Let's talk about talking about your "sex number"

Let's talk about talking about your "sex number"
These balloons are clearly for a birthday, but still, you COULD use them this way!
Feeling 23 Birthday Balloons from Blush Bazaar
The number of people I have slept with is higher than most women I've asked. At the end of the day, I'm not going to lie about my number — I am not ashamed. But I do wonder how I should talk about it in future dating scenarios.

Anyone else with a high sex number want to give me advice about talking open and honestly about it?

I got a bit of a late start when it came to sex. But I followed it up with what my mom calls my "busy" period — including a year where I worked as an escort. I don't even know what my "sex number" is, because I stopped counting.

I told my partner early on in our relationship about my past in sex work (that did feel like the kind of thing I wanted him to know, although more for my own sake than his. I didn't want it to be a secret that weighed more heavily on me with time, and I wanted to know right away if that was going to be a game-changer for him). I also leveled with him about that phase of my life in general; basically, that I'd had a lot of sex, with a lot of different people, some of which I regretted, some of which I didn't. That was as much as felt relevant and important for me to share. (Again, it was the kind of thing that if I didn't share, I'd wind up having to mince around certain topics in future, and I didn't want to be with the sort of man who would hold any aspect of my sexual past against me).

He, on the other hand, chose to tell me about each and every one of his former partners, but that was because, unlike myself, he had a history of being very much Relationship Guy. So each of his "numbers" were women who had been, and in some cases still were, a big part of his life. I think talking about experiences in past relationships (and dissecting reasons for breakups) can and should be a healthy part of a growing relationship.

Talking about experiences in past relationships can and should be a healthy part of a growing relationship.

So we each approached our backstories differently in how much detail we felt the need to share. But in each case, it was relevant, and also information that we WANTED to share with each other. A mere number (if some portion of that number, at least, is not made up of people you really feel the need to talk about after the fact) is just not relevant in the same way. Though I think that there's value to sharing the gist, anyway, because if you're anything like me, you'd rather not waste your time on someone who sees you differently if you have had X number of partners. Better to find that out ASAP so you can skip off with middle fingers held high if need be.

That said… there are certain aspects of one's sexual past (or present) that I think are relevant, or in some cases absolutely required from an ethical standpoint. Some obvious examples of things you should level with someone about, in my opinion, would include:

  1. you're currently having sex with someone else, in a "relationship" or not — I'm just saying I think that people have the right to know what kind of situation they're stepping into, so that they can make an informed decision.
  2. If you have any kind of STD/STI. Obviously that should go without saying! Being honest about these kinds of things is just practicing good sexual ethics.

This is totally a personal decision, but for people on the opposite end of the spectrum from our question-asker, I also think that it is probably wiser for your own sake, if, say, you are extremely inexperienced sexually, or very much in the process of recovering from sexual trauma, to give that kind of background information. If I was hooking up with someone who told me something like that, I would know to pay even that much more attention (even more than usual!) to how they're doing at each and every step of the way, because I know it can be hard in those circumstances for someone to be as confident expressing their real feelings about how things are going for them when things get hot 'n' heavy.

I guess a short version of what I think is that it is NEVER okay or relevant for someone to ask about your number. It's just such an arbitrary, judgmental thing to give one moment's thought to regarding one's partner. And your male friends need to take a good hard look at themselves and their double standards, because that is an even bigger pile of crap than caring about someone's number in the first place.

How do YOU handle sex number discussions?

  1. "I guess a short version of what I think is that it is NEVER okay or relevant for someone to ask about your number." I disagree with this. Here's why:

    My number is 16. Not sure whether my number is considered high by most 32-year-old standards, but it is considered high by my friends. Plus, I met my husband when I was 19, and he's been my only partner since. 16 sexual partners before age 19 is probably pretty high, especially for someone who never had to suffer the "whore" moniker in high school. (And if you did, I want to punch people for you.) I was very discreet, and so were my partners (which I realize makes me lucky).

    When I used to tell people I'd had that many sexual partners, they were either impressed or appalled. Actually… usually both. I never viewed sex as "lovemaking," and in many ways I still don't. Not because it can't be an act of love, but because it isn't ALWAYS about that, and there are so many other acts that scream "love" to me a lot more. (I have an Acts of Service love language, so.)

    I am not ashamed about it, but I don't bring it up. My husband actually doesn't know how many partners I had before him because he absolutely does not want to know. The facts are available to him at any time, but he has asked me not to tell him. He only had penetrative sex with one person before me, and not much experience otherwise, so I think he feels weird about it. (To clarify: I consider sexual partners to be anyone I've brought to orgasm, or who have brought me to orgasm. I'm bisexual, if that matters. If I were counting merely penetrative, my number would be 6.) Partners before my husband did usually ask, though.

