I’ve been doing a lot of reading on reddit and came across a guy asking about sex videos and nude pictures he had made while still together with his ex. The premise was that he and his current girlfriend were discussing the possibility of making a sex video, something she had never done. When asked whether he had ever made sex videos before, he told her that he had and that those videos were still in his possession. His current girlfriend didn’t approve of this, and so he was asking reddit whether or not he had an obligation to delete them.
Reading through the comments, it amazed me just how many people were of the opinion that he should delete the videos and pictures for one of two reasons: 1) because the relationship with the ex was over; and 2) because the current girlfriend didn’t approve. People kept saying that consent to have the pictures only lasts for the duration of the relationship on the one hand, and that if the current girlfriend has a problem with their existence then of course they need to be deleted on the other. Both of these viewpoints baffle me.
I don’t understand the concept of “consent only while in the relationship”. How are sex videos or nude pictures different from love letters, trinkets, or intimate emails and texts? If I give something to a person with whom I’m in a relationship, I give it to them because I trust them and want them to have it, because I’m willing to expose myself to that person in all my vulnerability. Yes, a sex video can be an intimate thing. But so too can a note left on the table or even a teddy bear under the right circumstances. Why make a distinction for sex videos with regard to what one can keep after a relationship and what one absolutely must dispose of?
I’ll give you an example. I once wrote a short book in a Moleskin for someone I cared deeply about. In it I wrote things about my past, provided detailed descriptions of my perspective of the world, share things that I had shared with very few people—or in some cases with no one at all. It wasn’t a sexual book, but it sure as fuck was intimate.
And then came the point where I wouldn’t have discussed such intimate things with the receiver of the book, let alone given the book as a gift. And I’ll be honest, I did at one point think about the book and wish that I hadn’t ever given it. It hurt to think that such tangible proof of my vulnerability was in the hands of someone who could no longer be shown that vulnerability. For a brief moment I considered asking for it back, but I didn’t. Because it wasn’t mine to ask for.
I gave it at a time when we were close enough to warrant such an intimate gift. It was a sign of the trust we had built. And you can’t really give such a gift with a caveat of “but only if we stay this close.” That’s part of what trust is: the conviction that even if there comes a time when you wouldn’t deserve to get this from me, you’ll still treat it with respect and at the very least not share it with others.
Plus, while the physical book may have been what I gifted, I too got something out of it: I proved to myself that I could expose my vulnerability, and that is a priceless gift. If I demand that the book be returned, then I also lose the precious gift that I got. Not to mention that I have no idea what that gift has come to mean to the other person, and just because I wouldn’t give it to them now doesn’t mean I have the right to rob them of whatever memories they associate with it. Again, I don’t see how this would be any different for physical objects than for evidence of coitus or nude pictures. We’re not lending these things out for the duration of a relationship; we’re giving them as gifts.
And what of the current partner who disapproves of me wanting to hold onto such items? Frankly, they don’t really have anything to do with the current partner. These digital records – and everything else one might hold on to – are mementos, and though I may not want to look at them now, what’s to say I might not stumble across them in years or decades and want to take a stroll down memory lane?
I don’t want to delete things that can help me remember the good times and the bad. After all, everything that has happened in my past preceded where I am now, so why should I not be permitted to remember my past with the tools at my disposal at a time of my choosing? I can and should live in the now without forsaking my past, and I would argue that a partner who wants me to get rid of the evidence is probably coming from a place of insecurity.
Just as a current partner doesn’t have the right to ask me to delete or throw away things that constitute a sort of journal, so too do I have no right to ask the same of a partner, for all the same reasons. It’s my partner’s past, and any hurt I might feel as a result of them wanting to retain sex videos with exes is my issue to deal with and my insecurity to confront, not theirs.
That all being said, the context obviously plays a role. While some hold on to things as a record of where they’ve been, others hold onto things because they can’t let go or are still hung up on someone. In such cases, getting rid of stuff can be cathartic and is sometimes the only way to move forward. But even in these cases the things should not be discarded because the current partners wants them gone, but because that’s what I feel I need to do to finally move on.
In the end, things people give me – from videos and photos to jewelry, books, letters and any other conceivable gift – are mine to do with as I please. And if a partner expects me to erase my past for their sake, to pretend that I don’t have my own independent history, well, then we’re probably not going to make it in the long run. But I’ll keep the things they give me too.