The Do's and Don'ts of Discovering Your Partner's Sexual History
Anytime you consider sleeping with someone new, whether that's in a fling or in a budding relationship, it's natural to wonder what sort of experience they're bringing to the table. It's a valid concern: How many partners your partner has had might inform their attitude about sex, impact their skills between the sheets and increase their, and your, risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
However, this seemingly simple inquiry can be a loaded question for both the asker and the person asked, potentially causing anxiety, stress and even embarrassment, as each person has their own definition of what a "normal" number of past partners should be.
When approached carefully, the question can reveal insightful information about each person's sexual history and lead to an open discussion about preferences with a new sexual partner. If you find yourself entering the discussion, make sure to follow these do's and don'ts.
Do: Make sure you're ready for any answer
Before you pose the question, ask yourself: Do I really want to know? Depending on your personality type and insecurities, a surprising number from your partner can be like opening Pandora's box. It may jar your confidence or cause you to pass judgment, even inadvertently. Judging someone's experiences and feeling insecure are difficult hurdles to overcome early in a relationship, so before you ask the question, make sure you're ready for any answer.
It may be that you want to know your partner's sexual history so you can decrease your risk of sexually transmitted infections. In this case, a better question to ask your partner is, "When were you last screened for STIs, and are you tested regularly?" Coupling this question with a discussion about exclusivity with your partner may help protect you from STIs and ensure that you don't run into any unpleasant surprises.
Don't: Judge your partner
"It's not fair to judge and add meaning to anyone else's sexual experiences," said Jesse Kahn, director at the Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. "Your partner trusted you enough to share this number, and honoring that trust includes managing your judgments."
Passing judgment, whether you perceive your partner's number to be high or low, can happen subconsciously. Your perception of your partner's number is based on your own relationship and experiences with sex, and it's unfair to impose this perception on your partner. You're the one who wants to know the number, so you need to have the open-mindedness and maturity to handle the answer without shaming your partner.
Do: Keep your insecurities in check
Another reason you may ask "What's your number?" is to find out if you're as sexually experienced as your partner. Unfortunately, asking this question isn't a strong determinant of how experienced or how "good" your partner or you might be in bed. It's all subjective, so don't let insecurities drive your curiosity to ask the question. Alternatively, you may ask what they like sexually, if they have any kinks or fetishes or what they're interested in exploring sexually.
Don't: Focus on the number
Whether your partner's answer is lower or higher than what you assumed, use this as a learning opportunity. Maybe they have stories about their past that give you insight into them as a lover or as a person. Or maybe they're a hopeless romantic just waiting for the perfect person to come along. Regardless of how they respond, don't focus on the number itself. Instead, think about how this knowledge can improve your relationship through honesty, trust and curiosity.
What's important to you?
If you decide to engage in a discussion of sexual history, make sure it doesn't become a defining point in your relationship. Ask yourself what's most important to you. Is it the number of people your partner slept with before they met you? Or is it that you enjoy spending time with them? While figuring out why you want to know and keeping an open mind, you might find the number is just that—only a number.