    So, I disagree with the above advice when it involves an exclusive (or negotiated open) relationship. I honestly think that conversation should happen on the other person's terms. If you want to know your partner's sexual history, ask. If they want to know, they will ask. Everyone's entitled to say "no" if they don't want to share, and sometimes people don't. That needs to be okay, too. I just don't think that anyone should feel like it's a faux pas to ask their partner about their sexual history.

    I have offered information about some experiences in my past, when I felt I needed it, but I trust my husband to ask for more information if he needs it. He really hasn't. To me, it's an act of my respect for him; I refrain from bringing the memory of my sexual history into our bedroom when he doesn't want it. But it's also respectful to allow him leeway to ask questions. That seems fair to me.

    Don't know if that helps. It's a pretty personal decision. Do what helps you feel safe.

    3 agree
    • If we're going off the premise that the number of people you've had sex with has no bearing on who you are as a person (and I am), then no one "needs" to know anything about their partner's sexual history (obvious exception for health information). If my partner wants to tell me something about his sexual history, that's fine, but I'm not going to ask as it tells me nothing about him and is kind of a boring topic. Also, I've yet to come across someone who asked that question and wasn't judgemental about the answer.

      4 agree
  2. I'm mostly surprised. Is this still a thing? Is it still a thing that people talk about past high school?

    I feel like there was another post about this on OBH sometime a few years ago, and I remember being similarly surprised.

    To me, there's no relevance. Even if I find out a potential partner has only been with one or two other people, that *could* lead me to believe the person is inexperienced or unskilled, but what if that one other partner was a 10-year relationship where they explored every fantasy, took tantra classes, learned to really please another person, etc.?

    If I met someone who was concerned with my "number", I'd simply move on. That type of drama isn't interesting to me. I honestly have no idea what my number is, and wouldn't want to spend the effort trying to figure it out. People are often intimidated by my sexual "adventurousness" – which says to me they're not a good fit as a potential lover or partner. No loss there.

    Asking whether I've been tested recently? Totally valid, and a worthy discussion. I'm more than happy to not only share the date, but my complete records of the test results if requested. That type of transparency is extremely important. And potentially the question of "approximately how many people have you been with *since this test was completed*" is valid as well, because I could potentially be exposing a new partner to risk if I'm toward the far end of my 6 months between tests and there have been a bunch of partners since then. Asking if I always have safe sex? Also valid, also for health reasons.

    The rest is just emotional attachment to past societal ideas of sex and virginity and purity and all that, IMHO.

    I recently listened to a podcast called "Dear Men", an episode called "Dating Powerful Women", and there's a long section on women who are sexually empowered – I think it might be worth checking out just to remember that there ARE people who are worthy of your time, and who are willing to earn it, and who actually appreciate a high level of sexual experience and knowing what you want and like – and of course being able to communicate that, which comes with experience.

    3 agree
  3. You are so awesome! I do not think I have read a single thing
    like that before. So wonderful to find somebody with some unique thoughts on this issue.

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    1 agrees
  4. My number is two, which encompasses my "casual sex friend" as I called him at the time, and my now-fiance. My fiance's number is in the mid 30s. It really doesn't matter to me at all, but any time it comes up on conversation, (which rarely happens) he's always like, wait, I told you? And I have to be like, yeah, and IDGAF.

  5. My experience sharing the number of people I'd had sex with was by and large this:
    Women thought I was exaggerating for attention or to make myself seem more desirable
    Men thought that meant I was promiscuous and they had a better shot at getting laid

    Once I realized that, I stopped sharing. When asked, I'd say "I'm not ashamed of my sex life, but it's really none of your business", because I agree wholeheartedly with the author's statement- a potential or current sexual partner needs to know only the state of your sexual health (STDs, trauma recovery, or any physical issue that may require gentle handling).
    If you're comfortable sharing more with them, great, but be aware that there's some BS cultural assumptions that go along with putting a quantifiable number of the experience.

    And anyway, sexual encounters are about quality- who cares how much you have or haven't had, so long as it's all GOOD!

    2 agree
  6. I'm polyamorous, kinky, and queer. I stopped counting this at least 15 years ago because it's irrelevant and I grew up. What matters is that me and everyone else involved in a sexual encounter with me is happy about the experience before, during, and after it. The end. Anything else is either bragging or shaming and none of it is cute.

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