Preparing for Marriage – Dealing with the Ghosts of Your Sexual Past


By Chris Hammond, MS, IMH

One of the most frequently asked questions by couples preparing to get married are, “How much of my sexual past do I need to reveal to my partner?”  While this can be a difficult question to answer, there are some basic guidelines to follow.

1.       Don’t lie.  Starting off your marriage with a lie is not a strong foundation and sooner or later the truth will come out in the most horrible way.  Even though it might hurt your partner’s feelings or you might potentially lose them, it is far better to be honest and suffer the immediate consequences then it is to lie and live with life-long guilt and much worse consequences.  Remember a lie is not just speaking untruthfully; it is also withholding the truth.

2.       Disclose any health hazards.  Some states require that you disclose any sexually transmitted diseases or infections before they offer a marriage license.  If you or anyone you have slept with has or has the potential for a STD (sexually transmitted disease), STI (sexually transmitted infection) or HIV/AIDS, you must tell your partner.  It is lying to do otherwise.  While on this subject, it is a good idea for you to be tested prior to marriage as there are many types of STD’s or STI’s some of which cause or contribute to infertility.

3.       Disclose any sexual abuse.  If you have been sexually abused or molested as a child, raped as an adult, or the victim of sexually harassment, you must tell your partner.  This may be an embarrassing admission on your part, just remember you were the victim.  And as a victim of a sexual crime the potential for some word, phrase, touch, look or position to trigger memories from the past is likely.  Your partner needs to know of your triggers so as to protect you and not add to any re-traumatizing.  

4.       Disclose any abortions.  Statistically, one in three women has had an abortion, so it is likely that either you or your partner were involved in an abortion.  While this topic may be controversial and seem more like a private matter, not disclosing it is again a lie.  Your partner may feel differently about abortions than you and this is an opportunity to learn more about each other. Also when you have children in the future you might feel differently about abortions and the remorse may surprise both of you at a time when you should be feeling joyful.

5.       Disclose any addictions.  Pornography is addictive and any and all uses of it should be disclosed to your partner.  While it may seem like most people look at pornography at some point in their lives and the need for it will disappear with marriage, too often this is not the case.  After the honeymoon wears off and problems surface in your marriage, escaping to pornography to feel better can and frequently does happen.  Knowing your partner’s weaknesses and setting necessary boundaries such as an internet filter is demonstrating love for them.  Ignoring the problem and hoping it will just go away is foolish.

6.       Disclose any sexual crimes.  Sexual crimes are molestation, incest, rape, abuse, harassment, trafficking, prostitution, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sex with animals, or obscenities.  If you have been found guilty of a sexual crime, you must disclose it.  If you have been cleared of charges of a sexual crime, you should still disclose it.  If you have committed a sexual crime but have never been caught, you should disclose it.

7.       Disclose any adultery.  If you have been involved in an adulterous affair, disclose it.  While the affair may have ended a long time ago and you have parted ways without speaking about it, the guilt of having committed the offense will repeatedly torment you. 

8.        Don’t give too much detail.  While you must be honest about your past, too much detail about frequency, positions, locations, or anything else that could cause your partner to fantasize about you having sex with someone else is dangerous.  Say enough to be honest but not too much to cause your partner harm. 

9.       Ask for forgiveness.  Once you have found the right partner, the other sexual partners of the past seem to fade in comparison.  However, the reality is that you did not wait to have sex with just your partner and this is precisely why you are having reading this article.  One of the hardest things to do is admit that you were wrong for having sex with anyone other than your marriage partner.  So begin by asking God for forgiveness and then ask your future spouse for forgiveness. 

10.   Better to ask.  If your partner is secretive and refuses to disclose any information about their sexual past, be direct and ask them about the above points of disclosure.  If they are still not forthcoming, then seek professional help.  It may be that your partner is more comfortable dealing with this issue with a professional or it may be that they are unwilling to be honest.  If it is the latter, then know that you are building a marriage on unstable ground and it is likely to fail.

These guidelines are just that, guidelines.  They are not meant to be all inclusive but they are meant to set the outside perimeter of what should be expected.  By discussing these issues prior to marriage, you will find more peace and less anxiety about your partner’s sexual behavior.

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About the author-
Chris Hammond is a
Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern at LifeWorks Group w/ over 15 years of experience as a counselor, mentor & teacher for children, teenagers & adults.

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