Should I Disclose the Number of Sexual Partners I’ve Had In the Past?

Should I Disclose the Number of Sexual Parthners I've Had In the Past?

I’ve been reading for a while, and I find myself hopping on your blog whenever I meet a new guy or am faced with a new situation. But have yet to find something to address my question, given all the differences in the way men and women view sex and relationships and communication: What are the rules about disclosing your number of sexual partners and should it matter?

Now of course I think about this more so in a safety sense, not that I need to know how many girls a guy has slept with but more so I want to know that he is safe for me to sleep with. Inevitably though, this question of numbers comes up and I always hate when my number is higher than his or significantly lower. I know it sounds silly but it’s hard to know what a man is thinking when you share this type of thing. Is it better to just keep it to yourself? Do numbers really matter?

Megan

Dear Megan,

LOVE YOU for asking this question. As always, my opinion is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree. (And I know you will!)

So, like the whole “Who Pays” thing, there are different rules for men and women. Mainly because the sexual double standard is alive and well. I don’t endorse this. I report this.

The average number of partners a man purports to have in a lifetime is around 11. The average number of partners a woman purports to have is closer to 6. Of course, this is not true.

Says Dr. Norman Brown of the University of Alberta:

“Every time a man has sex with a woman, a woman has to have sex with a man. So either there are some very lucky joes out there or someone is not getting their numbers right,” Brown said.

I know I haven’t answered your question, Megan, but I thought I would puncture a hole in the “men are promiscuous/women are chaste” thing. If a man’s sleeping with a woman, a woman’s sleeping with a man and everybody’s numbers are going up. So there.

And as far as I’m concerned it is NOBODY’S BUSINESS HOW MANY PEOPLE YOU’VE SLEPT WITH.

And as far as I’m concerned it is NOBODY’S BUSINESS HOW MANY PEOPLE YOU’VE SLEPT WITH.

Similarly, it’s none of your business how many people he’s slept with. This is a classic “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation, on par with “Are you dating anyone else right now?” and “Have you ever had a drug fueled orgy with six Polynesian dwarves?” If you say yes, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do, and frankly, you shouldn’t have to explain….

Before you jump all over me, this is not the same as “Do you have any STDs?” That is a pointed and specific health-related question, where full disclosure is essential. But some guy can sleep with 100 women and not get herpes and some woman can go down on one guy and get herpes. And although one’s odds certainly do go up with multiple sexual partners, a number doesn’t necessarily reveal any greater truths.

Take me. I’ve had a pretty decent single run (more than 10, less than Wilt Chamberlain), but have NEVER had unprotected sex with a non-girlfriend. Is that better or worse than a guy who has slept with eight women but never used a condom?

I recall one well-meaning woman who asked me on our first date what my “number” was. I laughed and told her it was none of her business. She playfully said that she could handle it. I playfully told her that it was irrelevant: I was with her at this moment, and my past history bore little relevance. The more I refused to answer, the more she dug in. Finally, she said, “Whatever you say, it won’t bother me. As long as the number is less than X.” And when I gave her a look that revealed that her guesstimate was low, her jaw dropped. Way to not judge me!

Years ago, my best friend went out with a woman in her mid-30’s who confessed that she’d been with over 30 men in her life. My friend FREAKED out, because his number was lower than hers, and because he couldn’t bear to picture her being pounded by 30 different guys. I told him he was being ridiculous. If this woman was never married, never dated a guy for more than a year, and was exclusive with a new boyfriend every six months, she will easily top 30 men at that age. Sleeping with fifteen people in the year after your divorce is a lot more promiscuous than sleeping with thirty people in your whole life.

Thus, a man has no right to know your number, lest he judge you by a different standard than he judges himself. If he insists, give him a little white lie. It’s none of his business and he doesn’t deserve the truth. Seriously. As long as you’re not sleeping with anyone while you’re dating him, whatever you did in your past is between you and your conscience.

