At the start of any new relationship, there are a lot of questions to be asked. From ‘how do you take your tea?’ to ‘do you see yourself having children?’ and everything in between, it's important to learn enough about each other to establish whether you might be a good match and flag up any deal-breakers early on.
Once you start getting serious, it's a good idea to at least get an overview of each other's past relationship history. Has she spent more time coupled up or single? When did his last relationship end and why? Has she always been faithful? What attribute did he value most in his ex-partners? The answers to these questions can give us clues about the kind of person we're dating, how they act and react in a relationship, and whether their experiences mirror our own. They don't give us any indication of what this relationship will be like, it's worth adding. History doesn't always repeat itself.
But as healthy as it is to be curious, there's one particular question that I think is best avoided, and that's the matter of your 'magic number'. Almost everyone I've spoken to in researching this article has at one time or other been asked that most awkward question and 'dating' shows like Love Island seem to promote the idea that it's a legitimate query to put to your partner or share with the general public. In my experience, however, asking your love interest how many people they've previously slept with never ends well.
There's an age-old joke that when pressed for an answer, men will triple the true figure, whilst women will divide it by 3, reinforcing even in 2020 the tiresome idea that the sexes are not equal. What is good for the goose is slutty for the gander. Young men who proudly proclaim they've bedded 50 individuals are hailed as studs or heroes among their peers, yet middle-aged women who feel no shame in divulging that they've enjoyed the company of 20 different partners throughout their life have been labelled with terms that are unsuitable for me to repeat in a family magazine.
Women are pressed by society to be chaste, while men are encouraged to sow their wild oats, and the discovery that an individual has gone against the accepted grain can open them up to judgement or even scorn from otherwise level-headed and rational people. But why do we feel the need to ask the question in the first place? What business is it of anyone’s anyway?
"The chances of meeting someone who has no sexy skeletons in their closet is next to none.”
The only legitimate reason I can think of for examining your partner’s sexual history is in terms of health. If you’re planning to get intimate it’s fair to ask for some reassurance that they’re free from communicable disease, but there’s a right and a wrong way to approach it, and assuming they’re ‘dirty’ simply because they have more experience is absurd. Someone who has partaken in 100 one-night stands but is fastidious about being safe is no more likely to carry an infection that someone who has had a couple of flings without giving a second thought to barrier protection.
So putting aside the issue of sexual health, that reduces the real reason for asking down to pure curiosity, too often driven by underlying jealousy or insecurity. If things are otherwise going great with a new partner, but if the knowledge that they are more or less sexually experienced than you is likely to play on your mind, then just don’t ask. Should the answer not be what you wanted to hear then it can’t be unknown, nor can it be changed, but all too often it can become an excuse to hide behind or worse, a missile to throw.
Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable or ashamed by the private and personal choices they’ve made as consenting adults. Sex is a completely natural and pleasurable aspect of human life and relationships; whether that’s with one partner until death we do part, or with any number of willing paramours, the frequency with which we indulge should be nobody’s business but our own.
In the 21st century, we’re waiting longer and longer to ‘settle down’ and the rate of divorce in later life is increasing exponentially, so the chances of meeting someone who has no sexy skeletons in their closet is next to none. At the same time, more men are throwing off the gender stereotype that encourages them to be sexually profuse and more women are embracing their sexuality and desire to seek pleasure as and when they want it, rather than purely within in the confines of a relationship.
None of the above is a problem, and none of what has gone before has any bearing on what comes next, so let’s put aside our inquisitiveness about each other’s past, and simply embrace the excitement of our own future.