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I Found My Girlfriend’s Sex Tape Online. Should I Tell Her?

Category: Fashion & Style,Lifestyle

Dear Sugars,

My girlfriend made a sex tape over a decade ago. She was aware of being filmed but did not consent to its being released online. She told me about it when we first met (I’m female, too) and made it clear that if she finds out I’ve searched for it, we’re over.

A week ago, I accidentally discovered it on a well-known porn site, after entering broad and generic search terms. It’s been viewed over 15 million times, posted on all the major and minor porn sites worldwide, even edited into GIFs and memes. I was physically sick. Since that moment, I’ve made it my mission to get the tape down by contacting host sites, seeking the help of revenge porn groups and paying professional trackers. I’m considering hiring a private investigator. But there will never be any way of knowing it’s gone forever and that fact is driving me insane. It’s affecting my sleep. When I’m at work, I furiously track down the tape in the bathroom.

But I haven’t told my girlfriend, who is completely oblivious to the fact that this tape is smeared all over the web. She’s an extremely successful businesswoman whose career is set to get bigger. I’m terrified a colleague may see a clip and use it against her. As a survivor of abuse as a child, she has a huge “shame” button, and has coped with an array of self-destructive behaviors. I can’t bear the thought of this unraveling her.

I’m also worried she won’t believe me if I tell her I found it by accident, and will end things. She’s aware that I’m a casual porn viewer, as is she. But I’m cursing myself for even watching porn, and have a permanent lump in my throat every time images of my beautiful but young and vulnerable partner pop into my head, unwelcomed. She’s always told me never to keep secrets from her, and we strive to be open with each other. I feel damned if I tell her, and damned if I don’t.

Silence of the Damned

Steve Almond: I understand why you’re worried about your girlfriend unraveling. But the person unraveling at the moment is you. You’ve become obsessed with images of her vulnerability, and an understandable desire to expunge them from the internet. Just as important, though, is how you can banish these invasive thoughts from your mind. That process can only begin by admitting to your beloved that you stumbled upon the clip. You can certainly offer to help her seek recourse if she wants to pursue that path. But it’s important to recognize how your girlfriend experienced the posting of this tape in the first place, and why it so galls her: because she was given no choice in the matter. It was a violation of her volition as well as her privacy. That’s the feeling she wants to keep at bay: of others acting without her consent. It’s probably why she’s decided to ignore this painful part of her past. But that’s no longer an option for you. Please don’t keep a secret this big and disruptive from the person you love.

Cheryl Strayed: I agree with Steve: You need to tell your girlfriend that you’ve seen the sex tape she made all those years ago. It seems to me that a good part of your agony comes from the fact that you’re carrying it around like your own dark secret, as if this video that’s been seen by millions is a scourge upon the earth that you alone must eradicate. Being transparent about what you inadvertently came upon while perusing internet porn will shift the balance from a problem you have to solve by yourself to one that you and your girlfriend can solve together. And you know what? You may find that she doesn’t want to solve it, or at least not in the way you do. You write that she’s “completely oblivious to the fact that this tape is smeared all over the web,” and yet that can’t be true. She is, after all, the one who told you about its existence on the web. She didn’t want you to search for it because she knows it can be easily found. Perhaps she’s protected herself from this gross violation of her privacy by choosing to ignore it.

SA: The larger tragedy you’re up against is a culture that converts private acts into engines of profit, often via the commodification of young women’s sexuality. Your own consumption of pornography fuels those engines, as does your girlfriend’s, as does mine. That’s something for all of us to think about: Behind every porn clip are real human beings, many of whom come to regret being exposed, regardless of whether they gave consent or received compensation. But in the case of your girlfriend, it’s important to remember that she did nothing wrong beyond trusting a partner who betrayed her. The slimy gears of techno capitalism did the rest. Your job isn’t to save your girlfriend from those gears, but to come clean with her. An intimate relationship can only survive if both parties trust each other enough to tell the whole truth. Confession always carries a risk, but one no greater than silence.

CS: You say you’re worried that your girlfriend will break up with you if you tell her the truth because she’ll believe you’re lying, but I wonder if that fear is founded or if it’s serving as a justification for remaining silent about a subject you know will be painful and embarrassing. Your reluctance is understandable, but you have to move beyond it. You know something that you can’t un-know. So take a deep breath and speak. Tell your girlfriend everything you told us. You’ve clearly acted out of love and concern, Silence. It seems likely your girlfriend will see that too, even if she’s angry at you for watching the video, which you could have — and perhaps should have — opted not to do once you realized what you’d stumbled upon. In the end, your girlfriend might be relieved. The burden of the secret you’ve been carrying ever since you came upon that video is one she’s been carrying for years. Your truth-telling could open a conversation or compel a course of action that would be healing for her to have and take. At the very least, it will tell her she isn’t alone.

SA: In the end, pornography peddles a fantasy, one of sexual abandon devoid of emotion. It can only excite the glands. It can’t touch the heart. That’s where you must aim, Silence. Speak to your girlfriend, not just to tell her what you’ve seen, but to affirm what your letter tells us, which is how much you love her.

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