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Advice – I used to be a cam girl. Should I tell my boyfriend?

About four years ago, I [22F] was a web cam girl for a few months. It still haunts me to this day and I am very fearful of my now partner [28M] finding this out because I know that he will torture me over this. It is such a slim chance of him finding out but there are pictures and videos of me online that have been reposted on some websites and that makes me feel so sick to even think about. I love him so much and I am a great girlfriend to him but this makes me feel undeserving and shameful in a way. Should I tell him this or does it even matter much? I would rather die than have him know. I want to get them removed online but I just don’t know how. I feel like if I tell him this it will just define me and I don’t ever want him to see me differently.

Melody, Reddit.

Dear Melody,

There are so many different types of pain and misunderstanding packed in such a short post.

There is such a powerful, pervasive, negative cultural stigma around sex work. And it looks like you have internalized some of the shame (“… this makes me feel undeserving and shameful”), disgust (“… that makes me feel so sick to even think about”), and guilt (“I am very fearful of my now partner finding this out”). Each of those are interwoven into not just the way you conceptualize and experience your romantic relationship with your partner but also with yourself.

I want to spend some time with each of those feelings and what they could mean. Each of those feelings intersect with each of the relationships you have with your past self, your current self, and your boyfriend. Then we will talk about whether or not you should tell your boyfriend and how you should if you do decide to share this part of your past with your partner.

Photo by Hoang Viet on Unsplash

Let’s first focus on your relationship with yourself.

Through all of these internalized social stigma about sex work, it is very clear that there is a major disconnect around reconciliation between your past as a sex worker and your present reality as your partner’s girlfriend. And deeply imbedded in that disconnect is a self-inflicting wound that unfortunately acts as the mouthpiece for many of the negative feelings you are experiencing right now. And each time those negative feelings come up, they are immediately measured against the dysfunctions within your past self (shame), dysfunctions within your current self (disgust), and dysfunctions within your romantic relationship (guilt).

Shame is a fundamental reflection of external societal pressure making an impression on your past. In reality, sex work is work. People engage with sex work for multitude of different reasons. So camming might have been a means to support yourself financially. It could have been born out of self-empowerment exercise through which you explored previously unrealized parts of your sexuality. Ultimately, your rationale surrounding why you chose to pursue camming is unimportant. What is more important is recognize that it happened, reflect on what it meant to you as a person, and move forward with new experiences.

Disgust is a more nuanced feeling that has deeper roots around how you perceive your experience with sex work. Based on what you have shared, it is unclear if your sense of disgust is just a different manifestation of the same shame or if there are deeper roots in your general attitude about sex work. It might be more beneficial for you to do some digging by yourself or with a sex-positive therapist to heal and recover from your experience.

Out of the three, guilt is the easiest to explain. Some of your guilt originates from obscuration of your past from your partner. As in, you feel that you should have come clean about your sex work experience with your partner before you got into a romantic relationship. It could also be possible that your guilt stems from internalization of negative stigma around sex work. As in, you have difficult time moving beyond your sex work history. And because you have such struggle moving past it, your inability to move past it manifests in guilt.

Now let’s talk about your relationship with your boyfriend.

I was quite alarmed to read that you feel that your boyfriend would “torture” you if he found out about your history with sex work. I wondered if that could be a sign of a very dysfunctional relationship with your partner where your partner never reacts well to aspects about yourself and your past, even in your most vulnerable moments. I also wondered if that was another manifestation of the internalized social stigma around sex work on his behalf as well. Either way, your pre-emptive reaction to this hypothetical conversation with your boyfriend tells me two things.

First is that your relationship does not feel like a safe place to share this very vulnerable aspect about yourself. If his immediate reaction is to assume negative judgment about your previous work history, it says a lot more about how little foundational trust there is to support any of the vulnerability you want to share with any prospective partner, much less this one. We will talk more about this in the next section when we discuss if and how you should approach this discussion.

My second thought is that being a great girlfriend has nothing to do with your previous sexual or work history. Your experience with sex work was only for a few months several years back. And while that might be a pertinent information that your partner might want to be privy to, absence of that sharing does not predicate that you are a bad partner at all; it just makes you a hesitant one. And perhaps, for a good reason.

A good partner should enthusiastically embrace as many aspect of your personhood within reason. And if you feel that your boyfriend will shame you for your past, then that is unbecoming of him as a partner.

Photo by Lisa Hobbs on Unsplash

I think it would be worthwhile to consider why you might want to disclose your sex work history to your partner.

Since we have just established why you don’t feel that it is safe to talk about your camming experience, we will need a better way to determine what you need in order to feel safe to share.

Perhaps a good start to that discussion is by first gauging how his real-life reaction might be like by bringing up a similar experience someone else might have had. This accomplishes two goals. First is that it takes the burden off of you since you’d be talking about someone else’s experience. But more importantly, this helps you gather more data on how he might react if this did apply to you. This would provide valuable data for your current relationship predicament.

Another valuable exercise that you can implement today is to shadowbox and project what that safe space might even look like. Imagine in your head what context you need in order for you to feel safe talking about your sex work history. What level of trust do you feel that you need to preemptively establish with your partner? Does this take place in a one-on-one setting or with other loved one in attendance? Better fleshing out what that type of dialogue might look like should help you do the necessarily emotional labor associated with the actual dialogue itself.

You should only have to share that which you feel comfortable sharing. And if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your history (and you aren’t even sure how to get to that level of comfort), you should know that your boyfriend is absolutely not at all entitled to know every aspect of your sexual or professional experience.

I also want to touch on possibility of videos and pictures that might be posted on internet without your permission.

I strongly urge you to contact organizations like March Against Revenge Porn, Without My Consent, and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) to help take down those videos from websites who published your contents without your explicit consent. Doing so will greatly alleviate the anxiety you feel about not just your boyfriend but all the people who are non-consensually engaging with unethical sexual material online.

You are not alone.

Good luck.

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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