My boyfriend told me the other day how many sexual partners he's had...
March 19, 2008 8:27 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend told me the other day how many sexual partners he's had...

I was turned off by the number and kind of disgusted. A bit too many women. Super slutty. And now I see him in a different light. I feel like telling him how I feel. Should I?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (63 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

If you don't tell him how you feel, how is he supposed to help you get over it?
posted by majick at 8:28 PM on March 19, 2008 [7 favorites]

Tell him how you feel. I know that my 'number' has made some women have second thoughts about me. It kind of amazes me, in fact -- I'm a computer nerd, yet I've still slept with seventeen women. In the past seven years. Most people don't believe me when I tell them. I'm not bragging -- I kind of feel slutty about it!

What you don't really know is the circumstances. How many one-night stands did that include? How many people did he have sex with, and it wasn't good, and the relationship ended up breaking up once they found out exactly how intimate they weren't with each other. Out of those seventeen, only one started and finished as a one-night stand. The rest have all been relationships, albeit short. And there's nothing slutty about sleeping with someone whose company you've found you really enjoy -- and then finding out that one or the other is too immature for the relationship that would develop from that. I've had that happen -often-.

I think the better number to find out, for comparison's sake, is the circumstances.
posted by SpecialK at 8:33 PM on March 19, 2008

You have every right to your feelings and every right to tell him.
posted by unSane at 8:35 PM on March 19, 2008

um how many is it?

Is it 5 or is it 65?
posted by sully75 at 8:39 PM on March 19, 2008

Not to sound like a total relativist here, but -- to me -- it hinges, in part, on what your definition of "a bit too many" is. 10? 20? 200? And how old is your boyfriend? 22? 45? Has he been sexually active for 2 years, or 20? Because to me, all those different numbers -- the number of his partners, and his age, and the number of years he's been sexually active -- tell a relevant story about who he is. A 20-year-old who's been sexually active for 5 years who's had 40 partners is different from a 40-year-old who's been sexually active for 20 years with 40 partners, say. I mean, you might not like that number 40 (or whatever) in either case, but they're two vastly different situations, you know?

Also, how long have you been dating -- if you've been together 3 months, you've got a very different dynamic on your hands than if you've been dating 3 years. And what exactly is this "different light" you see him in? And how does it compare to how you see yourself, and the number of sexual partners you've had?

People will post that you should absolutely talk to him about it, if you're uncomfortable -- that your feelings are the most important thing here. Others will post that your discomfort is your own to deal with -- don't ask questions if you're not prepared for the answers. But given all the different factors involved, it's not a simple either/or.

Whatever you decide in this case, I would suggest that you will want to use this in the future to remind yourself that having this discussion pretty much never turns out well.
posted by scody at 8:42 PM on March 19, 2008 [8 favorites]

Yes, you have a right to discuss your feelings with your boyfriend, that's what relationships are built upon. However, I must wonder if you were having an open conversation that lead to this topic of past partners, or if your explicitly asked him this question. If you wanted to know, and aren't exactly happy with his answer, well what can you do with that?

Its important for you to voice your discomfort, however I would also be mindful that his past remains in his past, and unless you are in an open relationship, he is currently only sleeping with you, and that's really what should matter to you. He can't go back and change his past relations anymore that you can.
posted by Asherah at 8:44 PM on March 19, 2008

>I feel like telling him how I feel. Should I?

What do you think you're going to achieve by doing so?
posted by pompomtom at 8:48 PM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

If this is eating at you, you should talk to him about it. You can try rehearsing the conversation ahead of time if you're not quite sure what to say. For example, can you verbalize why his past promiscuity bothers you? There are a lot of valid reasons - you might fear that he loves and leaves, you might be concerned about sexual health, you might wonder how many awkward ex-lover introductions you're in for, etc. He can't change his past but he might be able to help heal your concerns and fears if you're able to help him understand them.
posted by rhiannon at 8:55 PM on March 19, 2008

You could tell him you're uncomfortable and ask him to talk some more, if he can, about what that sex meant to him and what his experience was like. I have a very dear friend who enjoys (or did, for a long time) really casual sex. I don't; I've never been good at it. I don't always feel comfortable about his sexual choices, but he has talked to me about why it's satisfying and what's good in it for him. If you listen with an open mind, it may reassure you.
posted by not that girl at 8:56 PM on March 19, 2008

What do you think you're going to achieve by doing so?

