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. 181
    Sparkling Emerald

    How about instead of telling “the truth”, just preferring not to share it ?
    I find it irritating that people want  with someone with “no baggage” and then want to pry that baggage open.
    Leave it alone.  I don’t care how many women a man has had BEFORE me, it’s what he does AFTER me that I care about.  (As long as he has a clean bill of health)
     

  2. 182
    The_Soothsayer

    Sparkling Emerald #186
    I quite see your point. However, I am only judging on my day as a teenager in the late 50’s. I don’t think things have changed that much. The main topic of conversation for men over a beer was sport and how many women he had bedded. In most cases the description of the girl was very explicit. Unfortunately, this led to specific girls being targeted, not because they were attractive, but because they were an easy lay. From my observations, I don’t think bedding guys was a particular topic for women. What I am trying to illustrate is guys look at sex as another notch in their gun, to brag about. Amazingly, all these guys still wanted a virgin for their wife. I think it just comes down to a different prospective for males and females. As Cat #184 stated, men tend to inflate their true numbers, where women tend to deflate theirs. Doesn’t this sort of illustrate that women expect a high number with males where males expect a low number with females.

  3. 183
    Cat

    @186 – there was no “prying” in mine & my husband’s discussion. It was pretty uneventful. All of my friends know their husband’s “number” – it’s not uncommon at all. 

  4. 184
    JB

    @Cat188 All of my friends know their husband’s “number” – it’s not uncommon at all
    Anyone only knows the “number” someone tells you which I can assure you probably isn’t the truth. It’s a number everyone lies about thus making it meaningless. Why? It could never be proven.

  5. 185
    cat

    @JB – Very true, there is no way to verify the actual number. My point was more about the fact that everyone I know has had the discussion with their S.O. at some point or another. Whether everyone lies or doesn’t wasn’t my point. I was also pointing out that most people that I know didn’t view the discussion as an invasion of privacy or totally off limits or that it was “prying”. Just stating it is very common.

  6. 186
    The_Soothsayer

    @cat #190 Congratulations Cat! Wish my wife was like you and the people you know.
     

  7. 187
    The_Soothsayer

    Surely, asking the number, isn’t that confirming it is important to the individual? If it is not important, it would not be mentioned.

  8. 188
    True Blue

    Agree with the non-disclosure part. My new girlfriend told me not only how many men she has been with but proceeded to tell me in great detail what she did with them. This one did x to her in a car, this other did x with her at work. She called this guy up and they did x. The straw that broke the camel’s back was hearing—as I had my arms around her watching TV—about how many times she hit the big O with a guy she picked up on the internet.
    Ugh.
    Told her she has a problem with over sharing, but the damage was already done.
    Back to the article—well done by the way—I think that some people are sexually modest. I am a man who is 45-ish and has only had five partners my whole life. Monogamy is my world. 
    As such I would prefer to be with a like-minded woman. Not because I am prone to jealousy, but because it shows me she is looking for something that lasts more than a short while. There are a lot of serial daters out there. Which is fine, but it is not for me.

  9. 189
    Scott

    I would not want to marry a virgin.  But I don’t want to know my wife’s number, either.  As others have stated, the only number that really matters is the number of people you expect to sleep with while you are married.  That number had better be 1.  For both of us.  Or I don’t want to be married to that person.  Any other number is irrelevant to my marriage. YMMV.

  10. 190
    The_Soothsayer

    Let’s be realistic. If a person is promiscuous before partnering or marriage, they are very likely to be after. Partnering is not a magic wand that changes a person’s personality. That only happens in fairy tales!

  11. 191
    Abby

    I must comment. The author of this article is very very very (I could go on) wise. This is your opinion but I agree 100%. Thank you for this advice. 