As long as you’re not sleeping with anyone while you’re dating him, whatever you did in your past is between you and your conscience.

So Megan, it’s not that numbers don’t matter. It’s that they can be deceiving. Questions about numbers only beget more questions and create more insecurity. The only thing you need to know about his sexual past is whether he’s disease free. If he is, judge him for his merits, his efforts towards you, and how he treats you.

But certainly don’t get on his case because he had a successful sex life for the fifteen adult years before he met you.

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Comments:

  1. 1
    Marc

    We NEVER want to know your number, and you’d be best served not to ask us ours. I always assume that if a woman is in her thirties, she’s been boned a bunch so the number is probably not something I need to hear out loud. Nothing positive can come from it. All I need to know is that she’s disease free.

  2. 2
    Steve

    Forget the number of sex partners, what about asking about the number of relationships? Whenever I am asked this question by women over 35 I feel as if I am at a job interview and the HR rep just asked me for a list of references.

  3. 3
    BeenThruTheWars

    I love Evan’s answer! You could say, “More than one and fewer than Britney Spears.” Or the D.C. Madam. Or whatever promiscuous celeb you want to pick on. I would say Xaviera Hollander — “The Happy Hooker” — but no one remembers who she is anymore and I’d be dating myself. ;-)

  4. 4
    Craig

    Please tell me Megan is not this niave. If the issue is solely safety, what the hell are you asking his number for? The only thing that can definitively decide how safe he is would be a full panel of STD testing. As Evan points out a person with 100 protected partners can be disease free and a person with just one unprotected encounter can have a pretty bad bug.

    My girlfriend wanted to know my number and I refused. Keep in mind she asked this after having my negative test results in hand, thus making safety concerns irrelevant. She kept pressing and I refused. Finally she got upset that I thought she’d judge me and that I didn’t feel comfortable and secure enough to tell her anything. So I relented and told her. She got upset and started crying over her obvious horror at the number. The moral of the story is when a woman asks you to tell her your number and says she won’t care no matter what the answer – she’s lying. So don’t do it if you know what’s good for you.

  5. 5
    Steve


    As Evan points out a person with 100 protected partners can be disease free and a person with just one unprotected encounter can have a pretty bad bug.

    That happened to a friend of my older sister. She lost her virginity to a college football player and got AIDS at the same time.

    I agree with the idea of getting into a relationship first where there is enough trust to ask ( and get your own ) fresh STD tests and evaluate your *friend on they treat you currently

  6. 6
    Andrea

    Thank you.

  7. 7
    Damie

    Amen. I’ve had relationships before where we thought it was best to disclose EVERYTHING. Talk about an argument waiting to happen! But now with my fiance we decided at the very beginning that we would rather not know. We both got tested for STDs and left it at that. Honestly it shouldn’t matter how experienced or inexperienced your partner is. And numbers are just numbers that don’t really mean a thing.

  8. 8
    Selena

    I had a bf who claimed not to care what my *number* was–until times he had too much to drink and would throw it in my face in a derogatory way. This despite he himself claimed to have had too many partners to count back in his younger, single days.

    The older you get, and the more years you have spent in between long term relationships, the higher your number might be. And that is not necessarily an indication of promiscuity at all.

    I’m all for honesty, but asking someone’s number is irrelevant to health issues, it is pruient curiosity plain and simple. Now in my 40’s, hopefully I will meet someone secure (and mature) enough not to ask such a question. But if it happens, my answer will be, “Enough”. And I will firmly leave it at that.

  9. 9
    hunter

    I used to ask how many partners before me, back in the days, when, I didn’t know much about relationships…nowadays, I have better questions to ask….

  10. 10
    downtowngal

    Y’know, I think it IS someone’s business if you agree to share your life with that person. Not on the first date of course, but as you get to know each other and build trust, I think it’s a fair question to know the other person’s sexual history, as long as you want to know for the right reasons, and not as a way to measure your ego or as a way to test the other person.