A communicative relationship where there exists an open exchange of feelings and thoughts?

I don't really think this is a big deal. He's with you now. Nothing else matters. You are, of course, entitled to feel any way you feel. I would say to tell him what you thought after his reveal, discuss it a bit if you want, and then just move past it. Life's too short to care about how many people your partner slept with before you.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:57 PM on March 19, 2008

Assuming he's clean. Otherwise, you two have an entirely different conversation ahead.
posted by Mikey-San at 8:58 PM on March 19, 2008

Should you tell him? Yes. Because you should be open and honest in a relationship. Presumably he was honest when he answered your question about partners (I'm assuming the reason he told you is because you asked). However, as a general rule in love relationships and all relationships: if there's a possibility the answer someone will give you will (needlessly) offend you, don't ask. How many partners your partner has had is none of your business. Whether that partner practiced safe sex or has recently been tested, yes, that's your business. Who he's fucking while he's fucking you, yeah, your business. But how many people he fucked before you has nothing at all to do with you. And face it: if you asked him, you asked in order to pass judgement on him. There is no other reason whatsoever to ask that question.
posted by dobbs at 9:00 PM on March 19, 2008 [6 favorites]

Yes, tell him. He might have explanations that will make you feel better. He might not but just telling him will make you feel better. He might feel badly that you feel badly which will make you feel better. Honestly, I can imagine a lot more situations that will make you feel better telling him than I can in which you will feel worse. Maybe I have a limited imagination, but I've never been accused of that before!

(I apologize if this appears to make light of your question; I meant my answer seriously - with a smile.)
posted by INTPLibrarian at 9:04 PM on March 19, 2008

It's the past. Nothing he can do to change it.
posted by robinrs at 9:12 PM on March 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

I'm kind of surprised at the answers; your boyfriend was honest with you about something he can't change and shouldn't be a huge deal. What is to be gained by making hay about it? He can't go back in time and change things. As long as he is faithful to you what difference does it make how many people he has slept with in the past? I'd work through this on your own. I don't see much of an upside to bringing it up and I see quite a lot of potential downside.

I also feel pretty confident that "My girlfriend told me the other day how many sexual partners she's had. Now I'm sort of disgusted. Super slutty" would have gotten a much different and angry response. Try thinking about it were your positions reversed, maybe.
posted by Justinian at 9:21 PM on March 19, 2008 [14 favorites]

He might have explanations that will make you feel better.

Jesus christ... or maybe he'll choose to have some pride and NOT feel like he needs to explain or justify things to you that happened before you even existed in his life?

Telling you this totally not-necessary was him taking a big risk. Please notice and respect that, so that he can decide whether he should be honest in the future, or not.
posted by rokusan at 9:28 PM on March 19, 2008 [7 favorites]

I think he deserves to know how he's being judged. How awful for him to continue sleeping with someone who thinks he's disgusting and super slutty. I don't think your current relationship can survive your values.
posted by b33j at 9:34 PM on March 19, 2008 [9 favorites]

Sure, tell him, BUT be aware of your own responsibilities in that situation.

My first piece of advice is to wait a day or two and give your initial gut reaction time to pass before you do anything. Even if you still decide to bring it up after that, at least you won't be rushing in all hurt and indignant. That would lead to a fight or worse, and that's not going to help.

Second, keep in mind that as soon as you act on these feelings, you become responsible for them. If someone else does something that makes you feel a certain way, they are only 1/2 the equation. Why does his number of partners bother you so much? Does it make you feel insecure? Does it fly in the face of your values in relationships? Does it offend your religion?

You can't just rush in all righteous and say "you should be ashamed of yourself" and expect him to say "you're right and I've been waiting years for someone to tell me this." You have to think about your half of the equation. Why this bothers you. What it says about your relationship together.

How you phrase it will also make a big difference:

1) "I am just disgusted by someone like you who's been with X women."
2) "What you told me about your number of partners has really been bugging me."

