Can’t stop overthinking my girlfriend’s sexual past…

Can’t stop overthinking my girlfriend’s sexual past…

My girlfriend has a habit of letting details about her sexual past slip into conversation. I know there’s no malice in it, she’s just more open than I am. I’ve told her that I don’t want to know anything about it, but I don’t think she really realised how it affected me until I reached breaking point this weekend.

Over the past few months I’ve ended up being told names, ages, acts, etc and it just conjours up images in my head that I can’t cope with. I’m in a real spin – I think I even had my first panic attack last night when we were talking about it. I’ve built it up in my mind and probably assume her past is worse than it is. We’ve talked about my feelings, but it just made it more real for me and has made me feel even worse.

Normally, I would never ask about the sexual past of a partner because I know that I can’t cope with knowing. But I feel with the details I’ve been given (and my slightly over active imagination), we may as well have the conversation about numbers – so at least it’s based on reality rather than my assumptions. So far I haven’t asked because it’s clearly dangerous territory. I’m lost. It’s eating me up inside and destroying something that could be very special. I’ve always been proud of sleeping with “relatively” few people and still hope to marry before I hit double figures – I guess I always hoped to be with someone who shared that ideal. I know that how I feel is my problem, not hers, but I’m struggling to rationalise it. Any suggestions on how to move forward please? Keith

We just answered your girlfriend’s question last week so it’s interesting to get your side of the story. In the meantime, I can only tell you that if she thinks your relationship is ‘beyond amazing’ and you think it could be something very special, you owe it to both of you to try and get over this. So many of us struggle to find someone we click with. You’re there already!

And while a partner’s past can bother you, if you really love the person you need to find a way to accept them as a package deal – which includes all the habits you might not like, the things they did in the past that you don’t approve of (which could be anything from excessive drug use to sexual partners), or the niggly bits that you’ll never change about them. That’s really what unconditional love is about, in my humble opinion. Sure, you may be uncomfortable with someone’s past actions or choices, but it’s all part of their history – and actually, it’s made them the person they are today. It takes strength and courage to say, ‘I don’t love that you did that in the past, but I love and want to be with you, and let’s start from this point’.

If I were you I’d forget about having the ‘numbers’ conversation at all. It’s never going to make you feel better, and actually it’s got nothing to do with you guys as a couple. What matters is the future and the bigger picture. You’ve met a great girl who clearly adores you. So she’s not perfect. Who is? I bet you’re not either! On that note, I’d ditch the dream of the ‘ideal person’. More often than not, holding out for the dream just leads to heartache.

So, your homework is simple: she needs to stop disclosing, you need to stop over-thinking it and you both need to just enjoy being with each other and seeing where this thing goes. Good luck, and please do come back and let us know how it all goes!

Love, reality chick

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Freelance journo, blogger, self-appointed advice-giver and co-author of Get Lucky. If you've got a dating or relationship issue, feel free to ask a question. (PS. You can also find me at The Mama Files and Letter To My Ex).


  1. Jose 6 years ago

    You know that it’s okay to not like who she was right? Any sensible person knows that past behavior can lead to future trends. You ARE putting yourself at risk if you choose someone with a history of any kind of behavior you don’t like.
    I personally wouldn’t see anything wrong just skipping by her and looking for someone else. There’s a big difference between compromising for the better of the couple than losing your values for the sake of having a girlfriend.

  2. Sarah 8 years ago

    Women complain about how unfair it is that men are called studs when they sleep around, yet women get called sluts for the exact same behavior. It’s actually not a double standard though, because both scenarios are pretty different in terms of circumstances and consequences. I can think of at least four crucial differences:

    First, sleeping around is easier for women. Regardless of how you feel about promiscuity, we can all agree that a guy who manages to rack up a lot of sexual partners has to have some skills. It’s challenging for men to rack up partners, even for men with low standards. A man needs social intelligence, interpersonal skills, persistence, thick skin, and plain old dumb luck. For women, though, a vagina and a pulse is often enough. Whenever an accomplishment requires absolutely no challenge, no one respects it. It’s just viewed as a lack of self-discipline. People respect those who accomplish challenging feats, while they consider those who overindulge in easily obtained feats as weak, untrustworthy or flawed.

    Second, women have potential to do more harm by sleeping around than men do. Say a man sleeps around with a bunch of different women. He’s definitely doing harm to these women if he pretends to be monogamous while sleeping around. He may cause them emotional pain by his promiscuity. He may cause unwanted pregnancy. He may spread VD. When women sleep around, however, they can cause not only all these same ill effects but one additional crucial ill effect: the risk of unknown parentage.

    If one guy sleeps around with five women, each of whom is monogamous to him, and they all get pregnant, it’s a safe bet as to who the father is. If you reverse genders and have one woman who sleeps around with five men who are monogamous to her, and she gets pregnant, the father could be any of the five men. And if one of those men is tricked into raising a baby that isn’t his, he’s investing time, money, estate and property to provide for a child that isn’t carrying his DNA into the next generations, a costly mistake from an evolutionary standpoint.

