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. My experience has been that in our mid-20s my friends and I thought about numbers, but by our 30s, we weren’t really thinking about it any more and had stopped caring. That goes for the women and men. At some point I think people start realizing it just doesn’t matter. The general understanding of your sexual history is substantially more important than how many people are part of it. Have you tried everything under the sun? Have you loved hard? Have you been hurt? Have you had a safe place to explore your sexuality? Those are the things that matter, and I think they are the questions we try, in some awkward way, to answer with our numbers. I could have had 85 partners, but that doesn’t indicate my philosophy on safe sex. It doesn’t indicate my emotional availability. It doesn’t indicate the freedom I’ve had to explore and express myself sexually.
    I think you should be perfectly comfortable with your number, and if you feel inclined, share it. With time I suspect you’ll find that it matters less and less. I hope, at least.
    Also? I think it could be a great filtering device if someone can’t handle their partner having as many, or more, partners than they’ve had. That double standard would certainly indiate the presence of other double standards.

    • Yeah, this is one of those things that I can’t remember when I stopped caring about it… it seems like I simultaneously lost count and lost interest in tracking it. Is that an age thing? A double digits thing? An issue of all the grey area of what you’re even counting? No idea, but this post totally made me realize how much this has changed for me…

      I guess the core question is: what are you counting and why? Is it an issue of STIs? Relationship duration? Triumphs/conquests? (I’m an asshole, but that was always my favorite part of counting.)

      • As an extremely sexual person, I always liked shocking people with how low my number was. So once I broke 4 I stopped caring. I can still sit down and count it up, but i dont track it.

        • This! As a very sexual person and hugely vocal advocate and supporter of ALL THE SEX people are very shocked to learn I’ve had 2 sexual partners (and one of those sexual relationships wasn’t very good- not his fault or mine, just the way things went). Just because I found the person that rings my bell very early in life and got married to him doesn’t mean I’m against everybody else doing whatever they please. I do what (and who) pleases me and get immense satisfaction from those experiences. I want other people to have the same level of awesome, however they can.

          People get either embarrassed (for themselves) or seem to have pity on me. So many girls (not so many guys, interestingly) have said “Oh- now that makes me feel like a slut for sleeping with 5 (6, 12, 24, etc) people.” but I always tell them “And you think I *wouldn’t* sleep with more people if I didn’t have my partner? Just because I value monogamy and am happy in this sexual relationship doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have others, should the need or occasion arise.”

          Sometimes they say things like “I’m sorry” and I can’t help but be offended. Like me making sexual choices for myself is something to be pitied. Don’t be sorry- be happy. My sexual life is exactly the way I want it to be.

      • I have a different philosophy on this issue than most of the other commenters. But first, a bit of background about me. I’ve had two long-term boyfriends over the last seven years. Neither of whom had ever been kissed prior to dating me and both of whom wanted to wait until our wedding night to have sex (for religious and logic-based moral reasons, respectively). As a result, I’ve accidentally remained a virgin much longer than I ever intended. (I’m 26.) So, if I started dating a new guy, I would tell him that I’ve never had sex, and I would want him to reciprocate by telling me not just his number, but also how many of those people he truly loved, how many were one night stands, did he ever cheat on anyone and why, etc. I don’t want to be just another forgotten notch on someone’s bedpost, so if he can’t even remember how many people he’s had sex with (let alone their names), that’s a bad sign in my book. To me, this is an entirely separate issue from STD’s and pregnancy prevention, although it could be discussed during the same conversation. It’s about fostering love, trust, and intimacy.

  2. My husband and I agree that we don’t know, or care. We’ve both had sex with other people before we were dating and we’ve both had regular STD screenings until we’be been exclusive for over a year. For me trading numbers would be saying that there is a number that’s a deal breaker. Honestly he could have had sex with two hundred women before we got together and so long as he’s clean and committed to our relationship.

    Screw the double standards, any number is ok for any gender. Sure, higher numbers COULD mean they have or had emotional issues, but there’s no telling really.

    So my advice is to focus on what matters. If you really care about numbers talk to your partner about how they feel about having that discussion, what it means and why they care about it. Then, if you want to, you can share details. If it’s one night of fun, you can probably forgo the talk, if it’s serious then talk about it like anythings else that might be important.

  3. First off, whatever happens DON’T LIE. That is not a burden you want to take into a new relationship, and what happens if you get found out?