My wild guess is that it makes you feel insecure, as if your sexual relations with him are now less special when you set them beside this huge library of them he has. Or you may fear that somewhere in there someone was better in bed, etc. But people view this in different ways. What you need to find out is if, in his view, your sex is less special or not as good. You can't go making assumptions about what goes on in his head based on how you value things.

SO: ponder within yourself what this # of partners MEANS to YOU. And then talk to him and try to figure out if it means the same thing to him. Or if you're just different. If you can't accept that he could ever value you after having a past like he's had, then I guess you can't. But you may be denying yourself a relationship you'd otherwise enjoy out of a judgmental fear.
posted by scarabic at 9:38 PM on March 19, 2008 [3 favorites]

@specialk: you are bragging, though. but your post is a good way to see how relative all this is. 17 seems pretty low to me. but i guess i would have had a similar reaction to the OP if somebody i were dating said, say, 100. so i suppose my point here is that this is all so unbelievably subjective, and it's probably best not to judge. the past is the past.
posted by timory at 9:40 PM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't think your current relationship can survive your values.

Maybe. Don't be ashamed of not being comfortable with this information; it's how you feel. But it probably should be something you discuss with him.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:43 PM on March 19, 2008

Why is it any of your business?

No, don't ask him about it anymore. His past relationships will come up in more appropriate ways and contexts if he feels they are important. (this is what I would tell a male or female with the same concerns)

If you haven't had sex yet, go get tested together.
posted by dgaicun at 9:57 PM on March 19, 2008

Is it an odd number? Get even.

Actually, no, don't. But do follow the excellent advice to communicate with your SO. Festering resentment is a ticking time bomb for any relationship. Get out your concerns in the open and talk about it like adults.

You'll either grow closer from it, or decide that you're not compatible. Either way is the best option, as near as I can tell, because it doesn't sound like your current arrangement is working for you.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:13 PM on March 19, 2008

I think a lot of commenters here are missing the point.

It's not that she has a problem with the number, per se --- it's what the number says about him that she has a problem with.

She's basically saying, "I kind of think you're a scumbag because of how many people you've had sex with." She wants to discuss his morals, and the number of sex partners he's had, in her view, is directly relevant to his morals. To the OP: Yes, you should discuss this with him, for your sake and for his: he is entitled to know what your moral standards are, if this is a serious relationship.

But how many people he fucked before you has nothing at all to do with you.

No, it does have to do with her, if her moral views are causing her to believe this guy doesn't have good character and would not make a good life partner.
posted by jayder at 10:19 PM on March 19, 2008 [6 favorites]

I would tell him like this: "I'm a human being and I was suprised at how many women you slept with. It makes me uncomfortable for some reason."
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I say if it really bothers you then of course you should talk about it, a successful relationship is all about the level of communication. However, don't forget to look at this situation from his point of view as well. It may hurt him if you suddenly accuse him of having lower standards or whatever charges based on the past, and not the present for who he is now (and with you). In my opinion, if you had a happy, functioning relationship prior to this knowledge, then you can work things out. Talk about it, but don't attack, rather exchange feelings and thoughts with an open mind, then try to move on. (I'm not trying to make it sound easy, i understand how you feel, just do your best to resolve things as smoothly and reasonably possible)
posted by Kyokusen at 10:46 PM on March 19, 2008

jeez. I don't agree with the "it's none of your business" brigade. I think that when you're in a relationship, the person's past becomes your business because you are in the business of getting to know them. they have a right to withhold whatever information they want, of course, but I think that THE NUMBER is a normal, common kind of question, just like questions like did you ever go to summer camp and how many siblings and were you a jock or a geek and etc. are normal topics for two people who are getting to know each other intimately. That said - sure, I don't think there's any harm in talking about it further.... in my experience, a WOW! GOSH! HOW'D YOU MANAGE THAT? kind of response is best because it's perfectly natural, honest, and flattering. I also think that disclosures of this kind (sexual history from someone you're intimate with) often hit a person in a weird way - and then quickly fade into just another piece of non-emotional information like everything else.
posted by moxiedoll at 10:55 PM on March 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

put me down in the "none of your business" brigade. interesting & relevant stories and experiences normally come out over time, in context, but a flat "how many?" is a pointless question, with far more risks than benefits.