  12. 192
    Eva

    Whoa ..wait a sec ..what about love?  Why would anyone spend time with someone unless they love them.   When i read this ..it feels like everyone is living in their ego’s.   And, not in a higher state of consciousness.  What i mean really is that having multitudes of partners whether at the same time or throughout one’s life feels like filling a void of some sort.  Everybody judges or a better word is discern.  We all have the right to discern.  We all have the right to feel whatever way we feel.   I think will power is important.  Saying no..i don’t want to do this to myself because i have dignity.  What about people’s feelings?  Are all of you Americans or is this an international thread?  Just curious.  I read a study recently that said that Americans are too dominate in bed and were listed at the bottom for being great lovers.  It is really true in a way.  The Spanish were listed at the top.  I am an American and can relate to being with guys who were this way ..all of them.  After traveling around the world and culturally speaking, being intimate with someone is important.  And, learning how to be in relationships is important.   If someone has 50 partners ..is that a sign or wake-up to being a little over sexed?  Relationships can be superficial ..i guess ask yourself do you want that?  It is not about pride is it ..because that is the ego ..or is it a guessing game or why should i tell you ..i don’t have to tell.. and what is the difference if you are making love to someone and also making love to another person who gives you more love than the other and dating them at the same time..why can’t we all do what we want.   And, isn’t everybody looking for the perfect one?   When men have a casual attitude and women also carry that same casual attitude ..why spend time in bed when you can get to know each other in so many other amazing ways that builds intimacy first then jumping in bed with them.    I guess i feel really lucky that i have slept with the love of my life , my high school sweetheart who lasted for 10 years ..then i found my husband.   And, inbetween i was very selective because i had had such a loving relationship ..i knew nothing would compare.   It is best to know the truth and tell the truth..being honest , brutal honest goes a lot further  to develop real intimacy.  My point is don’t lie..tell the truth..it is not about the ego and pride ..it is about being upfront and honest in the beginning.  Be honest with everyone.  Life works a lot better ..trust me!   Love to you all!!    Eva

  13. 193
    Brandon Green

     The question are you seeing anybody else right now is none of your partners business ?Are you kiddin me ? That’s a perfectly legitimate question. If i were told “its none of your business”  or they did not answer to this question i would drop her like a bad habit or let her hang on  and drop her one day out of the blue without cause and i mean now.As far as promiscuity goes i generally don’t worry about it because i will not marry again
     
     

  14. 194
    JaeMe

    We live in a world where sex is presented all the time. Songs, Tv, Radio, and etc! The people who engage in sexual activity is it for the one whom you care for, or hobby that could be explored with anyone? I feel that in an intimate act like sex there’s apart of you , your giving to a person and will always have that part of you, whether or not you think so. Questions like why hadn’t it worked out, what made them sexually attracted? And with you why would it make a difference? I mean people know what sex is, so why act like let’s throw our numbers under the rug. Just what does sex mean to you? For me it’s something special you share with someone you trust. Our ego and modern technology drives us. Not our souls anymore. Like humanity doesn’t care about the treasures they willing spoil for not understanding in depth what they are giving up. I love this person and I asked the question, how many people? He told me 3 when it was actually four. To me I was mortified, and when I seeker advice people told me to get over myself. He’s number was low but to my it hurted. I can’t help the way feel about sex. I don’t think it’s a toy, and I’m not McDonald’s everyone’s not getting my happy meal. The way my brain processed it was 4 human girls, with souls dreams and wants. And something in them that made you want them. Maybe it’s the natural opposite thing for men to be attracted to women, but in the same sense we have brains , let’s use them. Honestly I don’t think I’ll ever be the person to marry or to have sex with anyone. Like those hermits ! Because I’m not into the worldly part of life and noones seems to be similar to that. So I’d rather die in my shack with my investment of kitties.

  15. 195
    Marley

    I totally agree with you Melissa. My husband and I have been married now for 16 years. The past does have a way of revealing itself after you have been together a long time and build trust. Just recently, I was surprised to find out the truth to his past partner # was a lot higher than he originally told me before we got married. I guess he was afraid since I had only 2 partners (including himself) that I wouldn’t be able to accept him for his past. Past experience for some may potentially be an indicator of future behavior, but people can and do change depending on their current situation and level of commitment in a relationship. I was hurt at first when his numbers kept changing and even more hurt when I found out the names of the girls he’d slept with (given that most still move in our friend/immediate circles). However, I have found that he loves me, chose to spend the rest of his life with me and has remained faithful to our marriage. What surprised me most is that he’s still friends with most of them and that they have all moved on in their lives and married with children. All I have to say about revealing your sexual past with anyone or asking someone to be frank and truthful is be prepared to accept that you may not like what you hear and will have to come to terms with your standards/internal demons about what to do with knowledge of that information. It can eat you up inside or you can admit that it was in the past and before your time with him and move on with your life together.