    That out of the way, I think it depends a lot on the guy you’re with and with you. Frankly I don’t think that’s appropriate early-dating talk. But once you become “serious” (whatever that means to you) it doesn’t have to be off limits. It depends a lot on you and who you’re with. On the one hand, if he truly loves you it shouldn’t matter. On the other, it’s your respective pasts so what does it matter and why should you tell?

    I’m a bit of an open book with my boyfriend, erring on telling almost too much (certainly too soon) about my past relationships. Some of that was because of baggage and my exes not treating me with much respect (or, arguably, just being hormonal teenage boys, take your pick) some of it is just who I am. He is much less willing to talk about his past, mostly I think because he was hurt a lot (cheated on twice, never initiated a break-up) so I’m pretty fuzzy on the details, and now after going on 3 years I honestly don’t care. I know he was a late bloomer (like me) but that he has had more sexual partners (not hard, he’s only my second). We never had the “number” talk, though that may be because he knows mine, but I’m not anxious to ask about his. The important thing to me for our sex life is that we treat each other with respect and have fun. Knowing his experiences before me is kind of irrelevant.

    I guess what I want to leave you with is if it comes up in conversation, go ahead and tell him. But if not don’t feel like you have to say anything. If you make it a big deal, then it WILL BE a big deal. Which it really doesn’t need to be. Simple as that.

  4. I don’t know about number-telling etiquette and I think it’s just a personal thing.

    BUT I do have one thing to say. If you’re dating a guy and he has a problem because your number is as high as his, that’s pretty fucked up. I mean, it’s not even subtle hypocrisy, and any guy espousing the opinion that women should be held to different sexual standards than men should be pretty ashamed of themselves.

  5. before you commit to the person & before you do anything physical. … out of respect i think it’s good to at least give the other person the permission to know. i personally do not care what my husband’s number is, but i appreciate that he is open to tell me.

    if you respect the person the number will not change how you feel about this, but the person has a right to make their own sexual health decisions. i also think both should submit to std checks well before anything physical as well b/c if your number is 1 or 1,000 you are at risk if you have had any previous contact with another person.

    if your partner reacts to any number by labeling you a slut or a prude, you can leave & thank goodness you didn’t waste your time on them.

  6. I really thought that the “number” conversation was a sit-com and movie trope. I’ve never once been in a group of people who suddenly started volunteering their numbers, or in a relationship where we had any sort of “number” reveal.

    My intended was a member of the US armed forces from 17 until his late 20s, stationed all over the far East. After that, he lived for many years in Vegas. I shot off the farm at the age of 18 with the idea that I would experience as much as I could of the wonders the world had to offer, including all the lovely variations of penis and vagina that I could get my hot little hands on. My number is in the double digits. I’m guessing his is too. 🙂

    We both understand that we had interesting lives long before we met. Neither of us has any sort of communicable disease. We’re sexually compatible, we are able to discuss sex like grownups, and we’re blessed that neither of us have any negative sexual hang-ups to deal with. But neither of us has laid it out like a specific number, and I don’t see any reason that we ever will. I would think it might be uncomfortable and strange, and I don’t think either of us really wants to know that exact information about the other.

    Obviously you need to be able to talk honestly about sex with any potential partner, and you need to be damn sure that your sexual activity is safe. Everyone has a responsibility to be honest with their partner about sex as far as sexual health is concerned. But that is different than “I’ve slept with X people…how many have you slept with?” which in my opinion might cause issues that you don’t want.

  7. My philosophy has always been: If someone in the past gave you an STD, you’d better share right off the bat. Outside of that, I don’t care where or with whom you learned that trick with your tongue, hips, fingers, etc.

    While I like the concept of sharing things with your significant other, so many people have preconceived notions of how many past bed-fellows is too many. I feel confident enough with myself and my choices that sharing my number is not necessary and asking for my partner’s number isn’t either.

  8. Counting was definitely done by me and my friends through our very early 20’s. It was also part of most new relationships — wow, it’s something I haven’t thought about in years though!! I always thought it was funny because I was in a few long monogamous relationships interspersed with periods of rampant experimentation, so numbers don’t tell much.

    I’m pretty sure I had some conversation with my now-fiance about past partners early on in our relationship, and I have this vague notion that I’ve had sex with almost twice as many people as he has… but I think we just talked about it because we talked about everything. And I’m not sure either of us know actual numbers, but if I remember correctly, we had decided that as long as we both had more than 5 but less than 500 partners we were probably on the same page. But we’re also very open about sex, and being able to talk freely about it (including our pasts) is very important to me.

