My ‘Number’ Keeps Growing After 4 Years of Online Dating. Help!

woman thinking about her number that keeps on growing after 4 years of online dating

Hi Evan,

How do you avoid putting “notches on your headboard” while dating, yet still enjoy a satisfying physical, monogamous relationship? I am a 52 year old attractive woman, and I have been dating online for about 4 years. I haven’t had a problem meeting lots of men with whom I have chemistry. While I don’t jump in bed with them right away, we will have sex once we get to know each other.

The problem is, most people will put their best feet forward in the beginning, and so you start having the physical relationship, then at about the 6 month mark, the red flags start glowing. You may find out his idea a good credit score is being one step ahead of foreclosure or you may meet his family and you realize you aren’t going to be happy listening to the banjo on the front porch.

While I think of myself as pretty discerning and have high expectations, I have taken your advice and widened my parameters. However, it seems in the last 4 years online dating is making me feel like an “Online Whore.” What’s a woman who enjoys a physical relationship and wants to be monogamous to do? Do I have to just think more like a man? It seems in this day and age, trying to wait for sex until you know someone thoroughly isn’t realistic. I am right now taking a vow of celibacy.

Frustratingly yours,

What you call being an ‘online whore’ is what other people, including myself, call ‘dating’


Great letter, Mary. The banjo part nearly gave me the chills.

However, based on your text above, it doesn’t seem to me that there’s ANYTHING wrong. What you call being an ‘online whore’ is what other people, including myself, call ‘dating’.

That’s right, Mary. Unless you still buy into Mom’s explanation of sex – ‘When a man loves a woman’ – intercourse tends to happen before marriage. It happens before the six month mark. It happens before the declaration of love. And hey, if you’re lucky, it can even happen before the entrée. Point is, you’re conflating two different points and coming to the wacky conclusion that a vow of celibacy is just the right tonic.

Yeah, I can’t think of a better solution for a sensual woman than to swear off sex.

Your issue isn’t with sex. It’s with your antiquated, double-standard view of sex. That’s right. You’re still obsessed with the number of people you’ve slept with, when, you know what? Nobody else cares. ‘Notches on the bedpost’. Not even GUYS talk like that anymore. If you sleep with men you’re seeing for two months, four months, or six months, you’re not a slut. You’re a normal, sexually active woman. And you need to stop beating yourself up on yourself for racking up numbers. See, unless you get hit by a bus, your number just keeps going up and up and up. …

So if you are a discerning dater and you commit to – and thereby sleep with – a new man every three months, what’s the logical conclusion? You’ll sleep with four men a year as long as you don’t have a long-term relationship. Do that over 5 years, and you’ll sleep with 20 men. Do that over 10 years, you’ll sleep with 40 men! That’s 40 penises!! Time to buy a new bedpost, or maybe use a softer material for easier carving.

So unless you want to stay with that banjo picker to keep your numbers down, I’m afraid you’re going to have to boff another guy someday.

I’m only teasing you, Mary, not because I’m not sympathetic, but because it’s impossible for society to move on from its double standards until its enlightened women do the same. Are guys ready to hear that you slept with 40 men? Nope. No way. No how. But it’s a shame because there’s nothing wrong with it. Not logically. After all, you could hypothetically have a series of serious one year relationships for 40 sexually active years, and still end up at the same number. 40. Which doesn’t make you loose, or a slut, or a whore, or any of the things you choose to denigrate yourself. It makes you human.

So unless you want to stay with that banjo picker to keep your numbers down, I’m afraid you’re going to have to boff another guy someday. And another. And another.

Thus, your real issue should be figuring out why it’s so tricky to find a keeper, not whether monogamous sex with a six-month boyfriend makes you feel icky.

Frankly, I’d guess that not having sex with a six-month boyfriend would feel a helluva lot worse.

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  1. 1

    I think you should keep your “number” as low as possible. I dated online for 3 years and my number didn’t grow that much. be a lady. Be picky.

  2. 2

    Totally agree with Evan. People tend to lose their minds if a grown woman has a number of 20 or more. In some crowds it’s 10. If you do the math those numbers are far from ‘whorish’ but people act like the women have been working part time at a brothel or something. It’ll be nice when the number won’t be such a sticking point, especially for guys cause that’s why it even bothers women, and the circumstances surrounding the activity will matter much more.
    And while I’m ranting, I don’t think women who’ve slept with 10 men should catch heat while women who’ve sucked off 50 men but only slept with 5 are seen as almost virginal and held up as paragons of virtue. Both are intimate acts, but one act is whorish and the other isn’t? Another one of those nonsensical things that I will be happy to see go by the wayside.