  16. 196
    The_Soothsayer

    I totally agree with every comment made regarding freedom of sexual behaviour. But it comes down to a simple question. If a person asks about your past sexual behaviour, it is important to them. Just tell the truth and accept the consequences.

  17. 197
    James

    This is such BS. I’m a male. I don’t have sex outside of relationships, and I don’t date people that do either. I’ve met GORGEOUS women in their 30s that have been with fewer than 5 men. It’s not just possible, it’s common. They’re usually the ones that were average looking in high school and got really hot past age 25. It’s called having morals and standards and not caving in to primitive desires. Please stop trying to make one night stands and being a slut mainstream, because not everyone does that adolescent bullshit.

  18. 198
    Chris

    Ok I am clearly the only one with my opinion but here it is. First off I am a guy 24 years old. I am in my second committed relationship first was 4 years this one going on 3 years.  we have a child together and I plan (and I know some will say we all planned to spend our lives together) to spend the rest of my life with this woman. My honest to god number is two. I know that there is no way to prove this but I will none the less say it. I am a good looking guy having turned down more than a few woman that have made sexual advances at me because I knew they were not right for me and I’m not a cheater. I did ask my partner her number after we had been together more than 2 years. I was not impressed. Many of you people I know are not going to have sex with me so my opinion is really irrelevant. To put this bluntly I am disgusted with what sex has become to people. I want to be with someone and live in a world where your actions define you as a person that is why it is rellevent. Clearly all will disagree but self respect should mean something to more people. Most of the pople who read this wont even be phased by the notion and thats sad. I’m not even religious, I wasn’t saving my self, I just wanted to have some piece of me left for the person i spend my life with. 99% of you will just classify me as some kind of loser believe what you want. People with intact morals do actually exist if you looked longer than it took to get undressed. Std’s should not be the only concern here. My 2 cents 

    Chris
     

  19. 199
    Felix

    Actually if you can’t be honest then why be in that relationship? Sure – a couple might slip by and the names forget. Understanding someone’s sexual drive is impoertnat – and by asking it means you accept the answer too. I had a girlfriend who told me she slept with people for money when a model in Italy – not what I ever wanted to hear but at lrast she was honest.

    My current girlfriend – an ex-gymanst and dancer (Latina to boot) gave this very santized version of her past (like slept with 18 people – about half the number I had slept with). It only became an issue when a female friend of hers told me her ‘little joke’  that they had both slept with the same guy (not at the same time) and he happened to be the young ex-husband of the best friend of my ex who is the mother of my children. So I asked about this and why her friend thought I’d appreciate this liitle joke and she daid we slept but didn’t have sex, he wanted to but I didn’t becuase he was ‘so young it would have been disgusting’. I finally found out from him that they had had sex a good couple of times and she now denies denying this. Tonight we’re sleeping in separate beds as I wonder what else she lied to me about. If you can’t be hinest about it . really, please. Also it might be erotic to think of your partner pounding someone, having been exhibitionist etc. Anyway – think I can kiss goodbye to this relationship. A shame.

  20. 200
    TOKI

    I hate when men ask this questions as if they haven’t sex with a number of women.  What does it matter how many people you slept with? It’s double standard question aim to discredit women for sleeping around and men use this information against them. Every encounter of casual relationships or serious relationships I’ve been in with men has SLEPT Around with women.  It is naive to sit and think that person hasn’t had a lot sex. When asked..I always respond by saying I don’t respond to number questions? We can always use a condom and have you been tested.