    While I admit the question seems less important the older you get, if it’s important for your partner to konw I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Especially these days with AIDS and STD’s flying around.

  11. 11
    Markus

    I have to agree with Hunter. Before I got married this was a big deal to me. I should note that I was raised Catholic and still retain some of those values. At the time my number was about 7 (I was 25). Since my divorce, it’s been a bunch and I don’t count. I don’t care. All that matters to me is the prize I’m chasing which I haven’t found yet. I’m 38 and, frankly, very horny and sexual. I assume that my female partner is in a similar situation and has made some mistakes. I think the don’t ask/don’t tell policy is best. That said, if I was asked I don’t know that “I wasn’t counting” would go over well so I might pull a number between 10-20 out of the air. As has been said, the disease part is the important stuff.

  12. 12
    Kat Wilder

    I can’t see any good in asking, “How many people have you slept with?” What is the purpose in asking anyway. It takes one time to lose virginity, and someone can screw 100 people and still not be a good lover.

    No one’s asked me, I haven’t asked, and if a guy asked me, I’d have to wonder if it’s going to come back in my face from him one day … which is a much bigger issue than the number of my sexual “conquests.”

  13. 13
    Selena

    WHY is it anyone’s business? Having an STD (or not) is not dependent on previous # of partners. What would be the “right” reasons for wanting such information?

  14. 14
    SWF42

    I will never never never understand why people think they have to know this, or that even if the person they ask deigns to answer, that it’s an HONEST answer.

    You need to know the other person is healthy. That’s it. Numbers are for math class and bank accounts.

  15. 15
    FD11

    You know, it could just be way Evan phrased it while the real study only asked regarding heterosexual encounters, but the average man could actually have 11 sex partners while the average woman has only 6 with no one lying.

  16. 16
    mrs. vee

    Just a slightly shifted perspective: I’ve had more than my share… more than 10 and probably more than Britney… on different continents, in subways, vans and kitchens… on the sand, in the water, on tree stumps…with many whose names I can’t recall. I loved my freewheeling sex days, and look back on them with nostalgia.

    (Safe) adventurous sex was a big part of me, and now that I’m married, I don’t talk about numbers or my experiences with my husband, who comes from more wholesome stock (so I assume).

    I gotta tell you, sometimes I feel like I’m concealing a vital part of myself from him, just for his comfort. And it feels a little deceptive.

    I married him for better or worse. Been faithful for years. We share the rich stories of our past. Sometimes I feel my sexual history (in the context of storytelling and in the name of having intimate knowledge of one another) could be his “business”.

    Still, I’m not planning on telling him any stories in the near future.

  17. 17
    Steve

    Everyone is asking why anyone would want to know how many sex partners ( notice “sex partners” not relationships ) a mate has had.

    The only good reason, as everyone is agreeing upon, is STD prevention and that is not even a good reason. A current medical test is much more helpful. If you don’t feel safe suggesting you and your partner/incipient partner go get one…given what has been in the news the last 20 years, it may be time to move onto someone else.

    Now for the bad reasons to want to know

    Emotionally masochistic men with low self esteem might want to know as some men consider their personal worth as men to be dependent on the number ( as high as possible ) of women they have slept with. It is a blow to their ego if his partner has had more. These men need to analyze what they think about these things and work on their self esteem.

    Eventhough everyone claims “sex is ok” part of many people, men and women somehow feel people who have done it “a lot” ( a lot more than they have ) to be a dirty person. These people need to reevaluate what their moral beliefs are.

    Just when you thought we were done with the dating and job hunting comparisons there are people who really look at the two situations in a similar light. If an employer sees a very long work history with very short stays at a job that employer will likely pass on that applicant. S/he will believe that since that applicant had many jobs before that s/he is less likely to stick with the current one. People who have a tendency to think about their partners in this way need to learn how to judge people, trust their partners, and face fear.

