From adolescence, we’ve been socialized to inquire about our partners’ intimate numbers. In seventh grade, it’s “how many people have you kissed?” In high school, the question expands to “how many people have you hooked up with?” Approaching adulthood, the question stops at “how many people have you sexed?” While curiosity about your partner’s past lovers is normal, it’s the primary intent behind these questions that make them unnecessary. Typically, lovers request numbers in fear of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or as a potential way to measure the likelihood of infidelity. The problem is that most people lie, forget, or downright refuse to disclose their numerical sexual history. Thus, it’s better to inquire about your partner’s history of sexual health and preference in terms of dating lifestyles.
When’s the last time you’ve been tested? That’s the first question you should ask to inquire about someone’s sexual health. Once your partner provides an answer, you should consider whether the testing date was recent enough for you to feel comfortable. If so, you should ask to see their test results and then inquire if they’ve had unprotected sex with anyone else since or shortly prior to the testing date. If they have or the test dates aren’t recent, you should request that your partner get tested again. In the meantime, you should use caution and have protected sex, both in terms of penetration and oral.
If you had taken the other route and asked, “how many sexual partners have you had?” It’s likely that the person would feel judged and frankly, you probably wouldn’t get an honest answer. Somewhere between college and post-graduate life, I stopped counting my partners, as I felt the question was invasive and irrelevant to a contemporary relationship. If I sat down and thought about it, I could recall my entire sexual history and count my partners. But I feel it’s unnecessary unless there’s a health threatening circumstance in which I have to tell someone that they might have something. Thankfully, I’ve never been there. I always get tested for everything under the sun in addition to having the test results available for my new partner’s viewing. I’m also willing to be upfront about any partners or unprotected circumstances (very few in general) that I’ve had since my last test date. These days, I can count my yearly total of sexual partners on one hand. But regardless, I feel like the numbers game is simply a way of drawing judgment on someone’s sexual history instead of sticking to the medical facts.
Often, I’d discuss the numbers game with my male friends and ask their perceptions of women that couldn’t count their total of sexual partners on two hands. Most replied with the typical assumption that she’s “loose,” not monogamy material, STD ridden, and can’t keep her panties herself, which is loaded with all sorts of gender biases, particularly since none of these male friends could do the same. I proceeded to ask if they’d sleep better at night if the woman were dishonest about her numbers. Interestingly enough, just about all replied yes.
So what’s the real reason that people play the numbers game? If it were really about sexual health, we’d just get right to the point and ask for test results. Do you disclose your number of past lovers to new partners? Is the question truly irrelevant so long as everyone is safe and willing to share his or her test results? Weigh in.