DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I got married recently to my husband (whom I’ve known for two years), but I cannot tell him a dark shameful secret from ten years ago when I was a college student. None of my friends know my biggest mistake and regret, there is no one to talk to.
I was an immature and impulsive girl back then, who had a fascination with the porn industry. I took part in four hardcore solo photo and video shoots for a large porn website which is still running today. A Google search can easily return the photographs. They were NOT classy Suicide Girl images… they were degrading and shameful.
Telling my husband is not an option as he is traditional and would be irrevocably hurt. I am aware that I should have told him at the start of our relationship, but sadly that time has passed.
I fear that one of his friends or colleagues will accidentally recognize my photos online and tell him. It gives me a sinking black hole in the pit of my stomach, but I don’t think there is anything I can do. I asked the site owner but he will not delete them.
Should I just go on with life and hope that the worst will never happen? I do not want to tell him unnecessarily if he will never find out. Perhaps it is inevitable that my past will catch up.
I am now also a senior teacher and would accept the consequences of losing my job, but could not bear to lose the trust and respect of my husband.
Thank you for your time,
Ticking Time Bomb
DEAR TICKING TIME BOMB: This is one of those questions where the problem you have shouldn’t be a problem. We live in a profoundly sex-negative society that has a massive double-standard about the sex other people have for our enjoyment. Porn may be the driving force for technology and the Internet and something that almost literally everybody uses… but we’re damned quick to condemn and shame the people who take part in it. It’s slut-shame-y b——-—t that powers hacks like The Fappening and revenge porn sites. We all have a porn studio on our person at all times with modern smartphones and we’re rapidly reaching the point where almost everyone has nude photos of themselves. Erotic performance – whether it’s taking nude photos or videos for the enjoyment of you and your partner or for a mass audience – has become part of how we interact with one another sexually.
The fact of the matter is that what you did isn’t shameful and the fact that society treats sex-work the way it does is an indicator that society is wrong. While I’m totally behind your wishing that you hadn’t done the shoots – or possibly that you’d done them differently – I would say that you shouldn’t look at as something shameful. A poor decision? Possibly. Something to be shamed FOR? Oh hell no.
(There are entire questions about what’s degrading when it comes to sexual performance and whether it’s degrading to the performer or the audience that are considerably more complicated than I can get into in a daily advice column. That being said: if you weren’t hurting other people, then I’m of the opinion that a performance isn’t inherently degrading and channelling your inner Emma Frost can flip the script on people who’d shame you for doing the things they jerked off to…)
Now the fact that society is wrong and it’s society that should be ashamed of the way it treats people who perform in porn doesn’t help you in the here and now. It’s messed up, but we have to deal with the world as it currently exists and not as it should be.
Your situation sucks, TTB because other people suck. So what can you do about it?
Well, as much as I hate to say it, you’re going to have to do is just accept that the images are out there. Because you were taking part in a shoot for someone else – rather than hiring a photographer yourself – you don’t really have much of a legal leg to stand on. You’re not the copyright holder, which means that you don’t really have legal ownership. The copyright holder could, in theory, ask for them to be taken down but that doesn’t mean the site owner would agree to do so. Plus, once something hits the Internet, you (unfortunately) have to accept that it’s out there. Getting porn off the net is like trying to get pee
out of a pool.
But that doesn’t mean that things are hopeless. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you didn’t perform under your real name or that the photos or images don’t show up on a cursory Google search for you, specifically. That gives you a certain amount of anonymity and cover. You did these shoots a decade ago, which is a geological epoch in both Internet and porn time. Seriously: ask a random sampling of people if they know who Savannah was. Odds are that you might get 1 in 40 people who remember her without going to Wikipedia. It’s pretty much impossible to estimate how much porn has been shot and uploaded to the net in general and to that site in particular, especially if it’s large and active. Yeah, the archives may exist but most people aren’t going to go that far back in looking for spank material unless they’re especially looking for it. So just as the best way to hide a leaf is in a forest, the chances of someone accidentally stumbling across your videos is pretty damn remote. It’s not impossible – people get hit by meteorites and win the lottery, after all – but the odds are more in your favor than against you. I think you could just shove this down the memory hole and trust to luck being on your side.