  21. 201
    Wendy Murray

    The bigger question is, who usually asks this ? first, the husband or wife?  T

  22. 202
    Garret

    My opinion is that it is not healthy to discuss past sexual relationships, and not much in the nonsexual side of relationships either. I think sometimes men ask out of curiosity, but there is a danger he can start getting turned on if details start getting shared and then swinging fantasies can develop, if they haven’t already. On the other side, he might hear things that damage his ego. Would you want to hear that he slept with a Playboy Playmate and considers it the greatest sexual experience of his life? So I think the best answer a woman can give is, “The past is the past. I’m not a virgin, I’m not a whore. I have no diseases. I’m only interested in sleeping with you. Nothing good comes from dredging up the past.” If he wants to know why you don’t want to discuss the past, just tell him that you aren’t interested in any of the men from your past, and just want to concentrate on him in the here and now.

    I believe it is best for a woman to take control of the questions about sex right away. Be very careful of him wanting to talk too much about your past partners because his curiosity about them is not healthy. And also be very firm up front if he starts with fantasies about swinging type stuff, if you aren’t interested in that kind of thing If he persists in pushing for that kind of thing, let him know right away that the relationship’s future rests on him discontinuing that. Be mindful that he may already have been involved in that lifestyle and so some of his friends may also be of that lifestyle, including their girlfriends, who may now also be your new friends. My opinion is that if you aren’t interested and you get the impression that he has too much interest in that, leave. Run, don’t walk, because he is never going to stop wanting it.

    This might also be a good reason to let him talk about his past if he will.

  23. 203
    eyeamnicegirl

    Here’s my spin on this difficult to navigate situation — don’t tell bare-faced lies.  Fudging the numbers a little bit is one thing, but claiming to be a virgin (when you’re not) is a major no-no, as you will eventually be found out.  This is doubly important if your sig other actually is a virgin.  Now, for the rest of us . . . . don’t say your number is 2 when it really is 20.  Your sig other might put two and two together at some point, and realize it’s been at least 5, and then wonder, “what else have you lied to me about?”  If you are going to fudge, say 8, as it’s unlikely he/she would ever figure out your number was more than 8 if it was really 20.  If your number is 100, 8 might be a dangerous lie though.  If my number was 100, I would simply plead the 5th, and hope the guy is willing to accept that answer.   Now, in all seriously, the “number” discussion only really matters when you have met that Mr./Miss Right; deny it as we might, there is something about sexual intimacy/exclusivity that matters to most people, even if we can’t quite put our finger on exactly what it is.

  24. 204
    D

    If you even have to ask it means you should not lie and tell the truth if you’re asked. Nobody’s business?! Sorry, but you are accountable for the decisions you made even in the past. Just like when colleges or jobs look at your past history to determine your qualifications. Doesn’t mean you can’t/haven’t changed if you have a blemished past but own up to it. You made your bed no matter what it is and just be honest. If they find out later you lied or altered the truth you’re relationship is doomed even more (after all the time you each put in).

  25. 205
    Ryan

    It is evident that many people feel strongly about this topic. There are many interesting responses on here. It seems like many people don’t like feeling as if they are being judged, and that is understandable. However, both individuals in a relationship should be entitled to certain information to make sure they understand exactly what they are involving themselves with. In general the more serious the relationship, the more likely it is for these things to arise. 

    Most people probably wonder how many different partners someone has had. Most people probably have a range they would find acceptable. It seems like many couples would talk about this once they start to become involved. Clearly, people need to pair themselves with like-minded partners to avoid these problems. Lifestyle plays a big part in a couple’s compatibility. With that being said, let me make some specific points. Many of these I believe personally, and some I will be using to play devil’s advocate. 

    -Just because your partner asks you how many people you have slept with doesn’t necessarily mean he/she is judging you

    -Many people have multiple casual partners before they eventually settle down

    -There is a clear destinction between your partner wanting to know how many people you have slept with versus him/her wanting you to get tested for an STD

    -Some would argue that beyond a certain point, the number of partners is almost meaningless. Once you’ve already had 15 partners, what’s another 10?

    -Most people fall into 2 categories (to simplify things): Either you are someone who is very slow moving and only has sexual relations with serious partners,  or you are someone who has had many partners because you have a very casual approach to intimacy. Both are fine, and you are better off finding someone who feels like you do.

    -Most people, once they fall in love with their partner, wouldn’t be bothered by their partner’s number. 