  9. When my last partner asked my number, I arched one eyebrow and said “Lots”. Really, no one told me I was supposed to be keeping count, hell I can’t remember most of their names. I never got anything, spread anything or got pregnant. C’est la effing vie.

    Also my last partner was much less experienced than me, leaving me being the leader most of the time, that got seriously old.

    And I am in my 50’s not some youngun’, yep us oldies had lots of the sex too!

  10. For me, mostly, I’ve had the STD conversation (do you have any, have you been tested, etc) early, and the numbers conversation later. Even then it isn’t really a ‘how many’ conversation, more of a conversation about history and past relationships etc which ends up giving an indication of how many almost by default. And really with my husband we only had that conversation because I am dead nosey. He didn’t particularly want to know about my past and so he only knows the bare bones. Me, I want detail to torment myself with.

  11. I always asked about numbers because it was an easy way to suss out any hidden mysogyny in my teens and early twenties. It was also a compatibility thing. If they weren’t comfortable sharing or thought it wasn’t my business, they obviously were not date-worthy. (Not to say that should be THE standard, just that it was mine.) I didn’t do it with my one nights stands, just guys I was interested in dating.

  12. People have sort of mentioned this, but the double standard just can’t work.

    Statistically, if all these hetero men are having sex with so many women, how are the hetero women they meet not having sex with a very similar number of men? Where are the women they are having sex with?? It seems impossible. The two ends have to match…. and it actually isn’t possible.

    I read a study that reviewed this trend (can’t remember the name of it), and a very significant chunk of the participants admitted to lying about their numbers (men inflating, women minimizing). There is a much larger double standard at work here, and it is a Much older one. It involves the idea that for a man, it is desirable to spread his seed many places and that he is admirable foe having done so (and in some communities, he is admirable for cheating on his partner). And for a woman, it is virtuous and desirable to be chaste… even a virgin. And a cheating woman is totally gross and unacceptable in this view.

    In some countries (like Israel), this idea even goes so far as to dictate the laws and divorce proceedings in a totally double standard way!!

    The last piece of this that has always bothered me is the homosexuality double standard. If a woman lists her sexual partners and then says, well, some of them were women, many men will get all excited and think that is awesome. On the other hand, if a man lists any men on his sexual partners list, other men think that is gross and act uncomfortable with that person. It’s ridiculous and stupid.


  13. I’d actually choke if my friends asked something like that. I truly thought it was just a bad joke in romantic comedies. I’m honest with my partner about everything in my life, but my friends aren’t sleeping with me so why should it be their business?

  14. I always thought it was a stupid question. Depending on what activities “count”, my number is either 20-something or 0 and my sister once said she could give at least four different accurate answers to that question. My husband didn’t care and didn’t even have a need to know. We developed a relationship where we could tell each other details from the past if we wanted to, but we also didn’t need to draw out details of each other’s past because we trust each other regardless.

  15. My dude and I established vague numbers relatively early on but we both agreed that, in our relationship, we don’t really want to discuss specifics. That’s our choice and is correct for us. We’re happy together and that’s what matters. Anyone before we were together obviously did not work out and as neither of us has an STI or STD, we’ve both been tested, good enough. There is a discrepancy between our numbers but it really isn’t relevant to our current relationship. If you feel like you need to tell or want to tell, then that’s your choice and you probably want to find someone who does want to share or who is okay with sharing that. I do agree you don’t want to be with someone who is grossed out by your number. I was much more interested in knowing about previous lifestyle, preference for current lifestyle and how we progressed together than in specific numbers.

  16. Personally, my husband and I have NEVER had the “numbers” talk. I don’t need–or WANT–to know how many women he slept with before he met me, and I don’t feel like he needs to know how many men I slept with either. What purpose would it serve other than possibly making one (or both!) of us self-conscious?

    A conversation about STD’s and sexual safety is valid, obviously, but there is no reason to feel obligated to share the exact number of sexual partners you’ve had.

    We do know about each other’s past serious relationships, because those tend to come up in conversation as time goes on… but more casual sexual encounters don’t really need to be discussed, in my opinion. What’s past is past.

    Now, if a guy ASKS you what your number is, that might be trickier and you should be prepared. You could either straight up answer or turn it back around on him with, “Why do you feel like it’s important to know that?”

