Two Sense: I Can't Help but Judge My Once-Promiscuous Girlfriend


I’ve been dating a woman for nine months. Our chemistry is amazing and we’re compatible. But as I discovered more about her sexual history, I find that it’s precluding me from considering her seriously in the roles of wife and mother. I won’t go down the whole list, but in a nutshell, she had sex with 24 guys when she was only 14, worked as a stripper, had sex in public, and had affairs with married men. She’s only 25 but has had more than 50 lovers, more than I’ve had at age 35. She’s educated, professional, and has turned her life around. But there’s some wall in my head, making it difficult for me to not to categorize her as a “ho.” Yet in every other way, we seem perfect for each other.

He Said: Gore Vidal famously defined promiscuity as someone having one more sexual partners than you've had. Would it be okay if your girlfriend had five fewer sexual partners than you instead of 25 more? When it comes to character, her sexual past (assuming the sex is consensual) is of course irrelevant. There are plenty of terrible parents and partners with far less adventurous pasts. One's mastery of these roles depends almost entirely on the character, passion and love you bring to it. The fact that you have obsessively catalogued her sexual exploits, and are struggling with the Limbaugh-like "ho" appellation, may in fact mean that you are the one with the work to do, not her.

She Said: There’s really only one detail in your letter that strikes me as unusual. Under no circumstance does a 14-year-old girl have the sense of self or boundaries to healthily engage in sex with 24 men in the space of one year. That tells me your girlfriend’s earliest sexual experiences were confused, to say the least. Most women have had the experience of paying for “love” (i.e. attention, approval) with sex, and it may be that your girlfriend has had more than her fair share of that type of sad transaction. On the other hand, just because a woman’s had a small number of partners doesn’t mean her relationship with sex is any healthier. It may mean she fears sex, or uses it only as a rare reward. Lastly, as she ages, your girlfriend is just as likely to swing in the opposite direction—enjoying the stability and fruits of monogamy after all that rigmarole—than she is to seek out even more adventure. And if I had to predict what kind of mother she'll make, my first guess would be: a strict one. Most people’s sexual habits change over the course of their lifetimes.

But let’s get down to this ho business. I want you to admit that your girlfriend is, indeed, a ho. Not necessarily a whore, which would mean she officially took money for sex, but the more colloquial version: She’s a live wire. Wanton. She’s gotta have it. Or at least she did from age 14 to 25, and I presume she’s still got a wild streak, and that it provides a good deal of that amazing chemistry you speak of. You need to embrace it, not fear it.

Sexual abandon is one strong current of feminine energy. The instinct to bear and nurture children is another vein of this energy. You could even say those two urges are deeply related—it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ascertain how. The desire to devote oneself wholeheartedly to a husband is yet another archetype that runs in women. There are  also “virgin” energies, which occur in young women and in those who devote themselves to their careers or other pursuits away from the realm of relationships. At one point or another, a healthy woman will experience many, if not all, of these energies. For you to reap the fruits of your girlfriend’s sexual past while belittling the experiences that formed her is hypocritical. You are experiencing what Freud called the madonna-whore complex, and it's no fun. Ask yourself if you—not your parents, not the religion you were raised in—but you, deep down, truly believe that your girlfriend’s sexual experiences will make her less of a wife or mother. If the answer is yes, you need to let her go so she can find a more progressive-thinking man—or at least one who’s had 51 lovers.

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