Dear Mariella

My boyfriend lost his vir­gin­ity to a sex worker, then he lied about it…

The Observer Magazine - - Self & Wellbeing - @mariel­laf1

The dilemma I’m writ­ing be­cause my part­ner of seven years told me that he lost his vir­gin­ity to a sex worker as a late teen while away with the army. He said he felt pres­sured by a so-called friend to do this and didn’t want to be the only vir­gin. I was shocked, be­cause he’d al­ways told me he’d lost his vir­gin­ity to his first girl­friend. He in­sisted a con­dom was used, but I in­sisted he was tested for STIs, which he agreed to at the time.

Dur­ing the fol­low­ing days he was pas­sive about this, then an­noyed and quite rude, which made it seem like a false prom­ise. He be­haved this way be­cause he was scared of be­ing tested, but it didn’t make it OK or put me at ease. I then found a ser­vice where tests can be or­dered on­line, so we have both been tested and await re­sults.

I feel con­fused and sad that he could treat a woman this way. I can un­der­stand why he lied about how he lost his vir­gin­ity, but I don’t know if we would still be to­gether if he’d told me the truth in the be­gin­ning. The thought of him with a sex worker is re­pul­sive to me. That, to­gether with hav­ing to take an STI test, makes me feel very turned off from sex and in­ti­macy.

Mariella replies That’s per­fectly un­der­stand­able. There’s noth­ing sexy about sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted disease so it’s very sen­si­ble of you to in­sist on a test. Hope­fully it will sim­ply be a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure as, apart from a cou­ple of less likely con­di­tions, seven years would be an ex­tremely long time for an en­tirely symp­tom­less in­cu­ba­tion. It seems to me, based on your let­ter, that the disease that might have been trans­mit­ted is men­tal rather than phys­i­cal, judg­ing by the para­noia and lack of trust you’re dis­play­ing. It’s not un­com­mon to har­bour se­crets from our past. Our post-Freudian so­ci­ety is all about ex­press­ing our dark­est fears, but some­times leav­ing ter­ri­tory undis­turbed works equally well. So long as the only harm, if there is any, is to our­selves, I’d ar­gue that we have a right to keep close to our chests what­ever we choose, in­clud­ing less savoury be­hav­iour.

Hook­ing up with an­other per­son doesn’t give you the right to down­load and judge their past ac­tions. You have to meet them in the present and make your choice about them based on the per­son they’ve be­come. It’s ir­ra­tional to ex­pect your lover to give you full dis­clo­sure and then wait in trep­i­da­tion to see if his past mis­de­meanours match up to your ex­act­ing stan­dards. I know only too well how hard it is when you are young and your emo­tions over­ride your abil­ity for ra­tio­nal thought to put sen­si­ble dis­tance be­tween the present and the past. It can equally be a strug­gle to ac­cept there will be re­la­tion­ships and mo­ments in a lover’s life that still have res­o­nance, good or bad, but that didn’t in­volve you. Part of grow­ing up is about learn­ing to dis­play tol­er­ance, em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing – qual­i­ties that can be hard to tap into dur­ing our more im­petu­ous years, as any­one who’s tried to rea­son with a hor­monal teenager will know. We are all flawed crea­tures lead­ing the best lives we can, of­ten against con­sid­er­able odds.

It’s im­por­tant to ac­cept that lit­tle of what we feel and even ex­pe­ri­ence is unique, but how we dis­sem­i­nate and gain wis­dom from our en­coun­ters is of vi­tal im­por­tance. I’m puz­zled by the in­tense anger this rev­e­la­tion seems to have evoked in you, es­pe­cially when you de­clare that had your boyfriend told you ear­lier, you prob­a­bly wouldn’t be to­gether now. It’s hardly an en­tic­ing in­vi­ta­tion for con­fes­sion. Would it have been bet­ter if he’d boasted about the en­counter when you first met? Or re­vealed it with no sense of shame over an early din­ner date?

What’s ap­par­ent is that your boyfriend is ashamed and un­com­fort­able about this in­ci­dent and that seems more than enough of an in­di­ca­tion of the per­son he’s be­come. He’s clear about his re­grets, while you seem caught up in a muddle of emo­tions. I un­der­stand your sad­ness that he could treat a woman in this way, but he was an iso­lated teenager un­der pres­sure from a peer. What’s the big deal? You don’t need to feel dis­gust at your part­ner. In youth we leap far too eas­ily to judg­ment and live in a world where shades of any hue are rarely tol­er­ated. Of­fer­ing sim­ple un­der­stand­ing of both the sex worker and your boyfriend’s predica­ments at the time would be a bet­ter way to deal with this.

If your re­la­tion­ship is founded on such a ten­u­ous con­nec­tion that a his­tor­i­cal sex­ual en­counter, ap­par­ently made un­der duress and re­gret­ted ever since, is rea­son to call off the af­fair, then per­haps the take-away from this is that your roots are too un­sta­ble to en­dure. There’s a cu­ri­ous mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that cou­pling up gives us own­er­ship over a lover’s past and a right to judge their ac­tions as though they were com­mit­ting them in the present. Per­son­ally, I’d be quite re­lieved that it took your man this long to come clean. It sug­gests that he’s not proud of his be­hav­iour and has tried to leave it as far be­hind him as he pos­si­bly can. If you can’t for­give him, you must cer­tainly move on, but I don’t con­sider his be­hav­iour un­for­giv­able. ■

‘He was an iso­lated teenager un­der pres­sure from a peer’

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