When settling into a new relationship, there are so many things to learn about your newfound bae. Hungry for more info, you stay up late into the night, excitedly asking them about their quirky hobbies, childhood dreams, and pet peeves. Maybe you're also eager to find out more about one other potentially awkward subject — your partner’s sexual history. Is asking your partner their number of sexual partners OK? If transparency is the key to a strong relationship, should any topic really be off limits?
Of course, there's one very valid reason why you might want to bring it up: sexual health precautions. Being open and honest with each other about your past can help quell any concerns and ensure that you’re taking the required steps to avoid contracting any STIs or STDs. However, one could argue that it’s more productive to simply ask whether someone has been tested recently without revealing any numbers regarding past partners. Which begs the question: Is this a conversation worth having?
The answer may lie in how you believe you can handle the outcome, according to relationship expert and author Alexis Nicole White. Ask yourself: Why are you interested in this information? More importantly, is it possible that the answer will stir up some jealousy or judgment?
“I believe that unless one can really handle the truth, then this conversation should be left undiscussed,” says White. “While it is exceptionally vital that before engaging in sexual activity individuals get tested for STIs, one has to be mindful that as long as their partner is clean, it is irrelevant how experienced he/she really is.”
Dr. Susan Edelman, board-certified psychiatrist agrees. "When you open this can of worms, it can backfire," she added.
It’s worth noting that this conversation can be quite a different experience for men and women, as there seems to be a persisting double-standard regarding promiscuity. A 2009 study published in Social Psychology Quarterly revealed that women are judged more harshly than men when it comes to their number of sexual partners. So it’s important to be cognizant of any potential biases you may have before launching into this topic.
"If a woman asks a man, he may think it's fair to ask, too," says Edelman. "Why go there? Sometimes a man will think the number won't bother him, but when he actually finds out, he flips out."
Additionally, if you’re already feeling a lack of confidence in your relationship, White warns that there’s a chance your partner’s sexual past will make things worse. For example, if your SO has been with significantly more people, you may start worrying about whether your experiences are measuring up or begin feeling self-conscious about your lower number.
“It could be a precursor for insecurities to develop moving forward,” White added.
According to White, it’s more important to focus on your future together.
“I would say that as long as the two lovers are healthy and committed to a healthy sexual relationship, then who cares about the past?”
Edelman believes that there are potentially more effective questions to ask.
"If you want to find out whether it's safe to hook up with them, it might be better to ask if they use condoms or have been tested," she says.
It goes without saying that honesty is an important component of any healthy relationship. After all, you and your SO should be able to tell each other just about anything without fear of criticism. That said, your ability to have this conversation productively without it negatively impacting your bond depends on your level of security — both personally and in terms of the relationship.
It’s definitely OK to ask your SO how many people they’ve hooked up with, but you do need to prepare yourself first for every possible answer. Remember: You can't unlearn that information, so if you're not confident that you can handle the truth regardless of the number, then you may want to rethink bringing it up. That said, an ideal relationship is one in which both partners can be totally upfront about every aspect of themselves without fear of judgment, so your SO may be more open to discussing it with you if you've made them feel emotionally safe.
The bottom line is that someone’s number of sexual partners does not define them. Besides, there are plenty of other numbers that matter more than how many people someone has hooked up with — like how many things you have in common, how many times your SO has been there for you when you were struggling, or how many times a day you show each other your love.
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