Blanket Statement Monday: Is your relationship being ruined by a) your partner’s sexual history b) your partner’s porn stash c) your crushing insecurities?

"Barbie, I can't lie - I've been thinking about G.I. Joe this whole time."

I have a few letters in the Captain Awkward Mailbag that go like this:

My partner and I are in love and have a great sex life and (s)he tells me all the time how much (s)he loves being with me, however (s)he dated sexy people before me and I have less experience and I’m worried that (s)he is comparing me to past partners and I don’t measure up. What do I do?

And like this:

My partner and I are in love and have a great sex life, and (s)he tells me all the time how much (s)he loves being with me, however, I found a giant hoard of porn on my partner’s computer and all the people did not look like me and they definitely did not do things that I do in bed and now I’m worried that (s)he really wants to be doing that stuff and our entire relationship is a lie…oh god…what do I do?

Listen up.  It’s rare that one-size-fits-all advice exists in this world, but this is a situation where it really, really, really works.  Here’s what you do:

Get the fuck over it and keep enjoying your relationship.

For Group A (My Partner Has A Sexual History, Oh No!): Your partner’s past partners and comparisons to them will not damage the relationship, unless you become an insecure control freak who constantly brings it up and checks in and makes your partner feel weird and guilty for having sex before (s)he met you and looking for ways you are not measuring up.  If your partner learned about things (s)he liked in bed from another partner and sees fit to share that with you in a constructive and instructive way, like “Hey, it would really turn me on if you would….” that is NOT negative criticism of you, that is called BEING AWESOME IN BED BY SAYING WHAT YOU LIKE.

For Group B (I Am Threatened By Porn!): Porn exists.  I’m not going to say every single person on the planet looks at it, or even every single person with a reliable internet connection, but lots of people look at it, okay?  And lots of people look at weird shit that they don’t actually want to do in real life because the imagination is a dark and sexy magical place where crazy shit is allowed to happen.  And lots of people look at porn that has people with different body types than they’d “normally” go for or kinks….because sometimes it is exciting to look at a variety of things.  And yeah, some of it is gross and exploitive and sometimes the people are so waxed and oiled and fake that it looks like when you were a kid and mashed Barbie and Ken’s (or Barbie’s, or in my case, Godzilla’s) “areas” together….so…okay….what is the problem?  Your partner has an active interest in sex and a filthy imagination?  This is less a problem than an opportunity.

If your partner is neglecting you to look at porn, that is a problem.  If your partner is constantly bringing up exes and comparing you to them, that is a problem (because your partner might be an asshole, in which case, break up!).

If you have an otherwise healthy, happy sex life and your partner also looks at porn, there is no problem.  If you have an otherwise healthy, happy sex life with someone who has had sex with other people before you, there is no problem.  If you are not so experienced at sex, there is also no problem, because listen:  Everyone starts out inexperienced, and the way you get more experience is to do it with a person you like and who likes you.  NOT ACTUALLY A PROBLEM.

Except the problems manufactured by your own insecurities.  And your lovers and sex partners are not required to magically anticipate and heal and make up for all of your insecurities. Saying to someone “You need to be different, as in have a different past (or pretend you do), or stop looking at porn you like (or pretend you have stopped looking at it) in order to make me stop feeling so sad and insecure” is manipulative and controlling and makes you the person in the wrong.  It’s actually your job to handle that shit so that you can be in a healthy relationship.

Listen, the more you see sex as something that you “get” and “perform,” the more weird and insecure your sex life will be, because you’ve made it about yourself and not about making another person feel great and letting them make you feel great in return.  Your job during sex is to try things out, ask questions, observe responses and reactions, be honest about your desires and needs (no faking orgasms!), responsible about your health and your partner’s health, and make sure everyone is having a great time and wants to be there every step of the way.  Other than that, there is no formula.

More getting the fuck over yourself and more fucking, please.  Thank you.  This has been an episode of Blanket Statement Monday.

