, than don't be afraid to open your closets and parade some skeletons.
posted by whycurious at 9:58 AM on June 14, 2008 [3 favorites]


Others will judge you if you're judging yourself. So, nthing many previous comments, be honest with yourself, let it go if you can, and enjoy being 21 and fabulous.
posted by LecheFresca at 10:06 AM on June 14, 2008


Be safe, be honest, have fun and don't make important decisions when under the influence. Congratulations on being 21, it's a great time of life.
posted by misha at 11:35 AM on June 14, 2008


agree with the advice above generally but also…you're overthinking this, dude. you're 21. have fun. if you want to go out and sleep with a bunch of people, do it. you'll have plenty of time to develop long-term relationships when you're ready. just be honest with the people you sleep with that you're not looking for more if that's the case.

as far as people judging you for your past sexual history, you don't want to be with someone who does. and don't be someone who does that to another person. who they slept with before they met you and who you slept with before you met them has nothing to do with the relationship you have with them (as long as there isn't any sort of STD you need to disclose).
posted by violetk at 11:42 AM on June 14, 2008


IMO you should rethink this idea that full disclosure is required in a long term relationship. Have you ever thought that maybe she wont want to know? I've been with my boyfriend for nearly 7 years and I have no idea how many women he's slept with, I have an idea its less than I might expect, I'd like to know more but at the same time, the idea of him with other women is quite upsetting so its probably best that I don't know. He knows my history but thats just because it was pretty much non-existent when I met him. I love him and thats all the matters, whats in the past is none of my business.

As long as you're clean, she doesn't need to know. I certainly wouldn't offer up the information without being asked.
posted by missmagenta at 3:28 PM on June 14, 2008


Sigh. Shut up. Go out. Meet people. Enjoy! :)
posted by daveyt at 5:39 PM on June 14, 2008


But I want to reiterate something that selfmedicating hit on: "You need to be the sort of person you'd eventually like to end up with." That's such a key concept to retain; one that's more forward thinking than we commonly go about seeking relationships.

Amen to that.
posted by Talez at 7:02 PM on June 14, 2008


Yeah, looking at the initial post, it's clear I'm overanalyzing things. I really value the comment re: "You need to be the sort of person you'd eventually like to end up with." But there seems to be a difference in opinions about whether disclosure of sexual histories is necessary and important. I think at this point, since I can remember and distinguish every person I've slept with, I have a natural inclination to expect my partner to be able to do the same. However, I can't see it as adding anything other than the potential for jealousy--who is the better lover? who is the better person? On the opposite end of the spectrum, is it okay to explicitly tell partners that you don't want to hear about their sexual histories?
posted by whitedoor at 8:56 PM on June 14, 2008


is it okay to explicitly tell partners that you don't want to hear about their sexual histories?

Absolutely. I have a friend who is very happily married who told her husband when they got serious, "I need to know if you've been married before, if you have any children, and if you have any communicable diseases. If you were a virgin when we met, I probably would have been able to tell the first time we slept together, but I don't want to know anything about the people who came before me sexually. I just need to know that you love me and will be faithful to me." And although he's mentioned old girlfriends in social situations (e.g., "I went to a U2 concert with my college girlfriend once."), they've never talked about the sex they had with past partners. For all she knows, he could have had one previous sexual partner or twenty, been a serial monogamist, or a bisexual swinger; she has no idea. They are very much in love and are expecting their second child.
posted by decathecting at 10:26 PM on June 14, 2008


You don't have to disclose the entirety of your sexual experience. You're a guy, so frankly, it's less of a problem for you than it is for a girl, but basically enumeration of each and every sexual partner you have had is not important. Your STI status is, though, so you need to know that and be prepared to disclose.

Also, decatheting's friend seems to be on the same wavelength as I am. No need to go through all that with people.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:14 AM on June 15, 2008


Chasing Amy.

Rent it.
posted by Menomena at 10:22 AM on June 16, 2008


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