    Our two basic primal drives are to survive and to reproduce, and promiscuous women traditionally make it hard for a man to know for sure whether he is truly reproducing or is secretly raising another man’s child. Men stand a lot more to lose from promiscuous women than the other way around. And it’s no picnic for the child to not know who his real father is either. And it’s a mess for the women carrying on the deception as well. Or just look at any random episode of the Maury show if you don’t believe me.

    Since the DNA test and the birth control pill didn’t exist until recently, there were no reliable ways to prevent pregnancy or prove parentage for most of human history. For this reason society developed a vested interest in preventing promiscuity among women, and society accomplished this by creating the slut stigma. And even though the creation of birth control and DNA tests have made this less of a risk than the past, longstanding traditions and customs are not easy for society to break so the slut stigma remains.

    Third, men have evolutionary reasons to be programmed to sleep around more. A lot of women roll their eyes when they hear that men are “hard-wired” to sleep around. But from an evolutionary standpoint, it makes total sense. If the two primal drives of humans are to survive and to reproduce, nothing leads to maximum reproduction like one man sleeping with multiple women. If one women sleeps with many men in a nine month period, she can only get pregnant just once. Nine months of rampant promiscuity would give the same result as nine months of highly sexed monogamy: one pregnancy. Now if one man sleeps with many women during a nine month period, you can get many pregnancies during that period. The more women he sleeps with, the more possible pregnancies.

    So from an evolutionary standpoint, there are concrete advantages to men being promiscuous compared to women being promiscuous. This doesn’t mean that women have evolved to be strictly monogamous. Women have evolved to be somewhat promiscuous too, something men badly underestimate. However they haven’t evolved to be as rampantly promiscuous as men.
    Fourth, promiscuity poses more risk to women than to men. A woman has more to lose from choosing bad sex partners than a man does. She’s the one who gets stuck with going through a pregnancy and taking care of a baby alone if she chooses a deadbeat. For this reason, promiscuous women throughout history have historically been viewed as being a vastly more irresponsible risk takers than promiscuous men, who rightly or wrongly could always run away from the consequences of unwanted pregnancies easier than women could.

    These four reasons explain why the longstanding tradition came about of men being rewarded for multiple partners while women get socially punished for similar promiscuity. Of course all this is gradually changing, but we’re up against millenia of evolutionary and cultural conditioning here, so don’t expect any dramatic overnight reversals.

    Understand that I’m just explaining why the double standard came into existence and not condoning or condemning it. This is not an attempt to pass judgment or be self-righteous in any way. It’s just an explanation of why the two conditions are treated differently.

    • Graham 5 years ago

      Wow. I feel enlightened .

  3. Kris 9 years ago

    Hi Keith,

    I am/have been experiencing a very similar situation myself over the last few months. I’d be interested to hear how you have/are dealing with this now as it’s been a year since you posted. In my case, my main concern seems to be the apathy with which these events occurred, although I can hypothetically understand their reasoning, I still can’t relate fully; it seems to clash with the way I have gone about things over my life so far. It’s obviously undesirable and wrong of me to transpose my opinions/beliefs onto them, but I seem to be incapable of achieving the level of empathy required to just forget about it. I think there is also this notion that there has been a loss of “integrity” as a result of certain past actions, which is again a very unpleasant judgement to arrive at, but this subconscious response currently seems to be out of my control.

    I am now seeking professional help to explore why my views are such, and to learn how to limit the intrusive thoughts and overactive imagination, but it’s early days.

    Would be good to hear back from you, hope all is well.

    • Reece 5 years ago

      Hi kris, this is 4 years from when you first posted this I’m in the same situation today and I would really appreciate your advice please

  4. Lola 10 years ago

    Hi Keith,
    It’s the future that matters, not the past. I agree with what Lisa says about drawing that line in the sand.
    I congratulate you both on your special relationship; keep it up!

  5. Author
    reality chick 10 years ago

    Wise words, Lisa. Thanks for chiming in X

  6. Lisa 10 years ago

    Dear Keith
    I have been in a similiar situation and would like to share my thoughts if I may. Your partners experiences definately contribute to the person she is today. Without those she wouldn’t be the girl you are starting to fall for. It really doesnt matter that she has been with lots of partners…this can happen for so many reasons and doesn’t make her a bad person.
    But – I would definately tell her that you dont need to know any more information. If she starts to disclose let her know too much info and move on.
    Unfortunately I had a partner who wanted to know every little detail – and it drove a wedge into our relationship. Please don’t worry about her history. Its in the past and she is clearly pretty besotted with you and its sounds like you are with her.
    Draw a line in the sand and move forward from here and leave the past in the past.

    Good luck! Sounds like you guys have something special going on there

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