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How Big A Slut Are You, Girls?
Or rather, girls, how big a slut were you? And who here thinks it's a good idea for a woman to tell her boyfriend or husband how many men she's been with? I say it's never a good idea to tell. A guy will tell you he can handle it, but guess what: he's most likely lying. The truth: The way male sexuality works, there's a good chance he'll forever be tormented by the dirty pictures, or at least feel some contempt toward you.

Now, if you were The Whore Of Babylon until the moment you met him, I'm not suggesting you pretend you were the 21st century Donna Reed. But, you can suggest you've been around the block maybe once or twice without giving the exact mileage.

And yes, of course if you have some form of transmittable creepy-crawlies, there should be full disclosure up front. But, the question here is about whether a woman should give a male partner a full numerical accounting. I say terrible idea. What do you think?

And has anyone had any experience telling somebody the number of people (and/or animals) you've been with and had them hold it against you forever...until you finally broke up?

Posted by aalkon at August 6, 2006 9:28 AM

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I'm a man and I've asked most women I've been physically intimate with at some point and always got an answer. I've also met a girl-friend's ex and was never "tormented by the dirty pictures" and I never cared if the number was higher than mine. I think it's interesting to know a bit about her past relationships, just as it is interesting to know about past jobs etc. Honestly, I'd think it'd be weired if a women I'm intimate with refused to answer that question. I realize that some guys are different in that respect, but if he's the jealous "tormented by the dirty pictures" type and want's to know, he's probably going to be tormented whether or not you give him a number.

Posted by: AskAndTell at August 6, 2006 10:31 AM

Isn't it kind of tacky to tell details? Why is it important? The past is gone. Why dredge it up?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 6, 2006 10:34 AM

I don't think it's 'tacky' to share things with my boyfriend. (I also don't think it's necessarily healthy to share EVERYTHING, btw.) I have been honest with him from day one about who I am, what I have done, where I'm coming from, and where I hope to go. If he'd had a problem with that, then he wouldn't have been the right guy for me. Fortunately, he's rational enough not to be tormented by images of guys I'm not with anymore, because I'm with him.

Also, I think 'dredge' implies that the past is something to be ashamed of or to want never to think about again, whereas I have many positive memories from past relationships. All of it, good and bad, has brought me to where I am now - a place where I am happy and with a wonderful guy. I'd rather learn from the past and reflect on how amazing my present is compared to it than pretend none of it happened or had no effect on me or my present relationship.

Posted by: Jackie D at August 6, 2006 10:52 AM

I don't ask. For one thing, it's none of my business. Also, as one gets older (meaning, these days, anywhere above 14), it seems increasingly unreasonble to expect each new conquest to be even relatively inexperienced. If you're lucky, you might learn something.

I remember the words of a guy I knew in college, speaking of his new girlfriend. "I'd like to meet the guy who taught her [oral sex]. And then I'd like to shake his hand!

Posted by: TE at August 6, 2006 11:10 AM

I don't think it's always tacky to talk a bit about the past and it helps to get to know a person better. What I'm talking about is quite different from her going on about how Johnny liked to have his scrotum tickled, which indeed would be tacky. The exact number is not that important, but why make a big deal out of it by beating around the bush. I think it would be weired if past relationships were "off limits" and only talked about in euphemisms.

Posted by: AskAndTell at August 6, 2006 11:21 AM

What Jackie D said!

Posted by: AskAndTell at August 6, 2006 11:23 AM

> always got an answer.

Why? Why did you want an answer?

I think people outgrow this.

Posted by: Crid at August 6, 2006 11:43 AM

I mean "dredge" in the sense that it's something that will not be easy for him to deal with by nature of being a guy. Younger guys, especially, have a hard time with it. I agree with you on being the sum of my past experiences (plus my genetics), and I don't look on the past with embarrassment. That said, it's not always good to tell everything. I'm for judicious telling. Why will your relationship be better if your boyfriend knows exactly how many guys you had sex with and whether - to borrow from above - Johnny like his scrotum tickled?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 6, 2006 11:51 AM

I'm not talking about pretending you were somebody you weren't. But as soon as you give a guy detail - well, there's a good chance it's not going to be productive for your relationship, as irrational as that may be.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 6, 2006 11:52 AM

I always just assume it's a way bigger number than mine. It would pretty much have to be.

