What's Your Number? Why Asking About Past Sexual Partners Doesn't Work
Are you a "perfect 10"?
Hey, what's your number? No, not the one to your cell phone, the other one.
It's a question so popular that many a Cosmo quiz has attempted soliciting the secret sum from their readers, and that a movie of the same title was released just last year—mostly to negative reviews—illustrating just how universal this premise might be: A woman discovers that, according to (surprise!) a magazine article, her number of past sexual partners is double that of the average, so she embarks on a hunt for long lost loves in the hopes that she's mistakenly overlooked a potential husband—all this, so she can avoid adding another notch to the proverbial belt. God forbid.
Because asking a woman for her other number is as taboo (and tacky) as inquiring about her age or weight, a dating site recently surveyed 1000 men and women in search of a slightly different figure: the perfect number of past partners they'd want their new lover to have.
Half of all women, and nearly the same percentage of men (at 46 percent), declared 10 the ideal number of past sexual partners. However, when it came to actually asking their partner the ultimate question, it appears inquiring minds really didn't want to know, and the numbers dipped. Only 35 percent of women professed wanting to know the total number of their new lover's old conquests, this compared to 30 percent of men. So, besides the curiosity factor, does the grand total ever really matter?
"It's the most pointless question of all, because it takes out the emotion, and it takes out the circumstance," relationship expert Tracey Cox told the Guardian.
Plus, who's to say that the interrogated party is being sincere about their sexual past anyway?
"I can tell you, beyond 10, most lose count and probably will not be telling the truth to their partner," said psychotherapist Edie Raether, author of "Sex for the Soul."
In fact, dishing out dishonest data is so common that the widely accepted (albeit amusing) mathematical theorem to uncovering the real number is popularly known as "The Rule of Three," or, as broken down by rapper J. Cole's lyrics: "She say she only f**ked like 4, 5 ni**as / So you know you gotta multiply by 3." (Speaking directly to the stigma attached to a lady in possession of a severely-nicked bedpost, the song was appropriately titled "Nobody's Perfect.")
It is that same stigma, however, that author Karyn Bosnak says made movie producers uncomfortable when they approached her about adapting her book "20 Times a Lady" into the aforementioned clunker that starred Anna Faris in the role of the frantic young woman. "They all wanted to make it [about] a girl who had ten boyfriends that she [just] dated, not 20 men she slept with," Bosnak told the Huffington Post.
The survey findings further support Bosnak's suggestion that men are less tolerant of women's purported promiscuity, as 43 percent of them said they'd prefer their date have carried on sexual dalliances with even less than 10 partners (compared to 36 percent of women).
"Men don't want their women to have had a lot of sex partners," said dating advice expert April Masini. "They don't want to know that you've ever had a one night stand. And they don't want you to be easy or slutty, [especially] if they see a future with you. They want to be the first, the best, the last—and if they can't be the last, they want to be the one who ruined it for you by making sex with them so good that you'll never have as fulfilling an experience again."
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So should couples attempt broaching this perennially awkward conversation in the first place?
"My advice is don't," said Masini. "Play the old-fashioned bad manners card. Like the number on your income tax returns, it's private."
Jason, a 25-year-old New York City bartender, agrees. Boasting a slightly lower number in lovers than birthdays, when he met a special girl, he told her his number was a third of the actual total. "I lied because I'm not proud of the number, I don't feel it represents who I am well. Plus, at the time, I didn't think I owed her—or anyone ever—an explanation of every mistake I've made and regret that I have. I also didn't want to push her away. It ultimately worked out. Years later, we're happy together and everyone else is a very, very distant memory."