30 comments
  1. HOORAY FOR THIS POST

  2. good Lord, yes. preach it, sister.

  3. Helen Huntingdon said:

    Partner won’t take instruction

    +

    Partner gets upset if you don’t orgasm

    =

    Can’t win. Get new partner.

    • JenniferP said:

      Good math, there.

    • NessieMonster said:

      😀

    • Maxine said:

      Oh lord I have been there. For some reason I hung on til he broke up with me.

      I headdesk at myself.

  4. Litda said:

    YES! This post is GREAT!

    • JenniferP said:

      Thanks, nice to see you’re still reading.

  5. Helen Huntingdon said:

    This reminded me of a conversation in which I remarked in passing that most het guys don’t care whether their partners are enjoying themselves. This got a bewildered protest from an admittedly inexperienced guy who said something like, “What’s this? I’ve never heard of this before. I thought all guys want their partners to enjoy themselves.”

    I pointed out that wanting your partner to make you feel like you are great in bed is a completely different thing from wanting to understand and do what your partner enjoys and only what your partner enjoys.

    It’s more of the lying your head off to yourself and others thing, so you can pretend you are a good guy without bothering to actually be a good guy. Most guys can convince themselves they’re good guys and worthy sexual partners if they merely talk about wanting their partners to enjoy themselves, as if intention has anything to do with it.

    Good intentions can’t make you a remotely decent sexual partner. You actually have to learn and pay attention and modify your behavior, otherwise you suck in bed and that’s all there is to it.

    • JenniferP said:

      Okay. This is the second comment you’ve made about how terrible “het guys” are, and accused them of lying about their good intentions. You do use the qualifier “most” in there, but honestly, who have you been fucking? Why were you lecturing your poor inexperienced guy friend about how he probably sucks in bed and that his good intentions (what you have if you don’t have experience) are probably a lie? You probably set the dude back 5 years.

      I don’t really have a comments policy here (yet – I’m sort of dreading the day I have to make one), but I think your comment is mean-spirited and crappy. I deliberately removed gender from my post, because anyone can be inexperienced, entitled, and insecure and anyone can bring baggage into the bedroom. Your statement that good sex is about learning to pay attention and modify your behavior is on the surface correct, but ending it with “otherwise you suck in bed” just puts sex back into the category of something that’s performed instead of enjoyed.

      More than any technique, good sex is about making a safe, welcoming, accepting space for your partner, so that when things go wrong – you break the antique bedstand in the B&B, or someone farts, or a position that you thought would be sexy just feels weird, or you kiss each other in the morning and it’s like a competition to see who has the worst breath – you die laughing, together, and you live to fuck another day.

      • Helen Huntingdon said:

        If I set him back 5 years because he’s now thinking instead of accepting unquestioning the background noise of the dudeland we live in (I’m talking about a heavily male-dominated profession here), I’m all for it. Yes, I spoke of het males, because those were the people talking, specifically young white cis het men. After spending years on end in a sea of these guys, I’ve learned that statements like I made that rattle their cages but good are more likely to help them than to hurt them. And anything less blunt doesn’t help.

        The poor guy you’re so worried about isn’t as fragile as you think he is; that’s why I said what I did. He asked the question — what do you do if you have good intentions but no experience? I said that if someone is nice enough to let me touch their most sensitive bits, I’m going to make sure I read up on or review the anatomy of that area and the mechanics and effects of arousal first, to make sure I’m not going to cause any pain and increase my chances of causing pleasure. Like most guys in that population, doing such reading hadn’t occurred to him as an option. Now he feels like he has more control instead having to hope good intentions are enough.

        If you don’t want such comments here, no problem; I’ll make them elsewhere. You think they’re mean-spirited and crappy, which is fine, since they’re not about you. They guys they help, they help, and I know they do because they tell me so.