i normally just assume (as a kind of vague background thought) that the figures reported in surveys & anecdotal information of an average of roughly 2-4 per year for every year of sexual activity are about the centre of the bell curve for normal people (taking into account that periods of singledom v coupledom balance out to produce this average) and i have no reason to believe that women are significantly different to men in that respect. the broader ballpark might be around 1-8 per year. so, (age - 18) x 2 is the usual conservative guesstimate, and (age - 15) x 8 the slutty estimate.

to answer the question, though: if it's eating at you, then you probably should talk about it, maybe after a cooling-off period of a week or two for reflection.

and pay attention to what dobbs & scarabic advise.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:12 PM on March 19, 2008

The first answer nailed it. Question might as well have been "I'm beginning to harbor a secret loathing for my boyfriend. Should I tell him or should I just let it fester and drive us apart?" COMMUNICATE.
posted by crunch buttsteak at 11:19 PM on March 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the answer depends on whether or not you asked him.

If you asked, and he told you the truth, I think it's better not to say anything. Because why would you ask that question, knowing that it could quite possibly upset you?

But if he brought it up without you asking, then I think you're within your rights to tell him how you feel about it.
posted by number9dream at 11:28 PM on March 19, 2008

I think b33j puts it best why you should say something. Be aware, though, that bringing it up is going to put him in a weird situation. What's he supposed to say then? Is there a way he can reassure you that all that is over with and doesn't mean he's a bad person?

Depending on his level of maturity and skill at handling this type of conversation, it could go very badly. He might say something out of defensiveness and being on-the-spot that makes you feel even worse.

That's not to say don't tell him how you feel. Just that you should keep in mind that the first thing that comes out of his mouth may not be a very well thought-out response.
posted by ctmf at 11:36 PM on March 19, 2008

You should talk to him about it, but be aware that if he feels that you pestered him in any way to telling you how many partners he had, he will be very pissed that you are upset about the answer.
posted by afu at 12:51 AM on March 20, 2008

Botched formatting

i normally just assume (as a kind of vague background thought) that the figures reported in surveys & anecdotal information of an average of roughly 2-4 per year for every year of sexual activity are about the centre of the bell curve for normal people

No, this is not even close to what surveys find. The "center" of the bell curve is one sexual partner during an entire lifetime. One is the modal number of lifetime sexual partners, reported by one-fourth to one-third of the population (depending on if men or women are asked). About 75-80% of the population has from 0-5 partners in an entire lifetime, with only a select minority of the remainder (less than 3%) having over 50.

The 'typical' average lifetime number of reported partners is 12 for men, and 4 for women. Even this is misleadingly high, because the mean is highly skewed by the 10% with higher numbers of sex partners.
posted by dgaicun at 2:13 AM on March 20, 2008 [6 favorites]

I feel like telling him how I feel. Should I?

Phrase it in different terms 'cause right now you're making value judgments about him. Doing this starts the conversation off in the wrong frame, with you as the attacker and him as the defender. Why not take it as opportunity to learn about another human being, especially why you care about. Sure, he may have done things that you wouldn't do, but that doesn't make him any better or any worse than you.

Take some time and talk him about it. It's a unique opportunity to learn more about him.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:42 AM on March 20, 2008

dgaicun: That information is so interesting, and I'm glad you added that. I read a rebuttal to the study(ies) you cited recently and, unfortunately, cannot remember the source. However, a statistician demonstrated that either men are inflating or women are deflating their numbers, because if everyone is heterosexual, the discrepancy is statistically impossible. I believe the conclusion was that women were under-reporting, even on anonymous surveys.

Such is the cultural pressure regarding THE NUMBER. Anonymous, it is certainly your decision, but I think there is great advice here. The only thing I would add to the excellent points above is that this is a piece of information about your boyfriend - just a part of the entire mosaic of who he is. Resist making it everything. He's more than that.

