I just realized that I’m at the point where I can’t answer the “How many people have you been with?” question honestly and vaguely without the number sounding too high anymore. Oops. So what’s a girl to do when confronted with that question when she’s worried that the real answer is damning?—LH, San Francisco, CA
The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
LH, I don’t know if you’re sixteen or sixty, so I’ll address your question with that in mind. I think all of us start out keeping track of who we’ve been with in our lives. For those of us lucky enough to find the one person that fulfills all our needs at an early age, the task of managing the list is easily accomplished. However, for those of us who’ve had a tougher time finding Mr. or Ms. Right, Mr. or Ms. Right Now has stopped by and blurred our clarity from time to time as the years have passed.
If you’ve been with more people than you can count, that doesn’t make you a bad person, just more “diversified.” As you get this question from time to time, the mature person posing it will appreciate the fact that you’ve explored your needs when given an honest answer. The immature person will respond with a feeling of shock. Know the difference.
I think that when you’re confronted with this question, it’s alright to be as exact or as vague as you feel comfortable being. However, if you want to remain vague, but you’ve run out of one-liners, may I suggest, “Who knows? I haven’t exactly been counting.” This one will make them second-guess their motive for asking while giving you room to breathe. You can also try, “Not as many as Wilt Chamberlain,” who’s, of course, notorious for his claim to have had sex with 20,000 women. This is a good one because it will probably take the conversation in a whole new direction. Finally, “More than a nun, less than Jenna Jameson” will be a good catchall to make them wonder if you’re Catholic, into porn, or just a porn-loving Catholic. Most importantly, no matter what you decide to say, just be comfortable with yourself and your experiences in life.
The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
This might be a great time to pull out the old 40-Year-Old Virgin tactic, where Seth Rogen advises Steve Carell to answer a question with a question. “How many lovers have I had? (Insert naughty Elizabeth Banks-style laugh here.) Well, how many lovers have you had?!” But that’s probably only going to buy you about two minutes, tops.
My issue with telling people the number isn’t so much about the number, be it high or low. It’s more about being overly concerned with details that are in the past and that can’t be changed. I can see how it might be weird for someone if you’ve been with fifty people and your partner’s only been with one. But if you care about each other, have a clean bill of health, and are being safe, why should it matter? And if you have a comparable number, what does that really say? You could’ve slept with five people who were very special to you and your partner could’ve had five drunken one night stands; the significance of each relationship attached to each sexual encounter could be completely different, so you’re never going to get an apples-to-apples comparison.
So before giving up the number, I’d ask your partner why he or she really wants to know. Is there something that’s worrying him or her? Because honestly, I just don’t think any good can come of sharing this number; what’s in the past is there to stay and there’s nothing you can do to change it now. Focus on the present. And if explaining all this doesn’t work, just do what Elizabeth Banks did in 40-Year-Old Virgin: get naked and wait for him or her in a hot tub. That should provide plenty of distraction.
The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
You gave me a nice chuckle, LH, as if you just realized, “Oops, I’ve had a lot of dudes on top of me in the last fifteen years.” I can see your hand smacking your forehead à la the old, “Wow, I could’ve had a V8” commercials. Only in your case, maybe it’s “Wow, I could’ve had VD.” I’m kidding. I have no idea what you consider a high number and you have no idea what anyone else will think is a high number. If you consider your number relatively high, I’m concerned about any STDs you may have. Have you been checked out for these?
A high number would be the antithesis to the adage, “there’s safety in numbers.” As addressed previously in this column, you should absolutely inform any potential sexual partner of any STDs you have. That said, you should just be honest when posed with the number question. It is what it is, your life was what it was, and now here you are. Does it matter to you how many partners your significant other has had? Is there a magic number that would be a problem for you? If not, then your potential mate would hopefully share your same point of view. A main concern of any potential partner would be your fidelity. One could assume that if you’ve slept around a lot in the past, it may be difficult for you to be in a monogamous relationship. So address that. You can also say that you fully intend and look forward to being monogamous in a committed relationship and you expect the same from a prospective mate.
Taking ownership of your past is the way to go. Your past got you to where you are now and you’ve hopefully lived and learned and improved along the way. After all, the past has passed, right? Now and the future are what is of importance to anyone interested in getting involved with you. The only thing damning about the past is fixating on it.
The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
Ummm, stop sleeping around so much. If you’re not happy with the number, what makes you think anyone else would be? For some, the number two is too much; for others, it might be ten, fifty, one hundred, or 1,000. So I ask you, LH, is the number too high for you personally, or are you living by some external standard? If so, whose standard is it? Who or what did you let have that much power over your life?
It’s your life and your choices. I’m not judging you or suggesting that you shouldn’t continue on your merry sleeping-around ways; I’m simply wishing that you be compassionate about the choices you’ve made and the number that summarizes those choices. I’m also wondering, if some guy gave you the exact same number as yours, would you think that it’s too high? Is one number okay for women and another okay for guys? Then there’s the question of why you sleep around. Are there long-term commitment issues at play here?
Bottom line: are you more concerned with your reputation (which others define) or do you have an internal sense that you sleep with so many men because you have some real issues that you’re not looking at? Only you can answer that. And when you do, greet whatever you find with great curiosity. Learning more about what makes you who you are will help you be more loving and accepting of yourself.