Should you fib? Hide under the table? Experts explain how to navigate the dicey get-to-know-you conversation
Could your sexual history make or break your relationship? That’s what a new (unscientific) survey conducted by Superdrug Online Doctor, an online pharmacy in the UK, suggests.
In the survey of more than 2,000 Europeans and Americans, 30 percent of the respondents said they’d be at least somewhat likely to end a relationship if they found out their partner had too many previous sexual partners.
On average, the women surveyed said they’d consider anyone who had slept with 15 or more partners as “too promiscuous.” Men set the limit at 14 partners.
Plus, more than two thirds of the respondents said they thought that sexual histories should be discussed within the first four months of a relationship.
Clearly this all makes answering the sex number question a terrifying proposition if you’re in the double digits.
Do you lie? Change the subject? Tell the truth and hope for the best?
We didn’t know either, so we asked two women with Ph.D.s.
DO YOU HAVE TO REVEAL YOUR SEX NUMBER?
Surprise! Both experts we polled give you permission to dodge the question entirely.
First of all, it could be too early to have such an intimate conversation, says Leslie Bell, Ph.D., a psychotherapist based in Berkeley, California.
Say someone asks you about your sexual history on the third date, for example, and you don’t feel comfortable delving into the ex files yet. That’s reasonable, Bell says.
Just tell your date: “I’d love to get to that point, but I’d like to get to know you a little better before we talk about that.”
Even down the road, though, there’s really no reason you should have to disclose your number, says sex researcher Kristen Mark, Ph. D., the director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky,
Her reasoning: What’s the point of sharing that information? That number of women you slept with in the past doesn’t usually have anything to do with the relationship you’re currently in (as long as you use protection and get tested for STIs).
So if you don’t want to answer, say: “Look, I’m sorry I’m not willing to share this information, but I don’t see how it’s relevant to our relationship,” says Mark.
If your partner seems annoyed by that, don’t get defensive. Just calmly ask her why she wants to know in the first place, Mark says. Try: “How do you see this affecting our relationship?”
Then you can have a more productive conversation about what you both value in a relationship. Maybe she’s actually more concerned about fidelity, for example.
Most likely, what she wants most in a partner has nothing to do with the exact number of notches on your bedpost.
IS IT OK TO FIB ABOUT YOUR SEX NUMBER?
If you do decide to tell your partner about your past, just be honest, Mark and Bell both advise.
Even if you don’t think fibbing about it is a big deal, the truth will probably come to the surface eventually if you stay together, Bell says. And then you’ll be caught in a lie, which could hurt her trust in you.
If you’re worried that your number is going to seem high, prep a little speech in advance in case she raises her eyebrows.
Explain how you got to that number and what those different periods in your life meant to you, says Bell. For example, you might have thought sleeping around in college was fun, but now you’re ready to settle down.
Or maybe you still want to sleep with lots of different people—in which case, she deserves to know that about you anyway.
Regardless, your exact number of sexual partners is just one detail in your history, Mark says. It’s part of who you are, but obviously it’s not the whole story. If she lets it make or break your relationship, then maybe you and her weren’t compatible in the first place.