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Sex

The Sexual Secrets Men and Women Hide from Their Partners

Both men and women have sexual secrets, but they tend to hide different things.

Key points

  • Some people keep sexual secrets, but the types of secrets held and reasons for secrecy differ across gender.
  • Women are more likely to report keeping sex secrets because they don't think their partner would understand.
  • Men are more likely to report keeping sex secrets because they don't think their partner would approve of their behavior.
Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock
Source: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock

When people describe the traits they want in a romantic partner, honesty usually comes in near the top of the list. However, even though we want partners who will always tell us the truth, many of us hide things in our relationships, especially about our sex lives.

So how many people are keeping sex secrets? What are they hiding? And why are they keeping this information from their partners?

A recent study published in the journal Sexuality & Culture sought to find out. Researchers surveyed 195 college students about their sexual secrets. Participants completed a 39-item online survey about the number and type of sexual secrets they were holding, their reasons for hiding this information, and their previous experiences disclosing those secrets.

It turned out that more than one-third of participants (36%) said they held at least one sex secret in their current or most recent romantic relationship. However, more than half (55%) said they had revealed a sex secret to a partner at some point in the past.

Participants reported having secrets about a wide range of things; however, the types of secrets people held differed based on their gender. For women, the most common things they hid from their partners were: 1) history of sexual victimization, 2) having emotionally cheated on a significant other, 3) interest in BDSM, 4) pornography use, and 5) enjoyment of sex toys.

The most common things they hid for men included: 1) pornography use, 2) having previously had a threesome, and 3) having emotionally cheated on a significant other.

Men’s and women’s reasons for keeping sex secrets also differed. Specifically, women were more likely to report keeping secrets because they felt their partners would not understand; by contrast, men were more likely to keep secrets because they thought their partner would disapprove of their behavior. Given that men and women tended to hold different kinds of secrets, it makes sense that their motivations for hiding that information would differ.

Other reasons for keeping sex secrets included fearing that their partner would divulge the secret to others, being ashamed, and worrying that it would end the relationship.

When secrets were disclosed, this happened most commonly via a face-to-face discussion, followed by disclosure over phone or text message. However, some participants reported that their secrets were disclosed by others (including friends, family members, and exes), that they surfaced on social media, or were accidentally discovered while going through their partner’s things.

For the most part, people reported positive experiences when disclosing sex secrets, with many saying that their partner appreciated the disclosure and felt relieved. Although less common, some reported experiencing partner disapproval, feeling regret, and/or experiencing a breakup as a result.

Of course, these findings are limited in the sense that only US college students were studied. It is possible (and likely) that the kinds of sex secrets people hold (and their reasons for having them) may change with age. They may also vary considerably across cultural contexts.

That said, these findings suggest that it is not uncommon for people to keep sexual secrets in their relationships and that there are myriad reasons for holding certain information back. However, the fact that people reported more positive than negative experiences sharing their secrets suggests that there is often benefit and value in being honest about one’s sexual past.

Facebook image: Drazen Zigic/Shutterstock

References

Fox, K., Ashley, A. M., Ritter, L. J., Martin, T., & Knox, D. (2021). Gender Differences in Sex Secret Disclosure to a Romantic Partner. Sexuality & Culture.

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