When is a good time to have “the number” talk with your new partner?

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By: Tsahi Levent-LeviCC BY 2.0
I have a question about sex — more specifically number of sexual partners. I recently hit double digits, and I have no problem with this or the choices I have made. As a 25-year-old woman, I don’t think that number is particularly high. However it has sparked a fierce debate amongst my friends.

It seems like every person has a different opinion. 90% of the males I asked have far higher numbers, and feel like I shouldn’t feel ashamed of my number at all. But they all went on to say that they would feel uncomfortable if they started dating a girl and found out that was her number. The lesson I learnt there is that my dude friends really DO think of me as just one of the guys but with boobs!

My number is higher than most women I asked (of a comparable age), but I know that isn’t a very diverse group — most of my female friends coupled up with their partners in their teens and are still happily together. They seemed kind of jealous of my number, but all said I should stop being so honest because I was definitely going to be judged unfairly for it.

At the end of the day I’m not going to lie — I am not ashamed. But I do wonder how/when I should handle it in future dating scenarios? Do you wait till they bring it up their number, or tell them before you add them to your number? -Arlina

Comments on When is a good time to have “the number” talk with your new partner?

  1. I don’t have any advice for you, but WHOA, that is some double standard that the males you interviewed express! Why would it be ok for males have multiple (double digit) of sexual partners, but not for females?
    I guess that if I were you, I would not want my new partner to hold such double standards. In that respect, the conversation about numbers would be a deal breaker for me. And that line of reasoning would lead me to have a conversation about numbers quite early on.

  2. My policy is that I don’t ever give a number, and I don’t want to know theirs. My husband still doesn’t know my number. No matter what the numbers are, it changes things, and I don’t like that. I also don’t believe that it’s important nor a predictor of future behaviour.

    • I totally agree with this statement, Amy! There are a lot of variables that went into a number including love of sex, longer/ shorter relationships and even sexual abuse. And no one should ever base their opinion of you on a number. My husband and I have a loving, respectful and wild sex-life– and we don’t know each others numbers. It shouldn’t matter!

    • I totally agree. I genuinely don’t care how many or few people someone has had sex with. If it’s a sexual partner then I would be happier if they’d always been safe, but then I’d want us to get tested before going unprotected anyway and it’s only HPV that isn’t tested for. It says nothing about someone as a person. If they are unhappy about the number of people they’ve been with, then maybe that’s an issue, but I still wouldn’t need to know what it was!

    • I doesn’t have to change things, necessarily. It’s fine if you don’t want to tell, but I think for most people, by the time they’re married, you can talk about your numbers as just a matter of interest! I like hearing my husband’s stories.

    • I agree with not giving a number. My husband never asked and I never offered. I know that he only had a couple of girlfriends before me and I had more way more boyfriends and flings. All we talked about was safety, did we both practice safe sex and we got tested for everything early on in our relationship so that were no surprises later on. Maybe it is because we were older, in our thirties when we started seeing each other but who and when of old relationships didn’t really matter. We talked about what we wanted in a partner and would we be that for each other.

    • I’m in the not-knowing-each-other’s-number camp.

      It’s really subjective to what a “high” number is to different people (and different social circles). I know women with numbers in the 50-100 range (some barely older than the poster) and other women in the 1-5 range (some whom are older) and others falling somewhere in between. Hitting double digits is fine (and seems pretty average to me) Everyone’s life takes different turns and not everyone meets their happily-ever-after at 18.

      You only live once (Yeah, I just YOLOed…deal with it). I don’t think a high number is bad at all (unless gotten that way without your consent) and just shows you had some good times 😉

      I’d really only want to know a partner’s number if that number was zero. Not to judge them, but just to realize the momentous occasion and not treat it as any other time. When I was younger, the number seemed so important and every relationship we discussed it. Now, it seems unworthy of mentioning.

      I’ve had a past, you’ve had a past; now, let’s have a future.

    • This is basically what I came here to say. My husband and I don’t know each others numbers. It doesn’t affect the way we feel about each other, so it doesn’t matter. We know about each others past impactful relationships, but sex numbers? I don’t care about his number, and he doesn’t care about mine. It’s irrelevant to the relationship.