  18. 18
    Marni

    Why does everyone assume that people want to know their partner’s number because of STDs? For me, I think someone’s number is an interesting perspective into the person’s views on sex. Call me conservative, but I have rarely had sex outside of a serious relationship, and as such my number is pretty low. In turn, I tend to date guys who also view sex as something more than a fun Friday night activity with that cute girl they met at the bar, and as such, my current beau also has a fairly low number. And I had no problem telling him my number as I do happen to think it is his business, as he had no problem telling me his.

    Before everyone jumps down my throat and mentions the girl who was a slut in college and a reborn again virgin in grad school, or the guy who slept with 30 women to get over his ex, obviously everyone’s story and consequent history is different. But if I am going to be just another notch on some jaded guy’s bedpost, then I would rather skip it. Forget STDs, I don’t want to sleep with someone who has slept with dozens of other people because it just cheapens the experience.

  19. 19
    Selena

    Marni,

    You illustrate the point that it is people with a fairly low number who find this question relevant. And also that people with a fairly low number WANT to know that whomever they choose to sleep with has a number in the vicinity of their own.

    Since you are willing to have sex without marriage, as you get older, you may find you number increases simply because you didn’t *stay* with any one of your partners for your lifetime. I doubt you would then say about yourself, that you had so many it cheapened the experience. Yet, you sure are ready to make that judgement on others.

    And no matter how low you think YOUR number is, there are going to be people out there who would make judgements on why you slept with as many men as you did. Let’s hope you don’t run into them, so you can stay atop your particular high horse.

    1. 19.1
      HI

      I’ve noticed all the people with high numbers have a problem with people with low numbers asking. First of all, you don’t even know how old Marni is. She could be an older person. There are many people who are older and experienced, but have very low counts (maybe even only had 2 partners). I feel it is important to know the persons number. It tells you a lot about the person, their past/current experiences and potential future behavior, in addition to many other things. If you feel the need to hide something like that, then maybe you should find someone more accepting about your previous and current decisions. There’s almost someone out there for almost everybody. I’m a very honest person and I like directness. You should provide the one your dating with information they requested and allow them to make their own educated decision. We all judge one another to a certain extent in this world, whether it’s minor or major, so get the f**k over it.

  20. 20
    she clubs

    Now, I’m a self-proclaimed slut who’d never judge a person on the # of partners s/he’s had, but I still can appreciate Marni’s point of view. I would never bitterly refer to her as being on a high horse.

    Let her have her standards. If you didn’t agree with them on some level, you wouldn’t feel insulted by them. I totally disagree with her approach to sex. I believe you can still find quality in quantity, but that’s precisely why it don’t let her p.o.v bother me. She’d probably judge me too, but so what? It’s not like I respect her way of thinking anyway.

    Obviously, her point of view touched a sore spot for you.

  21. 21
    Markus

    Clubs,

    “How you doin’?”

  22. 22
    verbosity

    This one’s funny….take 2/3 whatever a guy says as the accurate number. Take whatever a woman says & multiply it by at least 3. Let the games begin…

  23. 23
    The truth

    The guys and I always laugh at these lifetime average numbers “11” for men “6” for women. Their must be a lot of people having no sex partners at all. In my forties and never having been married, does a woman really want to know I’ve been with hundreds of partners ? Is she better than me as she goes through her 3rd divorce ? Thankfully I’ve never been asked THE question recently but I remember when I was younger and women would ask I would always say “3” …and laugh…LOL

  24. 24
    hunter

    …..all these people who had numerous partners,,,I am salivating…..

  25. 25
    Ha

    I think your answer stinks! I think the answer about how many partners a person has addresses not only the STD question, but other issues as well, such as what are one is looking for in another person, in a relationship, what is that person’s values? If someone has had 30 sexual encounters in the past 2 years or past 15 years, I want to know about it not only for the possible STDs, but because I think this person may have some mental issues: incapable of committing to another person; too quick to jump into bed with the first person of the opposite sex; an inability to have any values.