Posted by: LYT at August 6, 2006 2:50 PM

I sort of insinuated something about a threesome and he became intolerably insecure after that.

Posted by: claudia at August 6, 2006 5:33 PM

Bad idea to get graphic. Guys like AskAndTell don't care because they aren't looking to settle down. When I was just playing the field, I didn't particularly care either. When I started thinking long term, I was a lot more choosy. So I guess it depends on what you want. If you are just playing the field, one thing or another will drive you apart anyway so you might as well spill the beans. If you are looking for something permanent, I'd be pretty discrete.

Posted by: TallMan at August 6, 2006 5:56 PM

I liken this subject to a nice hotel room. I know people have been there before me, but I'd really prefer not to see any evidence of their stay.

If you don't feel jealous (note that I didn't say "ACT" jealous), you ain't in love.

Posted by: snakeman99 at August 6, 2006 6:05 PM

Snakester: Why if you're the kind of grown man/woman who realizes that all the people in the world and their feelings weren't created for your own amusement and aggrandizement? And that sensible, warm, attractive people have spent years testing the boundaries of their company to refine their expectations of what a truly loving partner will have to offer? What if --in short-- you weren't born yesterday, and want nothing to do with anyone who was?

Just curious.

Posted by: Crid at August 6, 2006 10:01 PM

Whoops, that's suppposed to be *what* if you're...

Posted by: Crid at August 6, 2006 10:04 PM

Exactly, Crid.

And Snake, when you say you'd be a lot more choosy, what do you mean by that? That you wouldn't be with a woman who's had a lot of sex partners? What if that was what worked for her at the time -- and she doesn't have any diseases? Assuming she's ethical, are you suggesting people get used up? Or, maybe as Crid notes, you're the product of your experiences, good and bad, but because you had a lot of one-night-stands in 1997 it doesn't mean you're somehow damaged in 2006.

And this brings up another question: Would you prefer a woman who stuck with a couple boyfriends she didn't really want for a number of years so she wouldn't be compelled to go for casual sex with a lot of partners?

What, exactly, is wrong with getting as much pleasure as you can through life, in whatever way you're comfortable with?

To those who take the dirty slut view of girls who've gotten around, are your views a product of religion?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 6, 2006 11:26 PM

Well, having sex with lots of people isn't necessarily going to bring as much pleasure as being extremely selective will. I mean, I had some brief pleasure when I ate my way to being grossly overweight, but I sure paid the price. (And, I'd add, the whole process of shedding the weight has been unexpectedly pleasurable as well.)

Posted by: Jackie D at August 7, 2006 1:22 AM

Crid - because the heart is not as rational as one of your well-articulated comments (well, at least mine isn't). Again, please note that I'm talking about FEELING jealous, not acting that way. If I had chosen to be with someone with a more checkered past, I certainly wouldn't throw it in her face. But I doubt I'd be with someone who would be so tacky as to constantly remind me. Bottom line - if I'm in love with someone I just don't like to think of her with someone else.

Amy - the "choosy" comment was by Tallman. But I agree with him in that I would certainly add a woman's past to the mix of factors when deciding whether or not to pursue anything serious.

Posted by: snakeman99 at August 7, 2006 7:49 AM

Jackie, how has weight loss been fun?

Posted by: Crid at August 7, 2006 8:13 AM

"Well, having sex with lots of people isn't necessarily going to bring as much pleasure as being extremely selective will."

I think there's an assumption within here that having sex with lots of people isn't satisfying. It might not be for you, but it may be for someone. It may be the right thing at a certain time. For example, I call the early 20s the fuck years. I think a lot of people aren't ready for a serious relationship and know it, but are pressured by societal mores into one. If they could just admit the truth and fuck like bunnies, I think a lot of people would be happier.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 7, 2006 8:24 AM

Nope. Details of past relationships never bothered me in the slightest. It's the present ones that hurt.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at August 7, 2006 8:33 AM

I think that it is just about being completely honest with someone that you want to share the rest of your life with. When I was in causal relationships it never came up nor did it really matter. But now that I am in a serious relationship with someone that I am willing to share a life with, this is just part of that sharing all of who we both are.

