By Amy Levin-Epstein
Yup, we’re talking about that number. If you’re on the way to the altar, the number of people you’ve been with before might seem sort of inconsequential. Maybe you and your partner covered it a long time ago, or maybe you just don’t really care to know. But for some couples, this is the time that it comes up in conversation. It’s also a time when you might think about the fact that, to severely paraphrase Vince Vaughn in his hilarious opening monologue from Wedding Crashers, you’re choosing to have sex with one person for the rest of your life.
So to delve into this could-be awkward/emotional situation, we spoke to sex therapist Scott Haltzman, M.D., distinguished fellow with the American Psychiatric Assocation and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women and The Secrets of Happily Married Men. He revealed just why you might want to open up a bottle of wine and have “the talk” — and whatever your number is, it’s probably not too high or too low.
Do most engaged couples discuss this number — and should they?
“Typically, by the time two individuals make the choice to marry, they have some idea. But when the question comes up of exactly how many, how often and what techniques are used, there is no one right answer to this question,” says Haltzman.
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In some cases is it better not to ask — or tell?
“If you have chosen to marry someone who’s had very few — or no — previous sexual partners, it may be helpful for them to embellish your relationship with the fantasy that you both share a degree of limited sexual experiences. If, on the other hand, your fiancé has been around the block, a more complete discussion about past sexual experiences may be helpful as a means of defining your sexual future,” says Haltzman.
How do you talk about this stuff without it getting, well… weird?
“It’s important for your future spouse to view him or herself as an ideal sexual partner. If you spend much time glorifying past sexual experiences with others, this may be leaving your sexual partner to feel inadequate or overly anxious,” says Haltzman.
In your experience, do men or women fib more?
“Statistics tell us that men have many more sexual partners prior to marriage compared to women. On that basis alone, men have more to share and more to hide. Early on, partners might be tempted to exaggerate the number of past sexual partners, but as the relationship progresses, there may be some healthy reasons to minimize the extent of past relationships. However, it’s probably a bad sign of someone feels the need to over-exaggerate,” says Haltzman.
Why is there no “wrong” number?
“The advantages of having more sexual partners are that you’ve had more sexual experience, and may be able to integrate some past “tricks” into your current relationship. One of the negatives involved in being exposed to multiple sexual experiences is that some of them may be much more exciting than your current relationship. It’s tempting to define the quality of your relationship with the quality of the sex, but that’s the stuff of Hollywood and gritty novels, and not reality. Often the depth of emotional experience with lovemaking in a committed relationships trumps the intensity of a spur of the moment one night stand,” says Haltzman.
Is it bad if the numbers are dramatically lopsided?
“It’s possible that if one person has had way fewer or more sexual experiences then another, this might reflect some difference in his or her underlying value system. For instance, the person who feels committed to withholding sex until marriage may have much more conservative values about many things, from finances to politics, compared to the person that believes that free expression of sexuality should be an important part of a young adults’s experience,” says Haltzman.
What about you? Did you think it was important to share your number with your soon-to-be-spouse?