    -The author of the article mentioned that no one has a right to know your number.Why not? Is your partner, especially if they are long-time partner, not entitled to anything from your past? What about former convictions? Mental health issues? Excessive debt? Marital history? 

    Most people need to be more open-minded to different ideas. For myself, I am a virgin. It’s a personal choice, and it has nothing to do with religion, sexual inadequacy, or social problems. I assure you, I am an average looking (probably even good looking) guy who owns a business and I am very involved in my community. I am heterosexual, financially stable, and I am fairly sociable. But I am still a virgin by choice. It’s a promise I made to myself about 10 years ago. However, I don’t expect my future girlfriend or wife to be a virgin. If she is, that’s fine. If not, it really doesn’t matter to me. In many ways, the fact that she may have had multiple partners can be a turn-on. Though only in the sense that she has a strong sexual nature. If she is flaky and has bad taste in former partners or had low self-esteem, then that probably would be a turn off. I’m a curious and analytical person by nature and I like to know those things. She doesn’t have to tell me, but I would want her to if it didn’t bother her. 

     

  26. 206
    PETE

    The Truth, no wonder you’re still single.

    there is scientific evidence that because of your past you are less likely to be a good partner. A study illustrated in Psychology Today says, “As you can imagine, sociosexual orientation has a great impact on the risk of divorce. Sociosexually unrestricted individuals are far more likely to experience divorce than sociosexually restricted individuals because they are more likely to engage in extramarital affairs. ”

    So yes, YOUR PAST IS INDICATIVE OF YOUR FUTURE BEHAVIOR and therefore it is absolutely relevant that someone should want to know your number. And I’m not speaking from the standpoint of a prude. Although I haven’t racked up crazy numbers, I was very liberal with my sexuality as a younger man. As a consequence (and because I was honest), my then girlfriend had strong doubts that I would make a good husband despite my promise to be faithful. I had to spend a long time convincing her and many tears were shed. I’m not saying that just because you’re promiscuous that you’ll cheat (We finally married and I have never strayed), but there is a very valid reason why someone would want to take your past into account when making the decision to commit to you.

    I also think that claiming your sexual freedom as a woman doesn’t hold water. Women don’t have to work nearly as hard as men for sex. Therefore, when a man tries to convince you to take him into your bed, he is actually proving himself worthy of you which is, evolutionarily speaking, very constructive in assuring you get the best man. But a woman who is easy to bed is proving nothing to the man. She has given no indication of what kind of long-term mating potential she has by simply saying yes to sex, and so I think many men (not all) instinctively take this as a sign that she does not have much to offer beyond a quick sexual release.

    It’s also bad for feminism. Yes, I said BAD FOR FEMINISM. Women have struggled very hard to get men to think of them as something more than sex objects. But when I or just about any male friend I’ve ever talked to has had casual sex with a woman, she is just that. AN OBJECT. The definition of casual sex is that it is casual. Your male partner could care less about your feelings, your desires for the future, who you are outside of the bedroom. You and he are mutual masturbatory toys to be dis-guarded when the night is over. When you tell men that this is part of feminism, they get a mixed signal. On the one hand you tell men that women are to be respected as more than toys for their sexual pleasure, and on the other hand you’re telling them that strong, secure, confident women have no problem being used just for sexual pleasure (casual sex).

    The unfortunately thing with modern technology is that it has allowed us to detach sex from the emotional nutrition it is supposed to provide. We’ve done the exact same thing with sugar. We have a powerful craving for it because we need the vitamins and calories in sweet fruits. But we’ve learned to extract the sugar, leaving the nutrition behind and causing an epidemic of high blood pressure. If you have enough sense to curtail your sugar intake, you should also realize that all the sex you can get isn’t necessarily the healthiest thing for you.

    But that being said, people make up their own minds whether or not they want cookies for breakfast, so If anyone wants to have just casual sex, I won’t fault them. What I do have a problem with is when people get angry because there are inevitable consequences for their behavior. Life is not free; there is a price for every decision you make, every cookie you put in your mouth, every hour of sleep you decide to skip. Make healthy choices.

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