Also, are there differences in the emphasis your families of origin placed on this issue? That may account for a more casual attitude on his part compared to your feelings. Think of it with a different behavior, such a drinking alcohol. Some families are incredibly strict about alcohol and are teetotalers and would never permit an underage child to consume it. Some families are more relaxed, drinking at every gathering and allowing their children to try it. If your families of origin had very different attitudes like this, would you blame him for being casual about drinking when you thought it was a Huge Big Deal? The same thing may be operating here. Just one possibility.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 3:36 AM on March 20, 2008

Maybe if you were to even up the score, you would see the world differently. I mean, he's had a serious number of lovers, so when he picks you he's saying something. With your paltry numbers its likely that you are with him because you don't know any better/don't have any choice.

I vote for upping your numbers. Get busy!
posted by ewkpates at 3:49 AM on March 20, 2008

Sure, talk to him. But first figure out why his "sluttiness" in the past upsets you. Do you believe sex should only take place within a committed relationship? Did you think he believed that too?

If you really figure out why you're upset before you talk the conversation will go a lot more smoothly.

(Personally it's the kind of thing I could not care less about but I know there is a whole range of attitudes, and it's likely that unless you are both either committed casual sex havers or committed no-sex before marriage people your attitudes in a relationship will differ.)
posted by miss tea at 4:12 AM on March 20, 2008

dgaicun: my definition of "normal" people excludes wackoes - i mean, statistical outliers - who marry the first person they ever go out with, and also excludes people born before, say, 1965. i'm talking about contemporary, young, urban people.

and you say the stats are skewed by people with many partners? how are they not skewed by the 25% to 33% who only ever have a single partner? leave them out, and i still believe that a reasonably typical man or woman might date a couple of people per year, have some more successful relationships that last longer, have occasional one-night-stands or flings when single, and a figure of 2-4 per year is still very plausible, at least up until marriage (that's another factor that warps the stats). as for four in a lifetime for women? wow. that's not the tiniest bit reflective of any girl i know. they must use a bizarre interpretation, such as "it doesn't count if i don't orgasm".

then again, as people have said, it's all subjective.

this is all a bit of a derail, but hopefully it might add some perspective to Anonymous' idea of what's "normal", since we have no idea what number her boyfriend stated.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:14 AM on March 20, 2008

Still don't know if it's 5 or 65.
posted by sully75 at 4:33 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

i would tell him. why not? otherwise you're just going to stew and fume and become resentful and have fights about other things instead.

BUT, just make it clear to him that it's your problem, not his. in other words, "you know, it's not your fault, but i'm kind of freaked out by how many women you've slept with in the past. i don't know why it bothers me, but it does. i know you can't do anything about it and i'm so glad you're honest with me, so just be patient with me while i sort it all out."
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:36 AM on March 20, 2008

It belatedly occurs to me that the poster might be male, in which case, part of the question might be about his discomfort with his partner's bisexuality. The possibility occured to me because of the shortness of the question, and my expectation that women communicate more.
posted by b33j at 4:55 AM on March 20, 2008

I think a big question is what you don't like about it? Does it make you feel like you're being used? If that's the issue, then address that. Otherwise, if you're just like "man that's a lot of sex", then drop it and move on.

If you find yourself obsessing about this, you'll find that you really DON'T want to know all the answers. Maybe blowjobs count but handjobs don't, maybe it only counts in the rear. Maybe it only counts on film or when she's wasted. Maybe he started when he was 15. Maybe he started in college.

2 things to remember here:
1. Fucking takes practice. We all stink in the beginning and get better over time. Every partner teaches us something new. Imagine how much you'd blow the mind of your first partner to go back to them now.
2. Sex is sex. It can be more, it can be less. Merely parking a penis in a vagina (or elsewhere) isn't a commitment or a promise or anything else. It feels good, we want it, and so we do it.
posted by TomMelee at 5:29 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

Should you tell him? Yes. Is there anything he can do about it now to rectify the situation? No. That means you are the one who is either going to have to get over it or dump him and move on.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:46 AM on March 20, 2008

You know, there's another way to look at it. It took him this long to find you. Take him out, get him tested, get yourself tested. Don't be so hung up on a bit of bodily fluid.

