Paris Hilton’s now infamous sex tape, One Night In Paris made millions after being ‘leaked’ online by her ex. Picture: Reuters

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.

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 recognise 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.

New York Times