  3. Most of my friends have a solid “no numbers” rule when they start dating a guy. She won’t tell, and she doesn’t ask. It’s just not up for discussion. I know that’s probably not really what you’re asking for – but it’s a different kind of solution…and it’s honestly nobodys business unless YOU want to share for some reason.

  4. Numbers are tricky anyway. I mean, are we talking actual penis-in-vagina numbers (which completely disregards numbers for people with same-sex partners), or any sort of anything beyond kissing? I mean, if someone asks my number, I’d automatically think of the number of partners I’ve had where pregnancy could have been a concern…..single digits. But if I think of the number of partners with any degree of naked times…..then I don’t even know.

    I definitely agree, though, that the gender bias on this issue is absurd.

    • Agreed. I have a “doctor number”, which is actually 2 numbers… the line that you fill in for “# of sexual partners in the last (year)”, and then also the number of people with whom I’ve engaged in sexual activity where — if barriers had not been involved — transmission of bodily fluids and therefore STDs would have been possible.

    • YUP! As a bisexual woman who dated and slept with women first, I’ve never been comfortable with compressing my sexual history into a number. It just doesn’t really mean anything? When doctors want numbers, I need to know what the number is supposed to tell them in order to be able to answer accurately. Or, I need to switch doctors.

      I’d always rather have a real discussion about my sexual history, the kinds of things I’ve done and with what degrees of protection. I expect my sexual partners to be willing to have that discussion with me as well, not just give me a number.

      Also: I have this discussion, like, pretty early. Things happen, but I actually like to have an idea of my partner’s sexual history before we have sex. I’ve never been worried about having this discussion too soon, and I think being really open about my sexuality has helped me find good partners for me. Like, my openness has set a “you must be this comfortable to ride” bar.

      I totally get that some people are more private or quiet, but it would be hard for me to have a good relationship with someone who wasn’t OK with talking about sex a lot. So talking lots and talking early has worked well for me. Although, it’s also worth adding that I would never want anyone to be pressured into disclosing abuse or assault that they didn’t want to disclose.

      • I agree with this. I am also very open and honest about my sexuality and my sexual history, and I expect my partner to be at least that open about discussing sex, even if they aren’t totally comfortable revealing things about their experiences.

      • YES! I think the sexual history discussion is way more important than just knowing the number. I could have double digits but 100% perfect about protection, a new partner could have three past partners but never used protection and that’s an issue. Part of the problem is that people assume “lots” of partners = possibly unsafe sex which is definitely NOT true. With my now husband, we don’t know each other’s numbers, but he knows I’ve been with women and men. When we first starting dating we discussed likes, desires, things we’ve done that did work, things we’re willing to try. We’ve been really open from the beginning. I’ve had other people who would refuse to have this conversation — or only wanted to know what my tally number is (which, honestly, I’ve lost count) — and those people are not right for me.

        It boils down to what YOU want. Do you want to know their number? Why? If this is something very important to you, then yes, be honest about your number as well. From a girl who’s definitely in the double digits, it did cause a break up once. My male partner was not comfortable with how many people I had been with and ended the relationship. Obviously, we wouldn’t have worked out, but figuring out why you think the number talk is important (or if you even think that) would be the first step.

  5. Tell your numbers! Tell ’em loud, tell ’em proud. If you’re not ashamed, and you care about your partners numbers or if they’re curious enough to ask about yours, tell the truth. There’s nothing inherently shameful about a figure. There’s not even a ton of info you can glean from know how many persons someone has been intimate with. I know people who have been active sexually with only one person who have a ton of experience in many levels of intimacy with that person, and those who have been intimate with dozens of people – but usually one night stands, or the same level of intimacy all the time. Numbers mean jack, and if someone I was seeing wanted to know my number and then got icked out or felt intimidated by my number – I’d rather know it, get it out in the open, so that we can deal with it. *Far more important to share is: do you have any STDs? Have you ever done this before? Any fetishes/gross outs? Any thing you’ve tried that you never will again? Anything you haven’t tried that you’d like to? Live in the present – I’d rather know what’s on/off the table now, than care about how many people the restaurant has served.

    • Agreed! I bring up numbers when I talk about general sex things, including STDs and kinks. It’s good to know a person’s experience level, and I wouldn’t judge them for it.

