Sexual histories: Is it lying if you don’t talk about them?

Unless you haven’t dated or ever been physical with anyone before, you undoubtedly enter new relationships with a history. Past flings, past relationships, past experiences — everyone’s history is different, from the number of people in your relation Rolodex to the extent of your relationships with those past people. But if you don’t share this history with your partner(s), are you lying to them?

That was the claim made on the reunion special of The Real Housewives of Orange County. Here’s the rundown: Alexis and Jim have been married for seven years, and Alexis and Peggy have been friends for four years. About 15 or so years ago, Jim and Peggy “hung out” (Peggy’s euphemism) but then decided they’d be better off as friends. When Peggy asked Jim if Alexis knew about their past, he said Alexis didn’t know and “would never know.” A few months ago, Alexis found out about Jim and Peggy’s fling.

The other housewives said they thought Jim had lied to Alexis, and Tamra was insistent that this constituted Jim keeping secrets from her. But Alexis said they agreed at the beginning of their relationship not to discuss their histories. They were starting a new chapter together, and they weren’t interested in the previous ones.

Rarely do I agree with anything Alexis says, but in this case, she’s right. It’s important for partners to create those boundaries when it comes to discussing their past relations, so that both parties are clear about what they do and don’t want to know. There is value to knowing — and it’s essential to ask about — whether that person is free of sexually transmitted infections in every case; the value of knowing how many partners someone has had and the explicit details of what they’ve done is on a case-by-case basis, depending on the person receiving the info.

So Jim and Alexis decide and agree that they don’t want to know about each other’s past. When Jim doesn’t tell Alexis about his fling with Peggy, that isn’t lying or keeping secrets — it’s simply keeping to the agreement because Alexis doesn’t want to know about Jim’s past. I also agree with Alexis that if Peggy thought it was important to tell, Peggy should’ve mentioned it to Alexis — Jim has no obligation to disclose that information because of the no-info-sharing agreement, but Peggy isn’t under any such contractual constraints.

Sharing info can be a slippery slope. My boyfriend and I have discussed, in relation to Real World‘s Dustin not telling Heather about his porn star past, how the line is blurry when it comes to what you have an obligation to tell your partner. Questions like, “Have you been tested for STIs?” or “How many sexual partners have you had?” or “How many long-term relationships have you had?” are easy to think of and might even come up in casual conversation. “Have you ever done gay porn?” probably isn’t.

But here, the line was drawn firmly in the sand — they don’t want to know anything, so Jim isn’t a liar. This would be much more complicated if there was no agreement in place — should Jim warn Alexis about his fling with Peggy? Is it up to Alexis to ask Jim if he’s slept with every new woman they meet? Is he a liar for not disclosing at all, even if she never asks? “Liar” isn’t accurate unless he denies a fling with Peggy, but withholding information you think your partner should or would want to know is deceptive — not to mention it puts that person in the sucky everyone-knows-about-this-but-you position.

(On a sidenote, hearing Peggy’s side of the story and how determined Jim sounded not to let Alexis find out makes me curious whether they actually did have such an agreement and/or whether he had lied about it to Alexis in the past.)

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: