To Tell or Not to Tell: Sexual History
(Dating Stigma Series - part 4 of 4)
St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:18 pleads with us to flee sexual immorality. And quite honestly, if we heed his instruction, we won’t need to struggle with navigating heavy topics like this one, addressing sexual history. But we are all human and have all fallen short of the glory of God. Thankfully getting trapped in sin is not the end of the road for us. There is always a way out through repentance and confession. But there are still consequences we must face, like having that difficult conversation with someone we are seriously dating and exploring the option of marriage with.
This blog post is merely my opinion on this subject. It’s one I’ve formed from my anecdotal experience and by reading various books on Christian relationships. Many different counselors and priests will have their own opinion on this matter. I’m simply trying to provide you with another perspective that may help you decide how you want to handle your particular situation.
I’ve broken down the post by compiling the most popular questions I’ve been asked on this subject and answered them in a Q & A format.
When should sexual history be discussed in a relationship?
I’ve heard crazy anecdotes from women about being asked about their virginity on the first date, the guy claiming he needs to know because it’s a deal breaker for him. This is absolutely absurd (not because it’s a deal breaker, but because it’s information he has not earned the right to know yet). Talk about a major red flag from the guy. Sexual history is not something to be discussed on the first date or even the first few dates. It is a sensitive topic where one must be vulnerable enough to share intimate details about their past. It is better done after trust has been established in a relationship. You trust that what you share will remain confidential and be received without judgment. At this point, the other person knows you and your personality well enough that their idea of who you are is not based on your past. They should have gotten a chance to see what kind of person you really are today.
The hard question here is not when sexual history should be shared, but if it should be shared at all.
Should I share my sexual history with my partner?
Sexual history can include several things, such as sexual addictions (porn/ masturbation), any form of physical intimacy, and previous sexual partners (body count - a term I recently learned, and isn’t it funny that the same term used for death count is used to describe sexual partners). I’ve heard some priests advise not to share anything since it was before you entered the relationship, assuming you’ve already repented from it, confessed it, and changed your ways. While I see the benefit of this, I might argue that some actions have long-term effects and consequences that will affect your marriage, even after repentance and confession. And it is the right of your partner to know what they might have to face in the future. Many problem spots in a married couple’s sex life can stem from issues that occurred before marriage.
I always advise to ask before you tell. If you feel like there is something you need to share, before doing so, ask your partner if they would like to know. Some want to know to assess the circumstances they’ll be getting into. Others simply would rather not know because it might plague them more than they like, and they trust you’ve put it all behind you.
With that in mind, understand that withholding crucial and life-altering information before marriage can become grounds for annulment in the church. If what you need to share will affect your marriage (i.e. porn addiction, past sexual partners, sexual disease diagnoses), I suggest sharing it at the right time before marriage.
Should I ask my partner about their sexual history?
It is always better to share something up front, rather than waiting too long until the other partner asks. But if you do find yourself at a point where you know your partner’s personality well enough and you are not in a judgmental state, then you can politely ask. Still, keep in mind that they are not obligated to share if they don’t feel comfortable doing so yet.
When they feel comfortable enough to share, try not to get hung up on the details, but look for a spirit of repentance and sobriety. Not an attitude where they dismiss their past sexual encounters as casual and having no serious implications. Make sure your views of purity align. St. Paul describes the seriousness of sexual intercourse as he says, “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,’ He says, ‘shall become one flesh.’ one flesh with a harlot.” (1 Corinthians 6:16)
The level of detail you want to get into is entirely up to the both of you to decide together. Someone might brush off everything that is not sexual intercourse as trivial and consider him/herself as pure. But in reality, this person may have committed everything else that would be considered sexually immoral. Make sure your definitions are the same.
Approach the conversation with grace and be wise about how you allow this information to alter the relationship’s trajectory. Do not let your emotions and feelings cloud your sound judgment. If needed, bring a trusted and wise guide into the picture to help you make the right decision.
Know that God has already forgiven your partner if they have truly repented and confessed. If the Lord has forgiven, He has also made them new. They might also be struggling with guilt and shame from their past, so try not to add to it.
Should we seek premarital counseling?
I believe everyone should have some sort of premarital counseling. Whether from a professional, a priest, or a wise mentor. Be smart about picking the right counselor to walk you through this crucial time in your life. Co-authors of the book Two Become One, Fr. Antonios Kaldas and Ireni Attia write, “Not all advisors are equal, and even with any given advisor, not all the advice given is equal. Choose your advisors carefully. Check out their qualifications.”
They also go on to say, “Beware of professionals or spiritual guides who want to make your decisions for you. A good person to go to for counsel is one who takes the role of a coach: supporting, encouraging, guiding, advising, providing experience and wisdom, but leaving you to do all the really hard work and to run the race yourself.”
A wise counselor will help you make essential determinations as you navigate dating and engagement. You should be able to determine if you’re with the right partner. Consider what areas are weak in your relationship that need work. And how much work is required to grow as a couple should become apparent to both of you. When you choose to move forward, you are both committing to putting in that work before and after marriage. Do not push things off after marriage thinking it will be different; that’s a deceptive trap to avoid.
I highly recommend looking into the Prepare/ Enrich assessment (which must be taken through a facilitator). It is a great tool to measure compatibility and point out growth areas and strength areas.
Above all, remember that every single relationship has one thing in common: each is dynamic. You are constantly learning about one another, growing together, changing as people, and navigating the challenges of aligning two lives into one. No two situations are the same, and so you cannot impose blanket judgements or approaches. Consider this when learning about your partner’s sexual history, or sharing your own, and focus on the future you want to build. Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.
I hope this post allows you to challenge some beliefs you might have about the topic, which is a taboo that’s usually overlooked. I want you to consider getting the right guidance for your particular situation, as the advice here is not a one-size-fits-all.