  6. I’m of the belief that no on needs to know your Number. It’s no ones business but yours how many people you felt close enough with to engage in any sexual activity. That being said, if a future partner brings it up and is adamant about knowing your Number, be honest. Just hitting double digits is nothing to be ashamed of, and if the person judges you for that reason then that’s not someone that I believe you should want to be with anyway. Same goes for guys who have such double-standard thinking. If, for arguments sake, 12 was ok for them but not for you….forget it. My fiance and I have never had the Number talk, it’s never even come up in conversation. How many women he’s slept with is none of my business and won’t affect the number of women he will be sleeping with in the future (one, me), no matter if his number is 2 or 200.

  7. We had the numbers conversation fairly early on. We actually had the same number (or close to the same, I don’t remember – hell I don’t even remember my number). We’ve joked around that we are both sluts. But I like that he knows what he’s doing (and can take direction) and he likes that I know what I want and am not afraid to tell him (and totally know what I’m doing too – toot toot! – that’s my own horn that I’m tooting… about how well I toot his! lol!). Of course numbers and sexual discovery are not necessarily correlated, but in my case, it was. And when I finally found someone who can give me what I want (both in the sack and out of it), I married him. 🙂

  8. I don’t talk about it, and honestly I haven’t even kept track. I could maybe figure out what my number is if I really tried to remember and made a list, but I just don’t care. Ballpark range around 20-30 people I would guess, but its not really a topic for discussion or criticism in any relationships I have had. I do not ask how many people they have had sex with, and I don’t care. If they ask me, we will have a talk about how it is a stupid thing to care about and all of the sexist double standards. Like someone else said, talk about STDs and intimacy and consent and turn ons or whatever, but number of sex partners? That has no bearing on anything, and no guy I am into has ever asked or seemed to care (and if they did have problems with it, I would have a real problem with them.)

  9. I’m not even actually sure of “my number” because I haven’t kept track like Jeanne Garoflo did in Reality Bites. (Every time I infrequently make a mental list, I remember a few exceptions later and by then I’ve forgotten the original number). In my experience, the number doesn’t tend to come up unless I bring it up. People tend to talk about people who have had an emotional impact on them, but in my experience, more casual encounters only come up if something big happened, like a pregnancy. Or if it was the one night stand that was literally the best sex of your life.

    HOWEVER. You should definitely get comfy talking about any STD history you may have and whether or not your partner has been tested. So, I would suggest not worrying so much about the number and how a potential partner might respond to that and would focus on being open to talking about sex and STDs.

    If a dude is going to be concerned with the fact that you slept with the same amount of people as he did, or more people than he did, in my opinion, that is a huge red flag. He might have many other assumed ideas about what women are allowed to do versus what men are allowed to do. For me, a relationship with those types of parameters would not be satisfying.

    • Completely agree with the STD conversation, making sure you and your new partner are clean is a must.

      In my experience it always seems to be the people that have low numbers that are always curious of people they assume have high ones (usually because they own their sexuality) and are a) jealous b) judgy or c) want to ask more personal questions but don’t know how.

      • A gentle reminder that knowing a partner or potential partner’s test results and being on the same page with them about risky activities is different than both of you being “clean” / currently testing negative. I tend to start from a place of universal precaution — assuming everyone including myself is or could be positive for everything — and adjust my behavior as more information becomes known.

      • Whether people have a virus or not has little to do with their cleanliness! It can be sort of shaming to refer to testing negative as “clean”. It sort of implies that catching a virus makes you “dirty”, and it doesn’t.

        It’s a common word usage, and I’m just sort of spreading awareness.

        • totally! i mean, let’s get scientific here. you can get herpes from kissing & quite a few things from the hotel not changing linens properly. nothing to do w/ the person’s level of cleanliness.

        • I always connect the word clean, in this context, to the phrase “clean bill of health”. In other words, there’s nothing on the test results that “shouldn’t” be there – nothing to do with hygiene at all.

