Sex: Should You Reveal Your Number?

One of the more common sex questions I’m asked – aside from the usual questions about orgasm, desire and erections – is one that seeks my personal opinion, rather than scientific information. Many women and men want to know if they should tell their number – you know, the number of people they’ve had sex with – to a new partner.People have to do what they feel comfortable with so I tend to shy away from offering a direct “yes” or “no” to this question. However, I’m personally not a fan of the practice (except when people are really good at being aware of, sharing and communicating their feelings with each other and with kindness and compassion). Why?

When you ask someone a question, you better be prepared for the answer. And in American culture, few people seem to be prepared to process the number of people their partner has had sex with. If their partner hasn’t ever been with anybody else (number = 0), then some people feel overly eager to de-flower the person while others may feel intimidated by the possibility of being The One Who Takes Their Virginity. If their number is low, some people then lie about their own number in response, so as to be on par. If the number seems high, all too often people get judgmental or they wonder about the risk of infection or cheating or “what kind of person” the person they are dating is.

As if a single number could ever tell someone “what kind of person” you are dating.

If you want to know if your partner has a sexually transmissible infection, or STI, you two should go get tested together. Knowing their number will not tell you whether or not they have an infection.

If you want to know whether you’re compatible, knowing their number will not necessarily give you a good sense of their present-day values or what they want in life. Spending time together, getting to know one another, going through your own ups and downs together, is a more likely path.

Plus, there’s the whole issue of what “sex” is. We know from research that people have all sorts of definitions for what they consider having “had sex.” As such, people often give numbers that are meaningless. One person may count every single person they ever had intercourse with as their number. Another might only include the number of people they had intercourse with whose names they can remember or who they had sex with more than once. Some people include oral sex partners or anal sex partners in their number. Others don’t. And unless you’re willing to get into the nitty gritty details of who gets counted and why – and you are willing and compassionately able to handle your partner’s answers – I wouldn’t go there. Would you?

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About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • Jen

    I thought you meant your Kinsey Scale number…6 is the max there!

  • http://onefearlessmind.wordpress.com Na

    Now wait, I thought you were supposed to tell your number to everyone you intend to sleep with, meaning everyone, oral, anal, or vaginal. It’s for health, it’s a safety rule, it’s honesty. Isn’t it? I mean, maybe I’m out of the loop, but I always thought that it’s safer to tell your number rather than not.

  • Kate McCombs

    I thought this was a very, thoughtful, refreshing take on the whole thing. It seems like many people get very preoccupied with a number, when in fact, it can tell you very little about that person’s sexual knowledge, experience, or STI status.