But that chance DOES exist, so it’s worth gaming out what you want to do about it. Think of it as having a contingency plan in place, like planning for a disaster that may never actually come. Part of what gives you that big black hole is the feeling of being powerless. While there’s a lot to be said for letting go and letting God (or the Doctor or Aslan or whatever), doing something that gives you the feeling of control can make a huge difference. Having a plan for dealing with things like the consequences to your job and a script on hand about what to say if you get outed can give you some of that control back.
Or you may prefer to take things in your own hands and just tell your husband now. In a lot of cases, the anticipation can be far worse than the actuality of it. If the anxiety of being outed is burning a hole in the pit of your stomach, it may be worth considering getting out in front of things now, before someone else finds them and comes to him with it. Telling your husband now can be difficult and awkward as all hell, but I suspect he’d have a better response to hearing about it from you than if someone he knows brings it up.
If you do bring it up to him, then I suggest you do it as straightforward and unapologetic as you can – that it was something you did when you were younger and less mature, and while you wouldn’t do it now, it’s part of your past. The last thing I would suggest is apologizing or treating it like it’s shameful. It’s part of what made you who you are today – the woman that he loves and who loves him. It has nothing to do with his trust in you – you did this long before you ever met him.
If it causes him to lose respect for you… well as much as it may hurt now, that may be a sign that this isn’t someone who was right for you. Especially since I’m willing to bet that he, like 99.999% of the population, watches porn himself. And let’s not forget: if his friends find it and bring it to him, then what does that say about them that they were looking for that material? The audience is what creates the market for the material in the first place after all…
As I’m always saying: let he who has two free hands cast the first stone.
Now, with this being said, let’s not discount the possibility that your husband may well surprise you. It could very well be that he won’t take this in stride per say, but not have the apocalyptic response you expect. He may be surprised, even hurt. He may react badly off the bat because society has ingrained a lot of sex-negative crap in all of us and that sort of social programming can be a sort of reflexive response… but given a bit of time to have his reaction and calm down, he may well be more accepting than you expect.
But as I said: the thing to remember is that while other people may try to shame you, you didn’t do anything to be ashamed of. You’d make different choices now, sure, but that means you’ve learned and grown from this and it’s made you who you are today. Remember that. And don’t let the bastards grind you down.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Hey Doc, there are so many questions I could ask you. I’ve decided to instead focus on the single biggest issue I struggle with and hope that, from there, all my smaller issues sort themselves out… How do I stay positive?? I’m almost 24 and a recent college graduate. I have a good job doing something I enjoy. The pay and benefits are nice as well. I have a loving family and a handful of close friends (although very few remain in the same town as me.) I’m actually quite decent looking and girls tell me I’m a lot sweeter than most guys are. The point is, on paper, I know I’m very fortunate.
I’ve also suffered from depression since I was 18 and I’ve been more miserable than ever since graduating college and moving back to my hometown. Day in and day out I go to work and instantly back home. I use Tinder and Bumble every day but have so far only once navigated the “talking phase” and progressed to a first date. I’ve tried attending local group meet ups based on common interests, but have determined that I’m too introverted for group events (yes, even the nerdy group events for those into writing/illustrating comic books.) I never had much of a life in school yet now I absolutely feel like my life is ending. I’ve gone almost the entire year without interacting with anyone my own age, and the revelation that I’m wasting my youth is starting to sink in. My ex-girlfriend who I occasionally still text on a platonic friend level recently told me that I’m “not very good at living in the moment” and that I’m “gonna have the worst midlife crisis ever lol.”