          • That’s where the term came from but unfortunately it has morphed into something else entirely. It was one of the easier linguistic changes I’ve had to make, though I struggle with some others (WTF why does the RE word keep falling out of my mouth even though I hate it and know it’s hurtful?!). Using “tested negative” instead of “clean” is really helpful though so it’s worth the effort to try changing our language there. 🙂

    • Everything about this comment. This!
      I think it’s so much more important to talk history that’s relevant to the sex you’ll have together. STI/STD prevention, testing and history, as well as any sexual/emotional history that’s going to affect the time you spend with your partner, are things you should discuss.
      People have a lot of baggage when it comes to numbers, from societal expectations to the spectre of jealousy. I’m insatiably curious about my partner’s history, but every time I hear more, I just want to crawl in a hole (and Facebook creep some people like whoa.) People like to imagine we’re the first, pioneers of our lovers’ bodies, sailing along the motion of the ocean, where no man has gone before! Of course that’s silly, but what about humans isn’t?!
      If you or your partner is bothered by a number or a particular piece of history, you’ve got to have a conversation about whether that’s important compared to what you have now, than the fact that you’re both here now.

  10. Honey, take your number and multiply it by eight and you have my number. I tell everyone from the get go. I also demand most of their numbers early on. Not because it matters but because I feel like its a number you should own. I feel like its a number you should be honest about.

  11. As someone with a relatively low number personally, I think the number isn’t as important to me as the kind of sex. I mean, 5 could be all one night stands, or year-long relationships, or a single orgy. My partner would have learned different things and missed different things and run different risks and I’d have different questions for those different situations. Not to mention different questions depending on what I want out of our relationship.

    So I guess for me, learning someone’s number is the beginning of the conversation, not the end. I’d bring up the number thing at the point in a relationship where I feel comfortable talking about what we want out of our sex life in the future.

    • Yeah, if Ive slept with sixteen people, but only had sex sixteen times, what does say about me? If Ive had sex with five people but never gone a day with out sex in the last decade, what does that say? What if Ive only had sex with two, but it was always with both of them simultaniously?

      Just hearing a number may cause you to draw conclusions that just arent accurate with out circumstances. Only having sex sixteen times in however many years is not the randy wildcat some people would assume from that partner list. Having started your sexual experience with threesomes implies a much greater longing for sexual adventure than the lower figure leads one to expect.

      • Your series of questions lead me down a fantastical train of thought that gets me to places like, “I’ve only had sex with three people, but two of them were at the same time and wearing masks”

        • Scrolling slowly down this page, reading all of the replies, I completely and utterly didn’t expect this picture. And I damn near snorted beer all over my laptop. Christ, woman, give some warning!

  12. I honestly didn’t even know this was a thing not on TV. People talk about this in real life? I regret telling my husband the things I DID tell him when we were just hooking up. Now I can’t erase that knowledge from his memory. For me its not a matter of pride etc., its a matter of sensitivity. I ended up with a partner who is much more private and shy about matters of sex than I am, so its hard for him to laugh about that horrible sexual exploits the way I do and sometimes it hurts for him that I have those stories. Now its quietly swept under the rug. I guess that is to say NEVER. Not due to a double standard, but you can’t unsay it, and you might want to.

    • I didn’t realise this was a thing either until I was talking openly about it and got weird responses from friends! I guess that’s what got me curious to start asking people about it – I wanted to know if it WAS a thing! And here I was NOT stupidly not judging my life choices by TV show morals when apparently other people still were, crazy right?!!

  13. it’s no one’s bussiness but your own and i don’t think it’s ever relevant regarding current relationships. share it if you’re comfortable but don’t feel that you are obligated to. also, your dude friends are MAJORLY hypocritical!

  14. I’d say totally depends on your relationship with the person you are dating. I know some people that don’t want to know their other person’s number and simply keep it brief with they were their one and only or that they were not the first. I know other people that have been open outright with their number from the get go of the relationship. Having been with my partner for the last 6 years (married 3) and being best friends for two years before that, I think at this point it would be pretty difficult to have kept that number hidden all these years. I think that the person you eventually settle with will have to take you as you are as you will with them. But when it comes to dating, let them lead the pack if they /have/ to know then you can choose if you want to be honest or simply say, more than one.

