I’m an 18-year-old girl, and I’ve been in a relationship with my girlfriend for 13 months now. This is the first serious relationship I’ve been in. However, my friend said he wanted to give me an experience with a guy, so we planned to have sex. I was hesitant, but I went with it. However now I have a lot of regret because when I told my girlfriend what happened she was really mad at me, of course, even though before it happened I had told her I wanted to just be friends for a while. But she told her family what happened, even though I told her not to. And so now when I see them I feel judged and embarrassed.
Thankfully my girlfriend has forgiven me, but how do I deal with the shame and guilt? I try to move on but I can’t help feeling horrible about it. I wanted to be this perfect girl for my girlfriend’s family, but I feel like they hate me, even though my girlfriend says they don’t. She still wants to propose to me soon and we love each other a lot, but I don’t want to carry this guilt forever. She’s in her early 20s, and at times I feel like she deserves better, but she says I’m the best for her. What should I do?
Xo So ashamed
OK the first thing you should do is chill out. You’re beating yourself up over something that is a non-issue. So you fucked some guy during a period where you hadn’t promised monogamy to your girlfriend—what’s the problem? You didn’t cheat, and there is nothing inherently wrong or immoral of guilt-worthy about having sex. It’s important to remember that just because your actions made someone else feel hurt or jealous, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what you did was wrong. For example, in my last relationship, my girlfriend and I broke up for 4 months, and then got back together. When I found out that she had been seeing someone else during period, it made me feel fucking awful and angry, but she hadn’t done anything wrong. I was just being a possessive monster. Annoyingly, the people we love don’t stop existing (or having sex) when we’re not around them.
You did nothing wrong. Seriously, say it—”I did nothing wrong.” (I feel like Robin Williams in that scene from Good Will Hunting.) You’re 18—this is a time for experimentation and sexual self-discovery and sexual stupidity and general YOLO. It’s not a time for worrying about what your pseudo-in-laws think of you. Save that for middle age! Also, it’s imperative that you DO NOT get married to your girlfriend You are 18! That’s basically an embryo. You have so many relationships and hook-ups and breakups and threesomes and awkward one-night-stands and bar bathroom blow-jobs ahead of you, and it would be a tragedy to miss out on any of those. When we’re old, we’re far more likely to regret the things we didn’t do, than the things we did.
Also, who is this “perfect girl” that you speak of? If you mean a pure, passive, demure, 50s fantasy woman, well, that woman doesn’t exist (thank god). There is no such thing as the perfect girl, and anyone who believes that one’s goodness or respectability has anything to do with how many people they’ve slept with is either a prude or an idiot. You shouldn’t be ashamed about your sexual experiences, you should be proud of them! I think it’s so cool that you’re in an openly gay relationship at 18, but felt curious to explore sex with guys too, and went out and made it happen. That’s baller. And you said it yourself—your girlfriend has forgiven you, and she says her parents don’t hate you. So all of this guilt and shame is coming from you.
A while back I wrote an article for Vogue where I talked about dealing with some guilt about my sluttiness when I was younger. In the article, I asked my friend Zhana Vrangalova, a sex researcher who studies casual sex and mental health: How much of the shame or negativity we feel associated with sex is inherently ours, and how much of it is a social construct? Zhana told me: “It’s hard to pinpoint the cause of the guilt and shame of highly sexually people, because we live in a sex-negative culture that conflates having a lot of sex with being a bad person.” So basically, remember that if you feel bad about a sexual experience, it’s not your fault—it’s society’s fault! Lol. This is why it’s important to surround yourself with sex-positive people who would never dream of judging you for your sexual curiosity, and to read pro-sex feminist writing… like this website, for example ;)
By Karley Sciortino
Main image by Petra Collins