You eat a certain amount of bugs a year. That doesn't seem to keep you from eating. You get sick every year, that doesn't keep you from breathing. See all the dust at your place. 70% of it is your dead skin tissues. Don't you think it's a little silly to be hung up on biology? The world is a gross place.

What should matter to you is that he (hopefully) cares for you (and vice versa.) Now, if what you're really saying is that you're number 37 and worried that you're disposable and he'ls looking for number 38, then what you're really saying is that you feel insecure with the relationship. That's what you want to address.
posted by filmgeek at 6:09 AM on March 20, 2008

The number is always too high, unless it's too low, which might make you wonder what's wrong with him.
posted by electroboy at 6:36 AM on March 20, 2008

You can talk about it gently, easily, when the time is right. Do not tell him that it is disgusting or anything like that if you want to be with him in the long run. Its not like he can go back and amend history.

My current beau had a particularly , um, busy time in high school and early college. When he told me the actual number I fell on the kitchen floor laughing. I think I asked him how in the hell he had enough time for all that. That kind of broke the ice to where we could talk about it without both getting defensive and akward.
posted by stormygrey at 6:50 AM on March 20, 2008

Even "super slutty" people can fall in love and desire (and stick to!) monogamy. A high number doesn't necessarily keep on rising. As long as you're the last +1, you're fine.

Consider that he may have gone through a particularly sexy phase years ago and gotten it out of his system, or perhaps he once confused sex with love and was a little too eager to jump in bed with people he thought he loved. Maybe he's more interested in a long term serious relationship now... or maybe he always was and never found the right time and person. Maybe he regrets some of those encounters, or maybe he's happy to have shared something special with so many special people, or maybe he was a player and none of them were special to him. You don't know.

If you had told us your weight, in pounds, with no indication of your height or build or activity level, we'd still have no idea what you look like. The number of sexual partners someone's had is kind of a similar number. It means very little outside of context, and as much as people will tell you that either number should be meaningless if you really love the other person, some people just can't get past it. Figure out whether this is something you want to understand and/or get over, or if you just want to pass judgment, and go from there.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:17 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

n-thing the suggestion to just talk to him about it. You won't be able to even consider getting over it until that happens.
posted by tomcochrane at 7:18 AM on March 20, 2008

It seems your options in this situation are:
a) get over it
b) dump him

really, no matter how disgusted you are, or what you say to him, there's nothing he can do about it - its the past, its already happened. You might not like how many partners he's had but you can't change it.

To all the people saying yes they should talk about it to have an open communicative relationship - how do you imagine the conversation going? Its not a situation that can be resolved, through talking or any other means. Either the OP deals with it or she doesn't and the relationship is over (discounting not getting over it, saying nothing and seething with resentment for years as a viable option)

If you're disgusted by your partner (for any reason), your relationship isn't going to work.

Give it time, think it over. Take a detached look at the actual number vs how old he is. eg. SpecialK says he's had 17 partners - that sounds like a lot to me and a bit gross, BUT an average of 2 per year isn't that many, its just a lot over a long period - suggesting SpecialK is unlucky in love not a slut.

You haven't given us numbers so we can't tell you whether your feelings are rational and valid (obviously, how you feel is how you feel and there's nothing wrong with that) - and they could be, your boyfriend could have been a boy-whore before you met him but rational or not, its something that can't be changed.
posted by missmagenta at 7:21 AM on March 20, 2008

Sorry, just to clarify - its ok to talk to him about it in a 'I need time to sort out how I feel about this', obviously your current feelings are going to be hard to hide, especially if he wants to be intimate and you need to let him know why you're being a bit off with him, but 'I'm disgusted by your past behaviour and I want to talk about it' isn't going to get you anywhere - other than maybe a fight with your boyfriend.
posted by missmagenta at 7:28 AM on March 20, 2008

OK hang on here.

There is nothing wrong with being "super slutty" as long as you are not cheating on someone with whom you have agreed you have a monogamous relationship. It doesn't mean someone is a bad person; it simply means someone is capable of casual sex. Not everyone is, but for people who are, everyone has a nice time for a couple of hours and goes home. No harm, no foul.

So before you bring this up, Anonymous, I think you need to be clear that the issue here is yours, not his, and identify what exactly is bothering you.

