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What’s Your Number?

Is there a polite way to ask a future—or current—sexual partner about how many people they've done it with? Or is it better to leave past partners in the past? The 4-Way crunches some numbers and responds.

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Dear 4-Way,
Do you think it’s a good idea to find out how many sexual partners the person you’re dating has had? If the answer is “yes,” when in the relationship is the best time to ask? —LL, Los Angeles, California

The straight man’s perspective: Chris Kennedy
I side with military policy on this one, “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” No number is going to please anyone, so why bother? And odds are most people don’t tell the truth anyway. If you’re worried about them hiding a WMD/STD, then have your partner get tested. Their “number” doesn’t matter. You can contract a disease in one lucky encounter or be luckily disease-free after many. No need to drop that bomb of a question. Make love, not war.

The gay woman’s perspective: Jody Fischer
You only need to ask about how many sexual partners a person has had if you value your health, so of course, my answer is YES. Better questions to ask than simply a numerical value inquiry include: what kinds of risky sexual behavior have you engaged in? Do you practice safe sex? Can you attest to having good health currently? As to when to ask these questions, timing is indeed everything. I like to have this conversation before the clothes come off and preferably not on the way to the bedroom. It depends if this is going to be a “have some fun and run” encounter or a more long-term thing. Either way, ask, ask, ask. Sooner rather than later.

The gay man’s perspective: Darren Maddox
No! I think it’s important to know if the person you’re active with now has anything you may catch, but I do not think it’s important to know how many partners they’ve had before you met. We all have a past. If the answer you get is higher than you expected, you’re going to think he or she is a whore. If it’s lower than you expected, then you’ll wonder if he or she is a late bloomer, gay, shy, or too sensitive. Leave it alone. When it seems right for the person to bring it up to you, he or she will.

The straight woman’s perspective: Rebecca Brown
Has a woman ever asked you if she looks fat? Did you answer? And if so, did you answer honestly? Because if you did, that was pretty stupid. I think the sexual partner question is one that never needs to be asked or answered. If I find out you’ve had 150 partners, I’m going to think you’re a part-time porn star; if I find out you’ve had one partner, I’m going to wonder why no one wants to sleep with you. (Sorry, I’m just being honest.) It’s a no-win. I think the information people really want when they ask that question is “do you have disease-infested private parts that do not need to be touching my clean private parts?” That question absolutely needs to be asked before you get it on. If you want our take on how to do that, check out last month's column. You really should subscribe to this 4-Way thing, LL. We’re pretty insightful people, if I do say so myself.

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