  3. 3

    Yeah ya know I’ve often thought about how easy it is for women online to rack up some “crazy” numbers. Then they feel guilty about it and/or they don’t even tell friends etc… I’m sure it goes on everyday and it’s your own business.

    Most people would say “it’s just as easy for men to do the same”. Sure if they look like a model a guy could probably do pretty well but by and large most women could literally meet a guy every day where as a guy is lucky if he meets 2 women a month.

    It’s also said “well a woman could go to a bar every night and meet someone and start dating them etc.. Well then everyone would see her “hanging out” in public etc… (and she certainly wouldn’t be able to order them by haircolor,height,and income …lol)where as online noone see’s anyone meeting for “coffee” etc or how often or what happens next. Also for the “over 40” crowd in most places there is NO bar scene so it’s internet or bust. I’ve often wondered how women online “draw the line” at the amount of men they’ll “date” in a given period.

    What Mary or whatever anyone else does is noone’s business but you still have to be able to look yourself in the mirror in the morning and live within your own moral boundries.

  4. 4

    I don’t talk numbers with any guys I date. “How many people have you slept with since your last STD test and did you use a condom,” maybe. “How many have you slept with?” No. Irrelevant. I’ve been with the BF two years and a half years, and I totally get that some people don’t want to know their current partner’s sexual past in every intimate detail, but guess what? That’s why you don’t discuss it.

    Guys have tried to use my number as some sort of evaluative criterion in the past, and I a) told them it was none of their business and offered them the results of my latest STD test; b) lied about my number (which is all I can do, really, since it’s not like I keep a list–I have no idea how many people I’ve slept with though I could come up with a guess within 15 or 20); c) broken up with the person since we obviously don’t share similar values.

    I’ve slept with significantly more people than my bf, but he had a 4 year relationship and a 3 year relationship during a time period when I never had a relationship lasting longer than 6 or 8 months. It’s inevitable. He’s jealous sometimes that I dated more than he did, but only because he stayed in relationships where he was miserable trying to work things out, not because he cares about my number.

    I always think it’s WAY more disturbing when people can rattle off every one or have a numbered list somewhere. Ew.

  5. 5

    @Honey, post #3

    If somebody was married in an LTR, yah it would be nice to know, but otherwise I am with you. I REALLY don’t want to know! :). What matters to me is what is going on now that we are together.

  6. 6

    Great response from Evan until the very last point. The issue isn’t why it’s so tricky to find the right person (dwelling on that would be unproductive). Her issue is thinking in those terms. What she should do is attempt to analyze why exactly she even cares (I mean, I, while reading her letter, was struggling to see what exactly the problem is). At age 52 one should a) know oneself quite well (and if they don’t, then work in that direction), and b) have a mind of one’s own, and not just blindly follow whatever societal / religious conventionalities they’ve become ingrained with through conditioning.

    Lastly, it’s just not a legitimate question. No one has a right to ask you that, nor should you feel obligated to honor it with an answer.

  7. 7

    Honey: It honestly disturbs you if someone knows the name of everyone they’ve slept with? And if they don’t remember, even having a list on paper disturbs you? It would disturb me if they didn’t!
    But my number’s pretty low.

    Which brings up another point, is this true in the reverse? Are women bothered if a guy over 30 has slept with say, under 5 women?

  8. 8

    I’ve found that you don’t *really* get to know a man until you’ve become intimate with them. So, in order to figure out if they are the right one for you, you kinda have to sleep with them.

  9. 9

    My philosophy is and has been the same as Shawna’s. Perhaps because of it my *number* is higher than I would ever have thought in my 20’s.

    Now in my 40’s, the only thing that bothers me about it is that there are a few in my count I wished I’d never bothered with. Oh well, live and learn.

  10. 10

    @Ben, #7: If your number’s pretty low then it seems reasonable that you will remember off the top of your head. But once it gets above 10, then knowing them all or keeping a list gets pretty creepy to me–being obsessed with all the people you’ve slept with seems just as disturbing (or at the very least irrelevant) as being obsessed with how many people your partner’s been with.

    I would never ask how many partners someone had had, so I don’t know under what circumstances I’d find out if a fellow over 30 had fewer than 5 partners as in your example. If he admitted as such to me, I’d probably wonder a) why he was telling me, and b) why his number was so low. Whether I feel comfortable sleeping with someone always depends on the circumstances, which is one of the reasons you can’t attach too much importance to the number in the first place.

