How many do you have? The number of sexual partners for men and women
by Abby Terlecki
As if the number of birthday candles women blow out each year isn’t enough stir up insecurities, the number of men they’ve hit the sheets with has become etched into their minds, and possibly hearts, as well. These days, it’s hard to determine an “appropriate” number of partners. So how many is too many?
The percentage of women who have had a lower number of sexual partners (10 or less) is generally higher than men, according to an ABC News’ poll, the American Sex Survey. And at the start of the tier of 11 partners and above, the percentage of men increases while the number of women decreases.
In other words, comparatively, the majority of men have had a higher number of sexual partners, and the majority of women have had a lower number of partners. Psychologist and Professor Norman R Brown and his colleagues at the University of Michigan report that -- on average -- by the time a man is in his 40s, he has had 31.9 partners, while women have had 8.6 partners.
What does the tally mark mean?But women don’t need statistics to know that typically a man’s number is significantly higher and more socially acceptable. Men can be more open about sexual activity with multiple partners, and it’s considered acceptable for them to give precedence to the shape of a woman’s legs over her lifelong goals. Who hasn’t heard inappropriate comments made about women followed by the universal and pathetic excuse, “But I’m a guy...”
Conversely, women’s sexual histories and beneath-the-sheets activities remain hush-hush. Unlike weight, there’s no BMI to pinpoint a healthy sexual lifestyle. “The number” has morphed into another notch in the bedpost for men -- and a self-deprecating representation of past failures in search of Mr Right for women.
Why such a stigma?Why should our sexual past carry such a stigma that we’re reluctant to reveal our number, even to our gynecologists? A woman in her late-20s says, “I think men prefer women to be more pure than they are. It’s a turnoff if they think a woman is more sexually experienced. It’s a blow to the ego.”
This creates a problem if men expect to have sexual adventures when young, yet settle down with “conservative” wives years later. This leads to women being judged for being "prudish" when young -- yet any subjective “high” number insinuates sloppy intoxication, low self-esteem or a need for attention down the road.
A number, however, that seems to get overlooked and under-judged is oral sex partners.Somehow it’s become acceptable to have an infinite number of oral sex partners, as opposed to the number of intercourse partners. Fair or not, foreplay has less social and emotional repercussions, besides being defined as a tease.
Does casual sex carry emotional benefits, not only baggage?A young woman explains, “I’m much more inclined to have sexual experiences with someone I know I don’t have a future with. It’s a defense because I don’t get hurt.” Some women have one-night stands as a way to receive sexual pleasure. Others use it to stave off hurt or gain equal ground in future relationships. Sometimes, sex becomes a spiteful and defensive action against men -- an attempt at unemotional, unattached, hot-animal sex.
One woman explains that a one-night stand for her made her feel powerful for her next sexual relationship, as well as helping her overcome a brutal breakup. Another woman, who refers to her sexual fling as "Mr Z," says that he “helped me to feel wanted again, and gave me the opportunity to a rebuild badly shattered self-confidence,” after her fiancé left her.
Although most women would agree that no matter how hard they try to keep sex casual, emotions often get involved -- and attempts at being Samantha Jones from Sex & the City leave them feeling shameful and lonely.
How are women keeping up with the times?With significant social changes taking place, such as couples waiting longer to marry and an increase in the prevalence of reliable birth control methods, women will increasingly have healthy sexual histories on par with men. To expect men to accept higher numbers and more experiences from potential wives, women should also be confidently comfortable with their own non-monogamous, active sexual lifestyle. Steamy nights might lead to romance or they might fizzle out to be just another hook-up.
But like turning a year older, another number might just mean more experience and wisdom both inside and outside the bedroom -- which is beneficial to both sexes.