Posted by: sugarmag at August 7, 2006 10:39 AM

Amy, you're right: My assumption is only based on the number of people I know who made themselves very miserable by giving it up to a procession of strangers and/or people they hoped would love them afterwards. I do know people (mostly guys, would you believe?) who can make their way through the phone book of fucking and not be negatively affected by it. It all depends on the person and if they're emotionally mature enough - or detached enough - to know what they're doing and to deal with it.

Crid: It's been fun to learn that I can do something I always thought I couldn't, that I could change myself as a person in substantive ways, and that some damage can be undone.

Posted by: Jackie D at August 7, 2006 10:49 AM

Sugar, there's total honesty and there's judicious honesty. Why tell somebody more than they can handle? I think a lot of people actually do it out of insecurity or a fairytale notion of what love is: that if I reveal all and you still love me, it's love.

And Jackie, the mistake is thinking you'll find love or self-worth by fucking a lot of strangers. If that's your motivation you're, sorry, screwed. But, if you're simply a pleasure seeker and know that nothing lasting is likely to come of it, what's the problem? Women tend to get emotionally attached after sleeping with somebody. If a woman can compartmentalize -- "this is just a fuck" -- she can behave more like men do.

Straight women are like gay men in that all they have to do is want to have sex and they're likely to get it. Men don't always believe women who are sexually free -- so that can put a damper on it. Gay men have an easier time getting sex because there isn't that bias of "sure, you just want anonymous sex!" (ie, you say you want that, but are you going to cry and blurt out "I love you!" afterward and expect more to come?)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 7, 2006 11:01 AM

I'd say don't tell. There is the la-la land perception that love means total and complete disclosure but that isn't real life. One, there is a difference between honesty and spill-your-guts-tell-me-everything disclosure. Two, what possible benefit can be derived from telling? A number tells you a little bit about someone but can anyone actually believe that you "know them" better from that number? Three, I've been asked and I've asked and I say the motivation is more about control and less about knowing someone. In any case, can we please be rid of this bullshit notion that sex means love and love means sex? It doesn't, it won't, and it never did. Love is great and sex is great and having them both together is damned lucky, but they are different and separate. If someone told you you were a bad person cause you liked to eat your cookies without milk and cookies with milk was the established and accepted thing you would tell them to mind their own business. And that's what we should all do about our sexuality. Whether I am diseased or not IS your business. The exact number of partners? So not your business. I find that the best response is: "Honey, I love you and I only want to be with you now. I don't think about the past that way and neither should you." If they're stupid enough to pursue it after that then they're a bit too dumb for me to date.

Posted by: Christina at August 7, 2006 12:26 PM

Regardless of how you feel about the tell/don't tell issue, i think it is important to at least know your own number. I once asked a girl how many people she'd slept with, she asked for a pen and paper so she could make a list. I left her and went to a clinic. If taking on the risk of a new sexual partner is such a non-event, can I really trust you to be safe about it?

Personally, I want to know. Yes I'm going to judge you, but I recognize that it's your past resume that qualifies you for your current possition. Kind of like credit, no past is worse than a bad past.
Relax, mostly I just want to know if we're in the same ballpark. And your number will be adjusted for correction factors anyway. Like anyone who was married or in a serious relationship for a few years gets an additional 5 taked on for being off the market. Anyone having sex before AIDS gets all those numbers dropped off the front of the list. 100 wasn't such a high number in the late 70's. And don't assume a high number is bad. I once dated a woman who had a minimum standard (ten, I believe). Like the NSA, you can trust me with your data. But there's a certain anxiety in throwing out the number, since you can't trust just anybody's judgement. So maybe this is a good test of the relationship, can you trust your partner's judgement? If you aren't comfortable going out on a limb with your number, will you be comfortable being the first to drop the L bomb?

But as Crid/Amy says, people grow out of this, and it really only bugs young guys.

"there's a good chance he'll forever be tormented by the dirty pictures, " -been there, I was 21.