A) You're uncomfortable that your partner is apparently comfortable with casual sex in a way you yourself are not and that this is indicative of a base incompatibility;

B) You are concerned that the number of people with whom he has slept indicates he may have difficulties sticking to monogamy in your relationship;

C) You're feeling vulnerable because you suddenly feel your sexual prowess may pale in comparison to a relatively large pool of partners.

etc. Figure out what the exact problem for you is here.

By all means, bring it up, but bring it up in a way where you're asking for something very specific. "I'm non-specifically unhappy with a number you can't do anything about. Undo history or make me feel better" is a conversation going nowhere but Breakupville.

"I am feeling insecure about my experience in bed and how happy I make you since you've slept with so many more people than I have" is asking for a specific, and very do-able, kind of response.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:32 AM on March 20, 2008 [2 favorites]

I was turned off by the number and kind of disgusted. A bit too many women. Super slutty.

So is there an idea number for you? Would one less be better? Would it be better if he was a virgin? You obviously have a certain acceptable amount of sexual partners in mind and any more you see as a threat. You're being very judgmental. What you don't say is the story behind the numbers and I suspect that you don't know this. The basic problem here is communication, whilst, this is essentially your problem, of course you should communicate what you're thinking to your boyfriend.
posted by ob at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2008

See the "My girlfriend sucked 37 dicks" speech from Clerks. What matters is that he's withyou now and that he's clean (if this is a new relationship, I'd avoid sex with him until he gets clean test results).
posted by sian at 8:48 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it is worth bringing the issue up tactfully, in the way a previous poster mentioned: "The number you're talking about is kind of bugging me." Figure out how he got the sex partners--lots of one-night stands? One-month relationships? Orgies?--why you have a problem with it. Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel sex should be with someone you've been dating for a few months and are sure you love? Or are you afraid he's going to cheat on you?

I don't think it's wrong for her to ask this question. Lots of people sleep around because they enjoy sex. But some people sleep around because they're trying to address some insecurity about themselves, and I think the more partners someone has the more this is likely. I know a guy who is pushing the mid-70s in the number of sexual partners with no signs of stopping, and he's in his early 20s. It's clear he has an awful lot of insecurities about himself and his attractiveness and given that maybe fifty of these partners have been racked up in the year since his girlfriend dumped him, it's doesn't take much to figure out that these insecurities are the driving force behind his sexual activity. Why wouldn't someone want to know this kind of pattern about their boyfriend or girlfriend?
posted by schroedinger at 8:56 AM on March 20, 2008

Your partner hasn't done anything morally wrong but that doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to him about it. You need to be clear what you want from the conversation though. If you want reassurance that he feels strongly about your relationship and won't get bored and move on to someone else then ask for that.
He can't change the past but you may be able to change your perception if you have a conversation about it.

If the only issue you have is a moral one though and there's nothing he could say to reassure you, it may be better not to mention it.
posted by Laura_J at 8:58 AM on March 20, 2008

The number might be astronomical if he uses the divide by three rule.
posted by clearly at 9:13 AM on March 20, 2008

Yeah but I thought that for guys you're meant to divide the total by three, therefore, if that's the case here, the number might be quite low. Still, as we don't know the number he might still end up with 100 partners, and that's quite a lot.
posted by ob at 9:31 AM on March 20, 2008

I once knew a guy who wanted to tell me not just how many women he had been with, but the details of each. I'm sorry, but that degree is just creepy. I think the problem here, though, is that you don't have any details, just numbers, and so to you it is a very high number.

But think about it this way: each of these numbers represents a person. Is your boyfriend the kind of man who could simply dismiss every woman he has been with cavalierly? Or, from what you already knew of him, is he the kind of man who establishes a relationship before he has sex with a woman, and really gets to know her? If so, the number really means nothing.

Definitely tell him if you are creeped out, explain why, and hear his side. He *doesn't* need to tell you all about the sex. What he can do is reassure you that he is not a player, and that each woman he was with was special to him at the time.
posted by misha at 9:39 AM on March 20, 2008

omfg sexxx!

Listen to scody, you're overreacting. unless you're 16 or something. seriously.
posted by matteo at 9:54 AM on March 20, 2008

...and you say the stats are skewed by people with many partners? how are they not skewed by the 25% to 33% who only ever have a single partner?

