Concerned Catharine

Monday, October 29, 2012

Question

Dear Patrick: 

My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year now. He is 26 and I am 22. We have gone through a lot of tough events together. I was sexually assaulted during my first and only one night stand a couple months before we started dating. After going through that together I felt we could work through anything. I was very insecure for a long time when we first starting dating, as I was coping with a lot from the assault, so we both knew it wasn't the right time to talk about previous histories. We knew a bit since we were friends before dating.

          Over the past couple of months I have returned to my good old self. Within a few days on our recent trip to Amsterdam, I accidentally stumbled across one of his porn websites, had the talk about his previous relationships (he's already known mine), and saw the prostitutes and visited sex stores in the Red Light District. It was a lot of sex stuff in a few days, but I thought I'd be okay since I was planning on taking some time for me after the trip to absorb it and move forward.

          However, on our walk around the district, he nonchalantly remarked that he had a threesome when he was 22 with two girls he knew, but that he was very extremely drunk and wasn't able to perform. The rule was he was only allowed to touch one of the girls, neither of whom he was attracted to. He said that he was a different person four years ago and hadn't brought it up before because it wasn't a big deal to him. If anything, he was embarrassed he couldn't get it up. He was upset I made a big deal out of it and said that most girls wouldn't turn it into a crisis. I disagree.

    I know it's in the past, but I still can't get the mental images out of my head of him with two girls. I think the fact he's not vocal about how he feels about me (he's not one to say I love you) might impact how secure I feel in our relationship. He's a great guy and I thought he was "the one." How can I move forward?--

Answer

It seems like whatever credit your boyfriend had in the bank for sticking with you through the trauma of a sexual assault has vanished quite rapidly. Before deciding to dump him, I suggest you write yourself a letter about how you felt after the assault and what he did (or didn't do) to help you to recover. This will help you to remember why you once loved and trusted him—so much so that you felt he was “the one.” I suspect he is neither an angel nor a demon; but a good man is still hard to find (and vice versa). So let's get a grip on the anger and see if you can come to a more level-headed state, before you lose all contact with someone who once showed you a great deal of patience and kindness.

          Does anyone have a right to get angry about the sexual things that a lover did before the two of you got involved? You were not in the picture then, so it's not like he was cheating on you. The description he provided of this supposed crime is actually pretty lame. A threesome in which you are not allowed to touch one of the participants is not much of an orgy. To top it all off, the poor guy wasn't able to perform sexually, so the whole thing was an embarrassing misadventure.

          So why does this upset you enough to break up with him? Do you have strong moral judgments about group sex? Do you believe that experiences like this are wrong? If so, I have rather upsetting news for you—a surprising number of people have bedded down with more than one partner at a time. And a lot more people WOULD have an experience like this if somebody else would only arrange it for them and make it available! In research on sexual fantasies, group sex always comes in as one of the winning scenarios.

          I am speculating that if you do feel group sex is wrong, you are shocked and upset with him for being a person of low moral character who agreed to do such a bad, bad thing. But let's think about this with some calm reason. First of all, everybody was an adult. Nobody was surprised by the potential for a threesome, or coerced or even manipulated into attempting one. If such an adventure is not to your taste, and if you prefer to never have more than one sex partner at a time, you can simply say “no, thank you.” Every couple ought to have conversations about their personal sexual ethics and preferences. For example, someone might say he or she prefers to avoid group sex because they have tried it in the past and felt that it made them feel insecure, jealous, or neglected.

          If your boyfriend has been pressuring you to experiment with any sexual experience that sounds distasteful, wrong, or boring, you may be incompatible, and a breakup could be your best option. It's important to pay attention to whether a lover respects your right to say “no” (and whether he or she is excited and happy when you say “yes”). A partner who is not available for the activities that you enjoy, or someone who doesn't want sex as often as you like to have it, may not be a good choice for a long-term commitment.

          I don't know if your boyfriend is right or wrong about how most girls would react to the news about his failed attempt to have sex with two women at once. I think some women would be shocked, some would be entertained or aroused, and others might be angry or frightened. But these emotional responses are their responsibility—not his. He is only responsible for following his own code of ethics, and figuring out what a good sex life looks like according to his desires and fantasies and needs.

          You probably won't like my closing comment, which is that you probably owe him an apology. He trusted you with a personal story that put him in a vulnerable position. Nobody likes to admit that they had a sexual experience that was disappointing. This is especially true if the event involved taking a risk and going a bit outside of conventional definitions of acceptable sexual behavior. You jumped all over him when he was probably already beating himself up for letting this happen or not being able to be a studly guy. He did not shame you for being the victim of a sexual assault.

          A woman who is unable to have an orgasm during a sexual encounter will probably feel frustrated, but she will usually not feel like a failure as a human being. There isn't a single man on the planet who hasn't experienced the lack of an erection when he was expected to produce one. But that doesn't matter—men still blame themselves and feel inadequate, inferior, and scared when these all-too-human moments happen. He probably could have used some reassurance or comfort from you instead of the threat to abandon him.

          I hope the two of you are able to have further conversations about this, and leave the past behind. Declare a mutual amnesty for all past sexual misadventures. If you can agree on the boundaries that you want for this relationship and you both enjoy a good sex life within those limits, that's much more important than getting hung up on history. It won't be the first time that both of you will need to exercise understanding, honesty, and forgiveness. I hope the two of you will discover that you have a strong connection and a lot of passion, enough to create happiness in the here-and-now.