Who’s Counting?

The Denver Post
1st Edition Section: LFS; Pg. L-04
May 11, 2003 Sunday

Who’s counting? Disclosing number of sexual partners a sensitive subject
by Elizabeth Aguilera , Denver Post Staff Writer

The ‘number.’

Those on the dating scene know what it is, though few share it and even fewer ask for it.Most men and women avoid talking about how many sexual partners they have had. They skirt the issue or change the subject. If they do tell, many lie.

Some, if pressed, will tell the truth, but should they?

‘I never volunteer the information’ says Dan Gadecki, 23, of Fort Collins. ‘If they ask and I want it to be a meaningful relationship, I tell the truth. If it’s a short-term thing, then I lie.’

Terri Taylor, 28, thinks truth is the best policy.

‘I’m not ashamed of my number, but I don’t bring it up either, and I never ask,’ she says. ‘In this sexual generation it’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.’

And for good reason, says Dr. Ava Cadell, a sexologist in Los Angeles.

‘Don’t ever bring it up; there isn’t a point,’ she counsels. ‘It only makes someone feel bad, either the person asking or the person answering.’

Cadell and other sex experts go as far as advising daters to tell little white lies, especially if the exchange is in a short-term dating relationship.

‘Just tell them what you think they want to hear,’ Cadell says. ‘Why make waves?

‘I’m always cautious of people who ask that question because it’s unnecessary. We have all made mistakes. Everyone has had sex with someone they’ve regretted, and it’s OK.’

Ervin Lee, 33, never ever tells.

‘It’s not appropriate because you should concentrate on the present and not the past,’ says Lee. ‘There’s no upside because no matter how many you tell, it’s too many. My dad told me not to ask questions I don’t want the answers to.’

Questions that are acceptable, Cadell says, include whether someone has had sex with someone of the same gender (to assess bisexuality and adventurousness) and whether someone has any sexually transmitted diseases.

Tim Lutes, 31, is concerned ONLY about diseases; he never asks a woman’s ‘number.’

‘I only want to know if a woman has a disease or not,’ he says. ‘I always ask that before I sleep with a woman.’Asking for the number and getting the truth can cause discomfort for both partners, Cadell says. A partner with a high number may feel bad about their experiences or feel promiscuous. The partner with a low number may not feel as experienced or be intimidated.Men and women who choose abstinence before marriage may want to ask about how their partner feels about sex outside the context of marriage before asking about partners, experts say.

Men and women respond differently to their partner’s history. Most men say they want the women they date or marry to have five or less partners. Ten max.

Women are much more generous, saying that a man with more than 50 past partners would cause concern. A man who has had only a handful of partners is a rare find, says Erin Custer, 28, of Denver.

It’s a double standard, Cadell says.’Men want to know that it’s (a woman’s ‘number’) less than the fingers on their hand,’ she says. ‘Men are so possessive and don’t want a woman to be more experienced than they are. They don’t want to compete with all the men she’s been with.’James Schreck says he’ll overlook up to six partners for any woman he dates. More than that and he’s likely to disappear.’I like a woman with morals,’ says Schreck. ‘I guess up to six is OK, but if it’s more than that, she’s someone I’ll stay away from.’

Women these days are more sexually independent, have sex with as many partners as men and take responsibility for their own pleasure, Cadell says. Men don’t like it.

Even the most liberal men can become judgmental if their partners have had sex with as many or more people than they have, says Amy Sohn, who writes New York Magazine’s ‘Naked City’ column and is the author of ‘Run Catch Kiss’ (Simon & Schuster, $ 23).

‘It’s a sign that, at the end of the day, men are still looking for a wife, while women are looking for a partner,’ Sohn says. ‘Women are willing to acknowledge that the man had a life before them, but men want to think they are taking on someone relatively virginal.’

Daters who find someone they are compatible with shouldn’t let past experiences affect their relationship, says Custer.’You can’t let that affect the relationship because you are obviously in it because it’s good,’ she says. ‘I don’t ask, but I don’t want a guy with more than 35 to 50. I do get curious, but only when it’s a more established relationship.’Because men are sensitive about the number of partners women have had, Sohn says, she recommends picking a random number and sticking with it.

‘I say the best number for women to give, regardless of the truth, is four. It sounds high enough to be realistic but not so high it’s intimidating.’

Sohn doesn’t have a recommendation for men, who typically inflate or deflate their ‘number’ according to their partner.When the question does arise, Sohn says partners should ask why it’s important. Then they should try to avoid answering by pointing out that both partners have had active single lives and there’s no need to talk about them.

‘I don’t think it’s any of my business, and my number isn’t any of their business,’ says Taylor.

When Taylor and Custer were in their early 20s, they were more apt to ask men. The question becomes irrelevant with age, they say.

Rebecca Earnest, 31, agrees.

‘You get to a point where you realize you’ve been through (things), and everyone has a past,’ she says. ‘You have to focus on the ‘now.’ ‘