How Many People Have You Slept With? Here’s What That Number Means
“What’s your number?” is a question that many couples dread, yet still bravely pose in hopes of gaining insight into each other’s sexual pasts.
But tread carefully — too much information could leave your partner feeling insecure or uncomfortable once they’ve heard the answer. So are we obligated to tell our partners how many people we’ve slept with if asked? If it’s not brought up, is it even a conversation worth initiating? And do we have to be truthful when it does come up?
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According to a 2018 Superdrug survey of more than 2,000 men and women, 81 percent of respondents think your number is something you should talk about within the first eight months of dating, while 30 percent think a discussion of your sexual history is necessary within the first month of the relationship.
In the 2011 comedy “What’s Your Number,” Ally (Anna Farris) is beside herself after discovering a magazine article statistic that claims the number of men she’s slept with is alarmingly high. By the film’s end, she ultimately learns to embrace her number rather than stressing about it, but it’s the plot that points to a very relevant subject in today’s dating world: Your “number” can be a source of pride, shame or a whole range of other emotions. As such, sharing that number with someone else can feel vulnerable AF.
Before you go tallying up your hookups, there are a lot of things to consider to ensure that the conversation is productive as opposed to problematic.
Here’s everything you need to know about revealing your sexual history, and what your number of partners says about you.
Should I Tell My Partner My Number?
Dr. Dawn Michael, clinical sexologist and relationship expert, notes that once you’ve decided to tackle this subject, it’s important to be open and honest to the extent of feeling safe and supported. If it’s your partner that brings it up, Michael recommends digging into why they want to know.
“There usually is a reason,” she explains. “Perhaps they want a sex history because of STDs, but it’s necessary to go into the details or offer information that the other person is not asking for. If you really feel uncomfortable, you can leave that information out or shorten your response.”
If you’re the one asking, you should be prepared to talk about your sexual history, too. Additionally, Michael says that you can’t really predict how your partner will respond to your number. If they become jealous, shut down or otherwise react negatively, you’ll need to explore those feelings with them further.
“Each person is unique and there is no right or wrong answer about sharing your past sexual experiences,” she notes. “But if both people are mature and can deal with the information, then share away.”
Could My Number of Sexual Partners Be Too High or Too Low?
According to the aforementioned survey, Americans’ average number is around 7.2 sexual partners in their lifetimes. That said, the number ranges quite dramatically from state to state — the average for Louisiana residents was 15.7 partners, while it was 2.6 for Utah residents. It’s important to note that these statistics refer to the average number over an entire lifetime, and your number will be heavily impacted by factors such as age, location and upbringing. It’s next to impossible to determine whether a number is “normal” or not, but if it falls between 7 and 16, it’s on par with the rest of the country.
What If I (or My Partner) Have No Interest in Revealing Who We’ve Slept With?
There’s always a chance that your partner won’t want to disclose how many people they’ve slept with, either because they feel embarrassed about it, they’re worried it might change your perception of them or both. If that’s the case, you shouldn’t push them for information they aren’t ready to share. Keep in mind, however, that their hesitance to reveal their number may point to some trust issues. That’s why Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of “The Kurre and Klapow Show,” advises asking why they don’t want to talk about it.
“You can and should respect their right to privacy, but at the same time they should respect your request,” he explains. “This also comes down to why are you asking and why are they not telling. What benefit are you getting from knowing, and what benefit are they getting from keeping it from you?”
How Can I Make Sure This Conversation Is Mutually Comfortable and Respectful?
If you and your partner decide to tackle this topic, there are some ways to minimize the chances of any issues arising. First, having the conversation in the comfort of your own home is key. You also may want to wait to bring it up until your partner is calm (not after a stressful day at work, or when they’re rushing around for an appointment).
Also, be sure to keep things short, simple and to the point.
“While you are discussing how many [people you’ve had sex with], the intimate details are in your past and do not need to be discussed,” says Klapow. “This is a time to neither share too much information nor clam up. Respect boundaries, but also recognize that your willingness to answer the question shows your transparency and trust in your partner.”
What Does It Say About Someone Who Overestimates Their Number? What About Underestimating?
In the Superdrug’s survey, a whopping 41.3 percent of men and 32.6 percent of women admitted to lying about their sexual history. That’s no real shock — men were more likely to increase their number, whereas women were more likely to decrease it. This likely stems back to outdated social norms that put pressure on men to have more sexual experience to appear masculine, and put pressure on women to have less experience so as not to seem promiscuous.
A 2018 study published in “The Journal of Sex Research” also found that men are more likely to estimate rather than actually count their sexual partners, which could obviously suggest that their numbers are less accurate.
Clearly, it’s pretty common to fudge your number a bit, but what does that say about you? Whether you add or subtract a few sexual partners, it all boils down to insecurity. Either you don’t feel good about your sexual history, or you fear your partner will judge you.
“If you have been with hundreds of people with highly promiscuous behavior in the past, underestimating may help protect the feelings of your partner,” suggests Klapow. Honesty is the best policy, but it’s also about being considerate. Remember that over or underestimating calls your trust into question, which is critical to your relationship.”
That said, there’s a difference between being honest and showing off.
“Bragging about your past partners shows a lack of compassion for your partner,” he adds.
Does My Number of Sexual Partners Say Anything About Me as a Person?
The only thing that your number actually says about you, according to Klapow, is how much sexual experience you have.
“The reasons for the number is where the important relationship information is,” he says. “Did you develop sexual interests later in life? Did you have less activity for religious reasons? Were there sexual traumas? Were you promiscuous because you love sex or were you promiscuous to get attention?”
Ultimately, Michael notes that the most important thing is not the number itself, but how you feel about it.
“If you are uncomfortable or comfortable about it, that’s what counts,” she explains.
Only you and your partner can determine whether this is a conversation that’s going to prove helpful or harmful. When executed with caution, it’s a discussion that can foster intimacy and build trust. As long as you feel secure in your past decisions, as well as your current relationship, you should be able to have an honest exchange sans awkwardness, anxiety and judgement.
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