  17. When I was in my 20’s, the numbers conversation was somewhat important, because it meant he wasn’t a man-whore or a womanizer (in my mind, not in actuality). Now, I’m in my early 40’s, and I realize that being STI-free, respectful of the people you have slept with, and respectful of people in general, is a LOT more important. I’d much rather be with someone who is as honest and respectful with a one-might-stand (or multi-night-stand) as he is with a long-term relationship, than with someone who’s “only” had sex with five people, but thinks oral sex is not “real sex” and therefore he can get as many blow-jobs as he wants from whomever, and it’s not cheating (yes, speaking from past experience).

  18. I’m your age with the same number. I’ve been in this relationship for three years and hit double digits at 21. It only bothered me because a couple of those people were true regrets, not because of the number itself. I don’t know what my partner’s number is and he doesn’t know mine. All I care about is that we’re exclusive with each other and honest about our sexual health. I don’t believe anybody should be ashamed by their number but I also don’t see when it would need to come up in conversation. He’s told me he got chlamydia from somebody before we met and was successfully treated, it could have been from one of a massive pile of ladies he was seeing at once or it could have been from a long term partner, I honestly don’t care, I just care that he’s honest about it.

    Part of my attitude probably comes from the fact that my first long term relationship partner was really horrible about the fact I wasn’t a virgin and he was. He made me feel like I was worth less because of it, and when he moved on to someone else he made sure to tell me that he thought more of her because she had also only slept with one person before him. The most ridiculous point of all this is that, though I’d never say anything, I knew she’d slept with a lot more people, because we used to be friends and I had mentioned his attitude to my number before. It was sad that she realised she had to lie to please him and went through with it.

  19. My boyfriend of 3 years and I have never discussed our numbers. We were 28 & 29 when we met, so obviously we’d been with other people. He’s never asked me, I’ve never asked him. As it looked like our relationship was progressing into something serious, I wanted to know if he’d ever been in any long-term relationships and why they ended, and some things I wanted him to know about me included the fact I’d been in a previously abusive relationship. Those things seemed a bit more pertinent to understanding where the other was coming from. The numbers-game seems like it has the potential to be hurtful.

  20. Unless you are comparing scores with anyone, even a potential permanent partner (and why would you) it’s nobody business how many you’ve had. Honestly, if you’ve enjoyed many partners, that’s fine, but why would you feel the need to broadcast it. The only time it would be an issue is if you are running for a public office where it might become seriously embarrassing, or you are passing around a nasty little bug, which I assume you aren’t because you know to be careful. Why would you care about how many partners one of your lovers had? It should be a personal matter, not a “let’s change the scorecard again this week” matter. Not kissing and telling is not just for men anymore, especially the ones whose ego’s are fragile enough to be insulted by how many partners anyone else has had, especially if it’s more than they have. Yes, I speak from experience. I had more than my husband when we married, (gotta love the swinging 60’s and 70’s) but we are satisfied with each other and see no need to bring up previous encounters. We are not into comparing current with past and feel it doesn’t belong in our lives now. It’s just sex, for goodness sake, not a contest!

  21. I don’t think there’s any reason to share that # unless you want to. It’s completely outside of the STI conversation. It’s also incredibly rude if people are asking you!

  22. My FH and I discussed this pretty early on. Mostly because when we met I was only looking for one thing…and he well…he’d been single for almost 4 years and his last girlfriend was an old friend of mine. He has started early but had only had a few partners and I had gotten to age 22 still a virgin and had quickly made up for lost time. I honestly had no qualms telling him about my barely double digits and he and I discussed all of our past relationships just to lay it all out there. Honesty is still our policy three years later. But to each their own! IF you are the type that keeps things to yourself and would rather save that kind of question for when you’ve been together for awhile then so be it; but I would strongly encourage being upfront if your partner is willing to be as well.

  23. I know this is an older post, but I feel really strongly about this, so I couldn’t resist chiming in. I guess a short version of what I think is that it is NEVER ok or relevant for someone to ask about your number. It’s just such an arbitrary, judgemental 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.
    Me personally, 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 number is, because I stopped counting. I told the Mister 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. (He also had only one “hookup” in his past, but she was someone he still worked with and thought I may run into at some point, so he wanted me to know about his one night with her, rather than perhaps finding out FROM her…and then perhaps having her read a great deal into the fact that he’d allowed me to walk into THAT blindly!)
    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 info. 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.
    Ok, stepping down off the soapbox now. 😉

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