Lol indeed. I still live at home to save money and because I know I’d be even more lonely on my own. Both my parents have jobs in finance, and therefore have a much deeper knowledge of my own bills, bank accounts, and insurance than I do. I’d love to talk to a therapist (and should you reply to this email you may very well suggest that I see one) but as far as I’m concerned that is COMPLETELY out of the question. I’m still on my parents’ health insurance plan (Thanks Obama) and I refuse to seek any kind of help that might inadvertently alert them to my issues. In 6 years of depression the only half-assed attempt I’ve made at seeking help was through purchasing those non-prescription organic mood booster pills they sale at Whole Foods. Pathetic, I know.
One of my best friends who is almost the complete opposite of me personality wise (frat star in college and fitness fanatic, among other bold traits) always tells me that the key to appealing to women is to go through life “as if you’re throwing your own party, and girls you like have the pleasure to be invited. If they don’t want to go, who cares? It’s their loss because your party is AWESOME.” To me, this seems in line with your usual advice about confidence and exuding a fun personality. Trouble is, I have neither. Sure I’ve gotten better at faking it, which has admittedly helped me to begin more conversations with girls online, but I always eventually run into the same problem: I feel like an imposter. I have this naive notion that as a girl and I grow closer it is only right that I reveal more of my authentic self to her. This includes but is not limited to my depression, my inexperience and virginity, my social anxiety, and my negative body image. Obviously I have sense enough not to dump these on people all at once as I just did you, but even my most measured and cool explanations, over time, cause women to lose interest in me. Personally I don’t understand why. Everyone finds flawed characters to be the most compelling in art and history, but in real life it feels like I’ll be forever alone just because I don’t have the looks and, perhaps more importantly, the charm of Dwayne The Rock Johnson.
So Doc, how does one in my position maintain a positive outlook? How can I meet people (preferably girls) and lead a less lonely life? Is my quarter-life crisis a more common thing than people like to admit, and if so how do I deal with it? Where can I find helpful resources/therapy for dealing with depression? Are there any that don’t include complex payments and insurance company BS? I know you’re not a real doctor but what are my options for over the counter anti-depressants? Thanks!!!
Eeyore Is My Patronus
DEAR EEYORE IS MY PATRONUS:This part of your letter leapt out at me, EIMP: “I’d love to talk to a therapist (and should you reply to this email you may very well suggest that I see one) but as far as I’m concerned that is COMPLETELY out of the question.”
Let me ask you something: if you broke your arm, would you go to the doctor? Or would you assume that it’s shameful to have to admit you need professional help and just stick to downing Advil by the handful?
Mental health is serious. It’s not illusory or less real because it’s in your head. It’s not shameful to be dealing with depression, even if your life is great on paper. What you’re feeling is real, and the sort of thing that actual doctors and counselors and therapists are trained to help you with. You aren’t going to get better just by trying to will it or white-knuckle through it. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help; in fact, more often than not, it takes real strength to do so. You need someone with the education and experience to guide you through this, who can help find the treatment and therapies that are right for you. Sometimes it’s cognitive behavioral therapy. Sometimes someone to talk to. And sometimes you need medication.
And as someone who’s dealt with chronic depression, I can tell you from experience: getting on the right antidepressants can change your entire damn life.
So I would suggest you get past the fear of your parents’ discovery that you’re in pain. But if you can’t, there are many cheap, or even free options for getting mental health care out there, ranging from self-directed CBT sites like MoodGym to apps like TalkSpace. But if you’re dealing with depression, then you may well need to talk to a medical professional, especially if you need an antidepressant.
Seriously: depression isn’t just “the blues” and issues like these don’t fix themselves. Don’t be ashamed of needing help. It doesn’t mean that you’re weak or defective. It just means that sometimes you can’t do it all on your own. Just like all of the rest of us.
Talk to a counselor. Talk to a therapist. Talk to your parish priest. But get the help you need. And write back so we know how you’re doing.
Dr. Nerdlove is not a real doctor. Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)