Tell Me About It

A junior colleague I had an affair with is blackmailing me with nude photos

Tell Me About It: I told him that any attempt to publish the pictures online would be illegal, but I don’t know if I can take the risk

PROBLEM: I am a senior professional in a hospital. Some months ago I slept with a junior member of staff who is on a temporary contract.

I have been sexually frustrated for some time. I am in a most unsatisfactory marriage with little love or affection. We have two small children, and I don’t want a divorce as I don’t want our children to have the experience that I had as a child of separation. I think my husband sticks with the marriage as he wants us both to be a complete part of the children’s lives. We have established an amicable way to live together without causing upset to the children.

I am not used to drinking and regretted the incident immediately. I have never had a fling before, and it was meaningless. The guy I slept with barely mentioned it again until last week, when he reminded me in passing that his temporary contract is coming to an end and insinuated that I could influence his permanency.

I ignored this initially, but he later mentioned that he had taken some nude photos of me during our encounter together, which he showed me. He told me that I was fit and that I shouldn’t be ashamed if these pictures went on social media. I told him that he was blackmailing me and that any attempt to publish these online would be illegal. However, I don’t know if I can take the risk. My husband would leave the marriage straight away if he discovered this. My professional reputation would be in tatters. I don’t know where to turn.

ADVICE: There are a number of issues here: your work reputation, your relationship with your husband and your own sense of justice in relation to the blackmailer. You have little affection and sex in your married life and the presence of drink and an attraction led to you sleeping with someone who later turned out to be less than honourable or discreet. Had this incident not happened, it is still likely that you and your husband would have had to address your relationship and the consequences of a marriage without sexual connection. The two of you agree that providing a safe and secure home for your children is the most important thing, and this is admirable. However, you need to address your relationship: is fidelity required or is discretion enough? Is the problem that you slept with someone else or that it is likely to be broadcast?

If you do not have a discussion with your husband now, does this mean that you never intend to sleep with someone else again, or do you think that your desire for affection will take over at another time?

If you control how the story gets out, you may be able to alleviate the consequences, but it would take a lot of courage for you to stand up to the blackmailer. This person may well continue to make demands beyond the current one, and you must question whether you are prepared for this eventuality.

Revenge porn – where a jilted lover puts nude pictures on social media sites – is becoming more prevalent. If these are not stood up to, we are acquiescing to being blamed and punished for having sexual relationships. The person in the wrong is the blackmailer, not you, and he is the person who needs to face judgment. Ultimately you will have to decide what is best for you and then you will need to live with that decision and not continuously beat yourself up about the situation you ended up in.

You say you are sure your husband would leave you if he discovered the one-night stand. Does this mean he might have more of a sense of being in a real relationship than you do and so might feel betrayed? Is this worth exploring or are you clear that your marriage is over? This is a crisis for you, but it might also offer you an opportunity to ask what kind of life you are living and whether it is worthwhile. If you give in to the blackmailer, you are agreeing to the status quo, and no doubt you will be confronted with another crisis down the line. This is a tough decision. You will need all of your best characteristics to face it.