In conclusion, I really really want to know your number. But it's useless information. It's a poor indicator of disease. And for all my talk about judgement, I'm sexually indiscriminate, nobody's going to fail the test.


"Men don't always believe women who are sexually free -- so that can put a damper on it." So true, been caught in that trap, so why not throw out your high number, like credentials?

Posted by: smurfy at August 7, 2006 12:35 PM

Say, somebody crunch some numbers on the correlation between those who get jealous about their partner's past relationships and those who fetishize virginity.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at August 7, 2006 12:58 PM

Or, more to the point, is the exact same kind of behavior more tolerable in one person than another merely because of their theory for its origin?

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at August 7, 2006 1:36 PM

It only takes one -- the wrong one -- to catch creepy crawlies.

A woman who sleeps around because she enjoys it has healthy sexuality. A woman who does it as a means to feeling good about herself or because she's desperate for a relationship is another story. You can figure out which one a woman is if you just pay attention to conversational clues about non-sexual things. You do have to be interested in finding out.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 7, 2006 2:04 PM

Now might be a good time to mention the other side of this coin - the expectation of innocence, conflicting with the desire to find a partner who knows what's what and how-to.

Heinlein has a nice summary of the prudishness of America poisoning a great many relationships, talking about his fictional "Howard families".

Do I wanna know? You don't have to tell me. I'll know by how you behave. And I'll be watching to see if you think "we" are important, in the process of paying attention.

Posted by: Radwaste at August 7, 2006 4:04 PM

Amy: Why bother asking readers' opinions if you're only going to tell them again and again why they're wrong and you're right (as usual)? Can't you step away for even a second from telling people what to think? (And I ask this as someone who's a huge fan of your writing/thinking, if not often your conclusions.)

Posted by: Elementary at August 7, 2006 6:50 PM

Amy wrote: "But, if you're simply a pleasure seeker and know that nothing lasting is likely to come of it, what's the problem? Women tend to get emotionally attached after sleeping with somebody. If a woman can compartmentalize -- 'this is just a fuck' -- she can behave more like men do."

I think the missing sentence that follows this is: "but few women can do so." So if I'm shopping for a serious relationship, my snap judgment for a woman who sleeps around is far more likely to be "daddy issues," and "attention-seeking" than "rational pleasure-seeker."

Posted by: snakeman99 at August 7, 2006 6:53 PM

> if you're only going to tell them again
> and again why they're wrong and
> you're right (as usual)?

This is a fascinating comment. Some people can't live with naked disagreements... They have to be papered over with some sort of concessionary rhetoric. It's like we're permitted to have a moment of discussion, but eventually we're expected to retire our views and agree that the truth is not as I see it, nor is it as you do, but it's actually somewhere in the middle.

What is that? Is it a white American thing? Or at least a middle-class thing?

Posted by: Crid at August 7, 2006 7:39 PM

That snap judgment of yours (and of most people) is probably why more women don't indulge their sexual needs except in relationships. Women can be just as shallow as men and once they discover their sexuality, they tend to be just as interested in sex. I don't think it's wanting love that keeps them out of casual situations. I think it's fear and insecurity. I'm not sure if you can understand the amount of crap a woman gets for having casual sex. Maybe you can but let me just say it can be overwhelmingly negative. Shame is a powerful motivator (this is supported by studies, I just haven't their names) and by and large, shame is heaped on the heads of women who are sexually adventurous. Even if they aren't sleeping around, a step in the wrong sexual direction is enough to let loose the hounds. Swimming upstream so to speak is a very difficult thing to do. Maybe if we were more supportive (dare I say happy to date?) and less condescending to such women we'd have more of them. I personally have had more lovers than boyfriends and I very much believe it's the right way to go. Growing up and learning who you are is hard enough without being saddled with all the complications (and benefits!) of a relationship.

Posted by: Christina at August 7, 2006 8:22 PM

"> if you're only going to tell them again
> and again why they're wrong and
> you're right (as usual)?"

How odd. So, it would be more interesting if I disagree with people but just roll over and say nothing?

I've thought a great deal about this issue and related issues because it's my line of work. I have a file drawer jammed with studies on infidelity, jealousy, and the like; many of which I've heard presented by the researchers. In other words, I doubt most people have been as focused as I am on this and related issues. Now, if we're talking physics or auto mechanics, I'll stand back and listen to the masters.

