Welcome to Sex Qs, a weekly column where The Globe’s Amberly McAteer seeks answers to your sex questions, talking to sexperts and regular Canadians alike. Have a question? Fire away: firstname.lastname@example.org (All questions will be published anonymously.)
The question: I recently ended a six-month relationship with a girl I really liked. We were monogamous and called each other boyfriend and girlfriend. We were pretty serious, and she had talked about spending the rest of her life with me. But one huge problem stood in the way: Her body odour – and even worse, her sexual body odour – was intolerable. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I really struggled with it, but finally decided against pursuing the relationship further. Now she thinks I was just using her for sex. Should I have told her? Should I tell her now?
The answer: Something stinks here, and it’s not your ex-girlfriend. This problem is all yours, my friend. It’s trite, but it’s true: Honesty is always the best policy.
Not only do you owe this girl an apology, but you owe one to all future men she beds. By not bringing the problem to her attention, you’ve passed the buck on to the next man. Sure, telling someone the truth is uncomfortable – but once it’s out there, all parties can breathe easier.
I know it can also be an onerous task, even with a stranger: Your tag is sticking out, you’ve got dill in your teeth, or, as I wish someone would have told me recently, your dress is tucked into your underwear. If it were you, you’d want to know. If your sexual odour was so bad that it warrants a partner writing into an advice column, you’d want to know, even if it means popping up from under the covers and saying, “You’re great, but I can’t tolerate your smell.”
It’s all the more difficult, and important, to be honest with someone you love. Great relationships are exceedingly hard to find, and if she’s perfect for you in every other way, being honest about her flaws is the best thing to do. By being straight up with someone, you send a message – “I’m telling you this because I care deeply.” You’d hurt her, but only for a brief time, like ripping off a bandage. In the long run, the truth offers a lifetime of happiness (or, at least, tolerable scent).
And there’s this: Your ex-lover’s odour could be caused by a sexually transmitted infection, so you should both get checked out by a doctor – that should be reason enough to tell the truth. Tell her you’ve been doing some thinking, you miss her and you want to be honest.
Personally, I’ve been on the hurtful side of the truth. It stings, but it did indeed set me free. Years ago, on a romantic anniversary celebration, my then-boyfriend, never delicate in his delivery, told me I needed to lose 10 pounds. “I love you,” he said, with a smile, as we lay in bed. “You’re very attractive, but you could be really sexy.”
In the moment, he was the worst boyfriend imaginable. But here’s the thing: He was being honest because he loved me. Now the proverbial stank was out in the open, and it was now my call. (There’s a chance your lady will say she likes her smell.)
In the end, I wasn’t going to change – I’m sexy and I know it, thank you – and he wanted a curveless stick figure as his girlfriend.
Now I look at that one cold conversation as a blessing. I wanted a boyfriend who liked books, but I had one whose car manuals constituted bedtime reading. I’d never had the ball bearings to say that to him – what saved us was his dose of truth.
Still, how exactly you broach your odorous olfactory observation – under the sheets, after the deed, or while nonchalantly deodorant shopping – was a mystery to me. So I called a guru of truth telling, Dr. Brad Blanton, who speaks to me from a dirt road in Virginia. He’s the bestselling author of Radical Honesty: How To Transform Your Life By Telling The Truth, wherein he claims that the best relationships are completely honest: no white lies, no fibs, nada.
Blanton speaks to me in a charming country, honest-to-goodness, “y’all come back now” fashion. His sweet chuckle after just about everything he says makes truth-telling sound pretty easy.
“In my considered professional opinion, he’s stupid!” he quips. “If he told her the truth, then she could smell better or he could wear a goddamned nose plug!”
Blanton advises you to call your ex-lady immediately: It’s not the smell that caused you to break up, he says, but your cowardice to tell the truth.
All you needed to say during your first bedtime encounter, he claims, was, “I think you’re real pretty, but you stink.”
I laugh – but there’s no Southern chuckle in reply. He’s serious. “I recommend you hurt people’s feelings, and stick with them until they get over their hurt feelings.”
So call her, right now. This is a win-win: Either she’ll think you’re lying (you’ve got nothing to lose) or she’ll be hurt, get over it, do something about her smell and come back to you. Apologize for not being honest initially, tell her the ugly truth as gently and directly as possible (a sweet drawl might help). Take a nice, deep breath – and clear the air.