  15. The thing is, numbers get stupider and stupider as you get older. If you aren’t coupled in your twenties and thirties, you could be having very little sex but with different partners each time. In my thirties, I had eight or nine partners, in (sadly) only slightly more sexual encounters. (Things have vastly improved.) From my count, you could get the wrong impression from a number that grew noticeably. You wouldn’t necessarily figure out that I was unhappily celibate quite a bit of that time.

    Tell numbers or don’t. Hopefully your partner values them about the same way you do. But like the other commenters have said, they don’t convey much without context.

  16. For me,a t least, the numbers conversation comes up very early in the relationship. It is one of the ways I weed out misogynists with double standards, so it’s important for it to be right up there and out there, along with the information that I’m Bi.

    I ended up marrying the guy whose response was ‘Huh. Ok.’ rather than weirdness.

  17. I had this conversation quite a bit post-divorce. My ex was my #5 and I was with him for nearly 9 years. I never had a lot of dates before him and after I got divorced I thought it would be more of the same. I was shocked when it wasn’t and was super shocked at how high my total got and how quickly. (I had over 30 in less than a year) which coupled with the 5 I had means I’m close to 40. I’m now married and we had the numbers discussion early. Luckily I married a man whore who was not grossed out or weird about my number because his was so much higher. However I’ve had guys get icked out at even a portion of my number and in some cases it was jealousy that they couldn’t easily get numbers that high that fast, and also a definite double standard. I think if you’re gonna have the convo, have the other person go first and base your answer off theirs. Be a little more vague if you think they’re gonna be weird about your number. If they have a high number then tell em the real number. If they seem ok with your number then great! If not, don’t stick around because that kind of attitude is not healthy. And just barely hitting double digits is not a big number in my opinion. Don’t be ashamed of it. I used to tell myself to own the sluttiness. 🙂

    • I agree with the being vague part because ultimately you DON’T have to tell them.

      Also, I think since so many women lie (because of the double standard, so I don’t blame them), it just exacerbates the problem. Women also lie to other women about their numbers for fear of being judged, so in reality your number probably isn’t THAT much higher than people with whom you’ve compared.

      Own the sluttiness! But I wouldn’t even call it sluttiness, I would call it LIVING!

  18. On one hand… if they’re someone who’s going to judge me by my “number,” I don’t want to be with them, and I want to know that as soon as possible.

    On the other… I don’t know, I generally just don’t bring it up. I think my husband is aware of all my past experiences at this point but I’ve never sat down and made a tally to present to him, so unless he’s tallied them up in his head he wouldn’t necessarily know the number offhand either.

  19. Your number sounds very similar to mine, I’m hit double digits age 20 ish and I’m still in the early double digits now at 22.

    I think you should mention it if it is important to you. If you feel it’s important they know your history and you know theirs, then you share. If it means nothing then it’s literally just a number. I think it would be a very case specific decision but one that you’ll know whether to share or not. It may also be the case that sharing right now isn’t suitable, but a few months down the line or at some undetermined point later, sharing is the best option. These things are quite fluid.

    Also, as a reaction to your guy friends (PLEASE NOTE: I may be completely wrong here but going with my gut) If they are alarmed at your number despite having comparable numbers themselves, their number may not be wholly true. If they’ve over egged the pudding on their behalf, it may just come as a surprise that a girl would have a similar number to their estimate

    Overall I’d say, like age, it’s just a number

  20. This is fantastic – I knew I would get great responses here!! Its all very interesting how people handle these things so differently! Thanks so much for commenting! 🙂

    And yes my dudes are hypocrites but the funniest thing is that they are the most open minded people you will meet when it comes to just about everything else! I guess some stigmas are more deeply ingrained in my little aussie society than others.

    • In my experience the most reasonable, kind, compassionate, open-minded people can have a total personality switch when it comes to sex. My best guess is that it’s probably the area of life about which people are most insecure, and that insecurity is pretty much encouraged by society in general (adverts that say no-one will fancy you if you don’t have the right phone/car/makeup/whatever, TV shows where the no1 sign of being a “loser” is not having had sex with enough people or even, Shock Horror, not having had sex at all…).

      I’m on my soapbox, I know, but when I was younger I thought that people who had an ethical attitude to everything else in life would have an ethical attitude to sex too (I don’t think a gender-based double standard is ethical, though I know there are worse things); I’m just not over the discovery that I was wrong!