  26. 26
    sheseizereason

    Not that I agree with above’s condemnation of a person who’s had 30 partners, but I must say that I agree that the # of partners in one’s history can reveal character traits and other important insights into the person beyond STD risk.

  27. 27
    Jennifer

    I would want to know a (ballpark) number if it were a guy I was serious with. There would be no right or wrong answer; I just want to know the person as well as possible and that includes all aspects of their life. I would also ask them if they ever broke their arm playing sports as a kid, not so I can judge whether or not they are accident prone or something silly like that, but just so I can know them. Sex, experience and relationships are such an important and huge part of people’s lives (mine anyway) it would seem strange not to ask about it at some point. Asking on a first date or something like that is a different story altogether.

  28. 28
    Jessica

    I personally don’t want to know the answer to the “numbers” question, as I feel it would likely just make me uncomfortable – if his numbers were either significantly higher or lower than mine and in truth, I wouldn’t want to feel pressured to have to answer the same question. Some of the people “within my numbers” I feel were a good idea and worth the experience and what we both got out of it. And then there were some that weren’t ultimately. I assume many people feel that way. I think you can discuss whether you’ve been very active or not so much, if it is important to you – better if important to you both – to get an idea of what kind of person someone is. And I also think you can stipulate that you don’t want either of you to be sleeping with someone else if/while the two of you are doing the horizontal hula together. This is slightly off topic, but I had a blind date (set up through a friend who it turns out didn’t know him all that well after all) who started quizzing me on how many guys I’d dated on Match.com (note, was on this site for several years off and on and I don’t even know how many I corresponded or went out with and I am not a super hottie like many women who go out non-stop) before I had even met him. This was on the phone. And then he said he wanted me to not see anyone else. To me, these were giant red flags that he might be controlling and most likely was very insecure. Needing to know something and being insistent about it can mean that you have an insecurity. PLEASE NOTE: I am not saying that needing to know “the numbers” means you are insecure. I guess for me, the WHY it is so important for a person to know has a lot to do with whether or not they should ask. I don’t believe anyone OWES you those figures, however. Like anything else, if it is important to you and you feel you have good reason to want and/or need to know, then it would be prudent and perhaps, even imperative, to find someone who feels similarly and just go with it. As to STD’s – yes, you definitely want to know on this score and I would suggest you both show test results, in writing. People can be untruthful about anything they want to be, and not always with malicious intent. You also might have something and not know it, so if get tested when relationship is looking promising (or even, just fooling around is looking so), then you do yourself a favor as well as your partner by getting current results. Have found after being a person who tended towards full disclosure for most of my life – in trying to make sure I was really being me : ) – that holding back some little things (not lying though) really is beneficial and that beyond common courtesy and respect, nobody owes you anything. I’d add fidelity, but that is just me and even that isn’t owed unless you have a commitment and have both agreed that is part of it.

    On A Side Note: I have read a lot of comments on this blog and am impressed with several people in particular, and the whole blog and articles as a whole.

    Steve: you sound like a very enlightened, hip guy and I agree with many of your posts.

    Also, a HUGE thank you to Evan for putting himself out there (the bloggers, too) and for providing us with a great deal of wisdom, advice, and food for thought and making it accessible to those of us who can’t afford a personal dating coach.

  29. 29
    Melissa

    My boyfriend told me his number and it made me feel sick in the stomach…55! I wish I didn’t know, he was only 24 when I met him. We’re now engaged but I can tell you that even if he hadn’t told me how many people he’d slept with in the past I would have found out by now anyway. Little things always pop up like an old “friend” will add him to Facebook from when he was travelling. I also found out he had an non serious STD in the past which is gone now but really the truth comes out in the end if you’re with someone long enough, even if you try and hide your past. I hate the number but I love him so I try to put it out of my mind which is very hard, especially when he still keep in contact with some of them.

  30. 30
    Michael Ejercito

    Men who ask women how many partners they have been with are men who are not getting any.

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