        I’m confused about one thing though — if you don’t want comments here that can sound mean-spirited and crappy, what’s with the way you’re addressing me? A remark I made in passing among a larger group conversation gets turned into a “lecture”. The who-have-you-been-fucking bit isn’t even relevant, because I wasn’t talking about those men, but about the guys in the room, who I knew a lot about simply by listening when they talk about their lives. But you had to work that slap in any old how, right?

        • JenniferP said:

          So you start with “most het guys don’t care whether their partners are enjoying themselves and are lying to themselves about whether they do” and then backtrack to “these specific guys I work with who asked me that one time.”

          The guys you work with may respond well to your blunt style. Bluntly, I don’t, and I don’t see how it’s any different from lazy comedians talking about how men love sports while women love shopping. Your specific advice to your specific coworker was right on (if it was asked for), but this is not the place where we all get together and bash men, and if I see you doing it again I will comment on it. Bluntly.

        • piny said:

          Have you ever had sex with a woman? My personal ratio of crappy lesbian partners is about 1:1 with inept het guys. Sex can be difficult for a lot of reasons. I have a hard enough time working a silicone tool that attaches to hand or groin, never goes soft, and comes with a handle. It’d take me years to learn how to use the flesh version.

          I have also never read a book on how to go down on anyone. That would be really embarrassing. Are you saying that you’ve done a lot of reading about penises? If so, more power to you.

          I’ve noticed enough common threads (fixation on thrusting, even if we’re talking tongues, for example) to agree that male ineptitude is heavily informed by patriarchal miseducation. I don’t think it’s about entitlement, exactly. And I don’t think that anyone needs to be told in as many words that they are bad in bed.

          • Helen Huntingdon said:

            No, I’ve never had sex with a woman, but I’ve been in a number of conversations with both men and women where it became obvious that the person expressing dissatisfaction with their sex life was painfully ignorant about human sexual functions, and someone decided to speak up and suggest they educate themselves. Over time a pattern emerged that was the opposite of what I expected; in the conversations I was part of, women could nearly always be talked into educating themselves — there’d be some initial resistance followed by asking, okay, what books are good? But men would nearly always adamantly refuse and insist their partner should change, not themselves.

            The one consistent exception I noticed is that when there are only technonerds in the conversation, “go read a book already” goes over much better. This is just my experience though, colored by the fact that I spend most of my time as a technonerd among technonerds.

            Why shouldn’t someone be told they sound like they suck in bed, if that’s the phrasing that reaches them, and they’re relieved they can do something productive about what’s making them unhappy?

            Sure I’ve read books about human sexuality. And it has never stopped being embarrassing. But that’s far preferable to risking hurting my partner.

          • piny said:

            I didn’t ask if you’d read books about human sexuality. I’ve definitely done that. I asked if your knowledge about what to do with a penis came from a book, or from on-the-hand-job experience. (Sorry.) You’re saying that men should read books about cunnilingus etc. Have you read very many books about how to touch male genitalia? Most women don’t especially bother. They just sleep with men, and eventually learn what works. And men don’t usually complain that women are bad at getting them off.

            Lesbians…eh. The ones I’ve encountered seem to be theoretically open to the sex-as-craft standpoint, but that’s not saying that they actually approach it without ego.

            That “if” is a big if. Many people are not relieved to hear that they suck in bed. They are humiliated and mortified. If you really have had success with, “You suck in bed,” that’s great. I doubt that’s representative, though. It seems like a bad strategy for most people because most people already feel huge amounts of shame and anxiety over sexual performance. It seems like a bad strategy for entitled jerk men because entitled jerk men are usually disinclined to listen to criticism and very inclined towards defensiveness.

          • NessieMonster said:

            On a slightly different note, having had sex with a woman for the first time very recently, I discovered just how hard it is to finger a woman well when you have no/little practice. Figuring out what someone likes when they are vocal and facially expressive is hard enough. Working it out when they don’t know what they like best or can’t/won’t say due to social conditioning that says you have to lie back and take it or fake it, must be a friggin’ nightmare.

