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Lying, and other kinks in relationship communication

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Ashcann asks:

I caught my partner lying about his past. It was a few weeks ago and we "cleared it up" yet I still feel out of place. At first he told me that he was a virgin (I didn't really believed him since he was 24 and he told me his ex was "kinky") but as I continued to question him he said that there was penetration. I was pissed at that moment but I decided to ask him what is it to have sex to him and he told me he considered penetration sex. Yet he applied a few excuses and I can't find to believe him, could he be lying about more?

CJ replies:

Well, the only person who knows for sure if your partner is being honest with you would be your partner. I think that is just one reason why it sounds pretty important that you revisit this discussion with him, particularly if he doesn’t know you’re still feeling unsettled or uncomfortable even after things supposedly got cleared up. Feeling like you can’t trust someone—or questioning their honesty—definitely puts a damper on a relationship. The best and healthiest relationships are built from a place of trust and mutual understanding between partners.

But let’s step back for a second because, that said, it sounds like there’s a lot going on with what you’ve written and the situation you described. When your partner told you he was a virgin, you mentioned that you didn’t believe him right off the bat. You noted his age (24) and the fact that he’d said his ex was “kinky” as reasons that you didn’t think he could possibly be a virgin. You didn’t mention whether he’d ever done anything before to make you question whether he’s telling the truth or how you feel that the two of you communicate about other aspects of your relationship, but it seems to me like those two reasons (age and having a former partner who is kinky) aren’t necessarily, in and of themselves, reasons that he couldn’t be a virgin. People develop sexually on different timelines, and there are certainly 24 year olds out there who have chosen, for whatever reason, not to have sexual contact with other people. Depending on how you define virgin (which is probably a pretty important question to ask—I’ve learned in lots of years of sex ed never to assume I know what someone means when they say “virgin”), he could easily be one, at any age. As for kink, that’s another word that people can define in different ways. For some people, kink is about erotic power exchange, and that may not having anything to do with genital contact or activities that bear relationship to whether someone—by their definition—identifies as a virgin.

It’s great that you were able to ask him some more questions about how he defines sex since that, too, is something for which people can have vastly different definitions.

With all of this confusing language, and the inability to be certain for yourself about how someone might use particular language (without asking them directly, which I’d highly recommend), I think it can be helpful to think a bit for yourself about how you define those terms for yourself, and the meaning you place in them.

When people talk about “virginity” it can be for lots of reasons. Some people were taught to believe that virgins are “pure” or “clean” or were somehow better than other people. Some people believe that you need to stay that way until you reach some outside milestone (a particular age, marriage, etc.). There can be millions of reasons—cultural, personal, and religious to name a few—for people to view virginity in a particular way. Other people talk about virginity with respect to risk, like how if both partners are virgins there must not be any risk for STIs if they do have sex (not true, but people still believe it).

If you’re someone who is concerned about risk, I think it can often be more helpful to talk about risks specifically rather than try to ask about “sex” or “virginity”. You might want to know if they’ve had any genital contact with another person (and if there was protection used), if they’ve ever had oral-genital contact, if they’ve had any kind of anal penetration or oral-anal contact…stuff like that, that’s more specific than just asking about sex. That can help assess your risk. It’s amazing how many people may still identify as virgins, for whatever reason and through whichever definition they feel is best, but still have had plenty of risks for sexually transmitted infections.

So that’s one piece of it, which might help you figure out what questions you want to talk about with your partner, but the other big piece just seems to be around whether you feel like you can trust him, and what to do with those feelings.

I don’t think this is something that you can solve by yourself. Keeping those feelings inside—even if you feel like they should have already been resolved—will probably only lead to more resentment. If you have more questions about what he’s told you, I think the only way to move forward is to let him know that you still want to talk about this and to share how you’re feeling. It can take a long time to build trust in a relationship, but a really short time to break it. Some people can work through that and rebuild trust, but sometimes we know in our gut that a trust violation isn’t something that we can move through. You know yourself the best—and know your relationship the best—so you’re in the best position to figure out whether this is something that you want to put the energy into working on with your partner (assuming he’s willing) or whether it doesn’t feel possible or worth it to you.

It may be that he felt he was giving an honest answer to the question being asked, or he may have known he wasn’t being completely forthcoming in telling you about his past. If he knew he wasn’t being completely forthcoming, it might help to ask him about his reasoning for that, and why he felt that he could not be honest with you about his previous relationships. It’s hard for me to take a wild guess about his motivations, but I definitely know that we can think up plenty of horrible reasons that other people might act in certain ways or say specific things…but only the person in question can speak for themselves.

If this is a person with whom you are hoping to be sexual or with whom you are having any kind of sex, you may want to have more conversations about protection and STI screenings so that each of you can stay as healthy as possible.

Being in a relationship where you feel like you can’t trust the word of the other person is generally a pretty crappy feeling. It can take time to rebuild trust and that process takes investment and hard work from all involved people in the relationship. Thinking for yourself about what you want and need from your relationships will give you a foundation to work from when you approach your partner to talk more about what happened and figure out whether this is something that can be resolved in a way that feels good for both of you.

Here are some other articles that might be helpful for you:

written 11 May 2010 . updated 28 Jan 2014

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