  11. 11

    Dang, Mary. When I first starting reading, I thought your problem was your inability to find a keeper, not about having “too many” sexual encounters. Gee, is there really such a thing? I’m in your age range, and frankly, all I can say is Yeeha and GOOD FOR YOU. I agree with everything Evan said. It’s been eons since I’ve had any discussion about numbers, and if I was asked, I’m sure my response would be something like, “Whatsit to ya?” In fact, I would consider a man who asked about numbers to be a Big Red Flag. But what I was particularly struck by was your “Old Whore” reference. Don’t you even dare think that about yourself. That is someone else’s dated, judgmental bullshit running through your head. You’re a responsible woman when you give and ask for health-related information, period. Other than that, your numbers are your business — better yet, stop keeping a tally — too tiresome. When are we going to let go of the Sex Is Bad and Nasty dogma? Sure, most women would love nothing more than monogamous sex on a lasting basis with a good man. But as you know, that’s not an easy thing to come by. My personal philosophy is “I’m over 50 and, therefore, totally slut-proof, no matter what I do.” Give yourself some credit for having the stamina & guts to keep up your search for a quality, lasting relationship. But in the meantime, enjoy your sexuality — it’s healthy, life-affirming, and fun. I now pronounce you Unburdened of Guilt.

  12. 12


    I’m with about the circumstances. Someone might have a lower number if they were in a long term marriage or other relationship as opposed to a person who was single and dating during the same amount of years.

    I don’t think it’s creepy to remember all the names of people you slept with though, even if it’s more than 10. Seems to me that would have more to do with what kind of impression each individual made on you and how long ago the encounters happened. I don’t think about my “list” very often, but when I do, (like after reading a thread like this) I can remember all the names. Takes a bit of time though, cause I always find myself leaving a out a couple at first. “Oh yeah, and him” Just isn’t that memorable a decade or two or so later.

  13. 13

    to Ben on post #7

    I am not sure if women are bothered by the few number of conquests a man has had…..yet, women are attracted to “experienced” men…..

  14. 14

    At 50, I am dating again after 24 yrs of marriage. I, too, thought I’d want (need) to be in a committed relationship before I had sex with someone. It’s that darn “good girl” image we were raised with. I’ve been adjusting my boundaries on that (still to my comfort level, though), and Evan’s advice (plus some of the comments here), have made me feel so much better about having sex again, and not necessarily in a committed relationship. Zann is right about sex being healthy, life-affirming, and fun. I didn’t think of it from that angle. That’s just what I needed to hear, thanks! (I also love that I’m “slut-proof” now. I just may put that on a t-shirt!

    So here’s my question: Is it cool – or not cool – to be sleeping with more than one guy at a time (safety precautions in place, of course)? And no, I don’t mean two guys in the same room! LOL I mean having a sexual relationship with more than one man at a time. Hope this is not a stupid question; I really am learning all over again, and things are so different from 30 years ago! Clue me in, my friends! This is the best post I’ve seen in a while!

  15. 15


    sleeping with two men in the same bed is perfectly fine too, if that’s what you want.

    And, really, why on earth wouldn’t it be?

  16. 16

    Oh, same answer to your original question: if that is what you want, what you feel is best for you at this stage, and so on and so forth.

    There is no right or wrong here, and no one can decide this for you.

  17. 17
    Ms. Single Mama

    I don’t remember the last time a man asked me how many men I’ve slept with. And if someone did – I’d dump him immediately. Who cares? Insecure men care, that’s about it.

  18. 18

    I have to say i do understand why a person would ask or be curious about a person’s number- they are trying to find out more about you just like asking if you were a bully, a cool kid or a nerd when growing up, how’d you get along with your parents, etc. BUT, i think there are much better ways to find out what you want to know about someone sexually (are you a prude or adventurous, inexperienced or experienced) than asking for a number. The number doesn’t even begin to tell the story; context matters so much more.

    So I wouldn’t automatically get offended is someone asked for a number; I would just get at what they really want to know about me and discuss that.

  19. 19

    What’s wrong with banjos?

    I lost track of my number someone around graduate school (very possibly when Honey and I were dating), and I haven’t given it a second thought since then. I definitely don’t think in terms of conquests or notches, just good partners and not-so-good partners. If pressed, I could probably sit down and figure all of them out. Personally, I love experienced women.

    @JuJu: Love that response! That’s the first really open minded response to sex I’ve read from a female commenter on this blog. Cheers to that. There’s no level of rightness (or wrong) to sleeping with multiple partners, you define the relationship(s) that work for you. Monogamy? Polyamory? Open marriage? Swinging? Whatever floats your boat, sister, just be safe and be honest.

  20. 20

    Also, that’s a good question, if Mary has great chemistry with all these guys, why can’t she stay in a committed relationship? Everyone has rough edges and blemishes, and those always come out over time. That has to be accepted.

    My guess is her standard is still too high once the LTR starts, possibly because she’s holding the guys up against a past husband or boyfriend. Her strategy of holding out on sex rarely works, because the men will be turned off and frankly she wants to have sex also.

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