            I suppose experimentation/creativity/openness to new ideas, practice/experience and encounters with people more knowledgeable than yourself are the ways forward.

          • Helen Huntingdon said:

            I didn’t ask if you’d read books about human sexuality. I’ve definitely done that. I asked if your knowledge about what to do with a penis came from a book, or from on-the-hand-job experience.

            Both, but mainly from books followed by partner reaction. Experience alone wasn’t working for me because I wasn’t having much luck getting information from my partners other than telling me whether they liked something or not *after* I had done it. I find someone hurting me during sex upsetting, so I assume my partners might as well.

            Most women don’t especially bother. They just sleep with men, and eventually learn what works. And men don’t usually complain that women are bad at getting them off.

            I know many women don’t bother, and if they’re not hurting anybody and happy with what they have, it must be working for them. But if they’re not happy, I’m just as likely to suggest reading a book to women as to men.

            And men don’t usually complain that women are bad at getting them off.

            The don’t? That’s not my experience.

            If you really have had success with, “You suck in bed,” that’s great.

            As far as I can recall, I don’t think I’ve ever told a specific individual that they suck in bed in response to them expressing concern about their sexual satisfaction. I’ve said something close to, “Wow, you really need to catch up on human sexuality 101,” to both men and women.

        • piny said:

          I mean, look, I’m coming at this from a slightly different angle: blanket assertions about “clueless het guys” and sex make me irritated because they implicitly posit other people, especially non-het women, as free of these problems. And then you end up with people like Sheila Jeffreys. As a sometime member of communities that are het-male but definitely not ineptitude or entitlement free, it bothers me.

          Also, while machismo has contaminated sex, so has our cultural fixation on chastity. Being bad in bed is sometimes simple entitlement. But I think that a lot of the time it’s also related to other, more complicated ideas about what sex must be–ideas that have infected most everyone.

          • NessieMonster said:

            “so has our cultural fixation on chastity.” Queue women feeling guilty and confused because they are expected to go from virgin to whore in one night – in the marriage bed.

            I’ve yet to come up against a guy who thinks me a whore because I’m pretty good in bed before I met him (OMG you have had sex with people that are not me!) but there’s no escaping the cultural atmosphere even though attitudes are changing and standards have shifted in many circles (you can have up to x number of sexual partners before me otherwise, slut).

      • k said:

        Good freakin’ point. I’ve fucked plenty of heterosexual men, and though a few do seem to have that “sex is a performance” mentality it is not at all fair to tar all men with the same brush, nor to assume that “het guys” are usually incapable of fucking your brains out in good faith and in search of genuine mutual enjoyment.

      • Helen Huntingdon said:

        So you start with “most het guys don’t care whether their partners are enjoying themselves and are lying to themselves about whether they do” and then backtrack to “these specific guys I work with who asked me that one time.”

        Nice try, but we both know full well that I started with, “This reminded me of a conversation in which I remarked in passing…”

        So cherry-picking to create a false representation doesn’t change what was actually said. We both know I started by referring to one specific conversation. I know you don’t like what I said, and there’s plenty there to criticize, so I’m not sure why you’re not criticizing what’s actually there instead of what isn’t.

        The guys you work with may respond well to your blunt style. Bluntly, I don’t, and I don’t see how it’s any different from lazy comedians talking about how men love sports while women love shopping.

        Right. You’re not them. You’re not the ones saying, “WHY won’t anyone else tell me these things this bluntly, so I can understand?” We’re in perfect agreement here.

        Your specific advice to your specific coworker was right on (if it was asked for),

        I’m confused again. On another thread you told me to take others’ comments in good faith. Here you’re implying I’m not truthfully reporting what happened — not taking my comment in good faith.

        but this is not the place where we all get together and bash men, and if I see you doing it again I will comment on it. Bluntly.

