When you’re considering a new mate, it’s pretty common to wonder about his or her sexual history. Whether you’re dealing with some chick you met at the frats or a man who you want to bring home to mom, the question always seems to arise. It’s a fair question — but do you really want to hear the answer?
It can be a very shocking experience to learn where he or she has been — figuratively and literally. In fact, many relationships can’t endure the process. But why is it that our first reaction is to ask this question and then, when supplied with the answer, to cringe?
p. It could be an anxiety left over from purer times, when virginity was of utmost importance. That would mean that when we ask this question, we’re all just crossing our fingers and hoping for, “I don’t have a sexual history.” But that answer is also upsetting. Unless you affectionately refer to yourself as the De-Virginator, this response probably brings up feelings of hesitance at corrupting someone. Or, if your morals don’t come into play, you may simply worry about going to bed with a less-than-able partner.
With that logic, it would seem simple to just lay out your sexual past and move on.
p. If only.
p. Many people find themselves struggling, asking, “What’s the right number?” At what point is the number too high? You could become a player, or worse, a slut. There’s also the potential for competition with your partner. If I say 15, and he says three, I must be a hussy. But if I say 15, and he says 15, are we a match made in heaven? There’s no way of knowing.
p. But why worry? Or, to get the heart of the matter, why ask? Unfortunately, in the modern sexual world, which abounds with sexually transmitted infections, rape and all other things unpleasant that deal with your happy places, it seems irresponsible not to wonder what you’re getting yourself into. In this light, the question is rational. But the response is often irrational.
p. This medically based (and recommended) question, “Are you STI free?” becomes the moral question, “Are you pure?”
I’m sure some of you have had the experience of learning that someone you’re interested in had previously hooked up with someone you dislike. Even if that was years ago and this person is STI-free, this fact still seems to taint your perception of him or her. Surely it is unfair to judge in this way, given that you probably know little or nothing of the circumstances or motivation for the hook-up, but most of us probably still would make an assessment.
p. And what if this person has not hooked up with someone who you dislike, but rather, a close friend of yours? Did your friend sign her guestbook and forbid your entry? Obviously, it depends on whether she dated or just hooked up with your friend, but there are no clear boundaries. If they were friends with benefits and your friend broke it off, is it more acceptable to get in bed with her than if they dated but he never really liked her in the first place? There’s no definitive answer.
p. All of this is to say that sexual history is a complex, important issue. Understandably, it’s at the forefront of most of our minds when we begin seeing someone. But, we must acknowledge that beyond our good intentions, this question is very much a trap.
Learning people’s sexual histories makes us feel entitled to make value judgments about who they are without much information. I am by no means implying that you should not ask — this is a valuable question. I just hope that the next time you feel compelled to ask, you consider all the baggage that comes with the question.
p. __Maya Horowitz is the Flat Hat sex columnist. She affectionately refers to herself as the De-Virginator.__