Because, like I said, 75-80% of the population has only 0-5 partners. If you leave off the top 10%, or even the top 3%, the mean looks more different than if you cut off the bottom 33%. Most people have only a handful of sex partners in their lifetime.

i'm talking about contemporary, young, urban people... hopefully it might add some perspective to Anonymous' idea of what's "normal"

Anon said nothing about being young or urban. The numbers actually aren't that different by generation or region. The modal number of sex partners in the city is still one. for four in a lifetime for women? wow. that's not the tiniest bit reflective of any girl i know. they must use a bizarre interpretation, such as "it doesn't count if i don't orgasm".

I'm reminded of movie critic Pauline Kael's astonishment at Nixon's landslide election victory over McGovern in 1972: "That's impossible: no one I know voted for Nixon!" There's nothing wrong with your social circle, it is just not representative of the bulk of the population.

...a statistician demonstrated that either men are inflating or women are deflating their numbers, because if everyone is heterosexual, the discrepancy is statistically impossible. I believe the conclusion was that women were under-reporting, even on anonymous surveys.

This 12-to-4 discrepancy at the mean is, again, a result of the average getting wonky from the minority of people with larger numbers of sex partners. Men and women report basically similar numbers at the lower numbers, and year to year, and only really begin to diverge at the higher end of the number scale. It's not that women or men are lying, per se, to fit cultural expectations, it's that women tend to enumerate, so they respond to this question by tallying individual memories: 'Lemme think, there was Tom, Bill, the blond guy at Sally's Xmas party...'. Men, on the other hand, tend to ballpark, so they respond by estimating approximate numbers: 'About 11 in college, then, I think 10 when I lived in Boston...'. With the larger, hazier numbers this will result in lowering women's #s, and inflating men's.
posted by dgaicun at 10:13 AM on March 20, 2008 [1 favorite]

Communicate your discomfort if it's going to otherwise fester. But think about what you want before you explain your discomfort:

What can he do to make you feel better about it? If reassuring you that he's with you now and that the past is past will help you feel more at ease, then ask for this.

But if your motivation is to get it off your chest and make it his problem, that's not fair. It's not a solvable problem for him. He can't change his past. He can't MAKE you feel differently if you're determined to be freaked out by the number of partners he had before you.

I would advise not asking him about the details -- this will just give your imagination a lot of ammo.

My first reaction was something like rokusan's reply.

Can you put yourself in his place? If you don't have a similar sexual past of your own, perhaps try to imagine some other vice about your past that it would be frustrating and moot to try to justify years after the fact. For instance, would you want to have to stand trial for every time you ever got a little bit tipsy? Every time you ate junk food? I'm not trying to make you defensive, just pointing out that we all have to live with our past decisions, whether they're good, bad, or neutral.
posted by desuetude at 10:58 AM on March 20, 2008

I can't possibly read all these comments before posting. So I'm just going to give you the best answer.

If you have *any* problem with your boyfriend or with your relationship with him, the healthy and sane thing to do is to talk to him about it. Realize that there may be nothing he can do about it, but communication is king, period.

To the topic at hand: I think you'll get over it. His past exploits have nothing to do with you, and lots of sex simply isn't a bad thing. At least, I think you'll come around to seeing that.
posted by iguanapolitico at 12:29 PM on March 20, 2008

If you value honesty in your relationship you should talk about it. But in a non-confrontational way. The quality of the relationships could help you determine a lot, too (i.e. why did he choose to be with the people he was with? does he have good/bad memories of those people, etc.).
posted by hulahulagirl at 1:41 PM on March 20, 2008

He told you or you asked?

Don't ask, don't tell. If you asked, hopefully you won't make the same mistake again. If he just told you out of the blue, well then hopefully if this sort of thing were about to happen in the future you'd catch it in time and interrupt. It isn't, or shouldn't be, a bit deal how many people you or your partner have slept with. But, once the bell has been rung you can't unring it, and since this conversation almost always ends with someone really pissed, it's definitely best to avoid it like the plague.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 5:46 AM on March 21, 2008

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