        Erm, okay. More not taking my comments in good faith, and assuming they’re all about something they’re not; pointing out real problems in how a staggering number of young men are socialized isn’t man-bashing. Again, plenty there to criticize in what I wrote if you like, so why not criticize what’s actually there?

        • JenniferP said:

          You know what, you’re right. I’m pretty sure I don’t like you, so your shitty tone meets my shitty tone and at a certain point I don’t know how fair I’m being.

          However, WITHIN the specific conversation that you reference, your passing remark was “most het guys don’t…” So within that specific conversation you were also making crappy assertions about most heterosexual men…that you carried through into the rest of your comment. I think I was taking that comment in exactly the way it was intended: “Look at the time I scored some points for sex education, also, most het men are lazy and kidding themselves about it.”

          For the record, “(if it was asked for)” was not questioning your credibility, I was in fact trying to agree that if he asked for it you gave him good advice. In writing, tone and intent sometimes get lost.

        • piny said:

          “Right. You’re not them. You’re not the ones saying, ‘WHY won’t anyone else tell me these things this bluntly, so I can understand?’ We’re in perfect agreement here.”

          But didn’t we agree just last week that this isn’t something people in general or men in particular usually mean when they say it? You may know some exceptional men, but generally IME, the more entitled, the more defensive. Plus, if you’re savvy enough to figure out that something’s wrong, why are you also too much of a dick to nudge the subject into the world yourself?

          • Helen Huntingdon said:

            But didn’t we agree just last week that this isn’t something people in general or men in particular usually mean when they say it?

            I don’t know. I don’t recall such a conversation, but with everything that’s been going on I might have forgotten it. Can you tell me where it was?

            Plus, if you’re savvy enough to figure out that something’s wrong, why are you also too much of a dick to nudge the subject into the world yourself?

            I don’t understand the question, I’m afraid. Is the subject ‘you’ me, or a theoretical het guy?

          • NessieMonster said:

            @Helen: I’m not sure where/when that conversation may have occurred either but I’m thinking of a cross-post to man-boobz: https://captainawkward.com/2011/04/07/50000/ and comments in general from NiceGuysTM who demand explanations but refuse to hear what you are saying due to their unchecked privilege.

            As for the ‘why are you also too much of a dick?’ thing, I think Piny is referring to theoretical jerk het guy. I would say though that there are reasons why someone might not bring up the thing that is not quite right other than being a dick. Fear, shame, performance/guilt issues for starters…

      • Helen Huntingdon said:

        I’ve fucked plenty of heterosexual men, and though a few do seem to have that “sex is a performance” mentality it is not at all fair to tar all men with the same brush, nor to assume that “het guys” are usually incapable of fucking your brains out in good faith and in search of genuine mutual enjoyment.

        Tell me about it. I had a hell of a time wrapping my mind around the performance view, because it didn’t match with what experience I had. It actually took one guy sitting me down and saying, “Look, when a man’s sexual partner doesn’t enjoy herself, he doesn’t ask what he did wrong, he gets angry,” while the others in the room nodded, before it actually began to get through to me that there are men who think this way. I asserted that they might all exceptions to the norm; they replied they were sure they weren’t, and said I should ask in various places online and see what kind of answers I got. Color me astonished.

        • NessieMonster said:

          Luckily enough I’ve yet to sleep with a guy who gets angry rather than concerned that the event wasn’t satisfying.

          On the other hand, there have been occasions where things just didn’t click/flow/come and the resulting awkwardness of ‘neither of us came and we are too polite to suggest means for improvement because, society’ meant that the encounter wasn’t repeated despite there being chemistry/lust.

          There are a number of sneaky ways I’ve encountered the performance mentality, both in myself (if he doesn’t come I did something wrong), and in the guy (if she doesn’t come I am not a good male, and if he himself doesn’t come then likewise, he is not a good male). Interesting absence of ‘if I don’t come then I am not a good female’, for which there could be a number of causes. Ideas?

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