  21. I tell new partners of any other partners I currently have, as part of my poly dating practices. I also am not afraid of mentioning past or current partners in conversation. But I’ve never told them my “number” and they’ve never asked – in fact, I don’t even know what it is, offhand. Somewhere in the teens, I reckon. It’s just not important to me or anyone else I know.

    • I’m about the same, and also poly. I’ve kept close enough track since I became sexually active that I could (and have) make a list and *get* a number (or several numbers based on different criteria), but I certainly don’t know it off the top of my head. It’s been much more important to discuss current and just-past relationship constellations, STD/STI status, and safer sex practices.

    • Heh. Yeah. i lost my virginity to my now husband, so he’s been around for all the growing my number has done. Heck, sometimes he keeps better count than I do.

      By contrast, when asked his number he often would forget to count the girls that came after me and I would have to remimd him.

    • Another poly person here. Same story, more or less. A lot of my long-term sexual relationships took place simultaneously (and my ex-girlfriend was lovingly referred to as my threesome buddy), but if you don’t know that then the math just doesn’t add up… and/or it looks like I’ve screwed a blue streak across southern Florida, but that part is pretty much true too. ^.^

  22. How about never? What is the point? There is no difference between 1 and 100 partners in terms of possible STD exposure, so as long as you are tested and can offer a clean bill of health, it doesn’t matter. My husband and I never shared our numbers and neither of us care, because we were both tested.

    It’s one thing to be in honest in relationships. But there is no need to graphically detail every sexual experience you have ever had. That just creates insecurities on both sides. There is a lot belief in the psych world that leaving all the details out actually creates a happier, more secure relationship.

  23. so i honestly have no idea whether me and my wife shared “numbers” – but we totally shared info about our prior experiences. i feel like obsessing over the number aspect of it just skirts around the actual information that could be important to your relationship.

    if i had to guess, i imagine me and my wife have slept with the same(ish) number of people, but that doesn’t say a damn thing about the difference between her many serious relationships starting fairly young vs. my late-blooming sluttiness. which is important information – either sexually or emotionally, people’s past experiences are *important*, but the number of people they’ve had sex with doesn’t tell you a damn thing about that (especially when you add in the varied definitions of “sex”).

    of course, it could be a good way to start the above conversation. ’cause if they’re offended by your number, they’re pretty liable to be offended by the fact that you’re not ashamed of it – and the latter is totally a relationship problem.

  24. In my opinion, numbers matter in these circumstances, and even then it’s not so much numbers but a discussion of previous experiences:
    -You’re trying to gauge STI risk. That means exposure, protection, getting tested, etc.
    -You’re staring at a long term relationship and one of you is very experienced and the other isn’t. Or neither of you are. That’s more of an expectations things than a number thing.
    -You, or your partner, subscribes to a belief system which prefers higher or lower numbers.
    -Sexual activity means something very different to you versus your partner (and previous experiences may inform this).

    I wouldn’t worry about numbers of sexual partners unless either of you have strong feelings on what they mean. It is easy to say that no one should care, but it’s not really looking at reality as many do care because sex is more than a recreational activity to them. Just find someone whose attitudes mesh with yours and if it comes up, it won’t matter.

    • I second this comment!

      Exact numbers aren’t necessarily important, but STD risk and establishing that you are on the same page (or, at least, compatible pages) about what sex in general and sex between the two of you in particular means to you IS important.

  25. To be honest, I think the whole “numbers” thing is a bunch of hooey. Who cares? Honestly. I think “numbers” is some petty Degrassi High thing. Why would I want to know (or my partner for that matter) how many people came before?

    Now, my partner and I did find out. But I think it was more of young and naive thing (we were 18 and 20 when we met). Now I’m 26 and married to him. And if we’re counting, he is my #2…and I regret my #1. I’m my husband’s #1…but he did things with women before I came into the picture. And you know what? NEITHER of us wanted to hear about previous partners. It made both of us jealous and upset. We got over it quickly because we realized it’s in the past and neither of us can change it. Now are happily married and expecting our first child.

    But looking back…should we have asked? NO. Why should we have? Instead, we should have had an STI/STD conversation.

    There’s no reason to be ashamed or proud of a number. Because it’s just a number.

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