But, have you considered, for example, how people have this faulty notion of what I call the theory of "Grossest Is Closest"? ie, people mistakenly think intimacy means leaving the door open so your partner can see you while you're sitting on the pot...the notion that if you show somebody how utterly hairy, ugly, smelly and disgusting you are, and they don't unzip their skin and run away creaming, it's true love. Well, how about you just keep the ugly side to yourself -- wax your cooch when the hubby's away -- so they won't have to blindfold themselves and plug their nose to love you. If it's below the waist, and it isn't sexual, I'd really rather not know.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 7, 2006 9:22 PM

My motto: "Never have sex before the first date."

My other motto: "The rules are there are no rules."

I met Gregg at the Apple computer store at the Grove, and we did have Orange Crush and talk for three hours at the Farmer's Market before he had to catch a plane. A week later, he came to pick me up at my place for our first date and we never actually got out of my house. For some guys, that would be a major turnoff. For a guy who's right for me, it's just the first day of the rest of the relationship.

My little sister and I used to say, any guy who's not big enough to be able to deal with this sort of behavior isn't a guy we'd want anyway. There are a lot of fish in the sea. I'd rather have 10 years of casual sex (which I pretty much did in my 30s, wooo!) than spend 10 years in a series of relationships with a bunch of doofuses.

P.S. When people shake their heads about the only meaningful sex being in a relationship, I have to say, I've had a whole lot of meaningless sex, and I enjoyed the hell out of almost all of it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 7, 2006 9:28 PM

Sounds like a lot more fun than what I've done with my 30s. Who knew the Grove Apple Store was such a den of vice?

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at August 8, 2006 9:28 AM

I had a relationship with a guy who couldn't get over the fact that I had been with a lot of different men. I learned through all of my experiences how different and amazing every person I was with was. I love figuring out what turns a lover on. I think it's important to have real life experiences to find out that not every man/woman is the same, and that everyone has different wants and needs sexually and otherwise. The guys who have taken the time to figure this out make better lovers. If they haven't then you end up in bed with someone who tries to twist you up like a crazy straw because they've watched to much porn, or one who keeps doing that one thing with his tongue and your belly button because it made one of his girlfriends really hot once (surely I'll learn to like it if you try it enough times? sorry, I've spent time figuring out what I like, and that ain't it). The only reason I'm posting is because I just got out of a relationship where the guy knowing my sexual past completely ruined us. He knew it shouldn't bother him, and he tried to be all liberated, but he could not get past it. One or two under the breath comments about me being a slut takes the shine right off. At my age, I would hope he would be glad I had gotten around a bit. Unfortunately for him, he will no longer be experiencing my expertise in the bedroom.

Posted by: Kate at August 9, 2006 6:45 AM

Very good site. Thanks! Sooper

Posted by: Sooper at August 10, 2006 10:27 AM

About 6 years ago, when I started dating my 2nd husband, I asked him how many women he had slept with. He told me, "You go first" I didn't want to tell him, in fear that he would run away screaming. Let's just say it's a enormous number, over 20, but under 100. I somehow talked him into telling me first and I was waiting for the proverbial "Oh, about 10." Instead I got, "Oh, I think it's around 1,000 or so." I was stunned. I quickly and proudly blurted out my tiny number and HE was stunned. He had the nerve to call me a slut. Um, wait. He just told me he had sex with over a thousand women. "But I'm a musician, I have an excuse." HELLO???? I'm surprised I'm not dead from herpemonogonosyphilaids or whatever he could have given me. I married him anyway and yep, you guessed it, he cheated on me 9 months into the marriage and we got a divorce. I am now on my third marriage (not a musician) and he has never asked me how many men I have slept with. I like it that way. What he doesn't know won't kill him, right?

Posted by: Marnie at August 11, 2006 2:16 PM

I'm currently in a relationship where I found out early on that my girlfriend has been with 7 people to my 2 before her. Yes, it messed with me a lot, and yes the relationship may not work out as result.

I'm 21 and I know that it's something I'll likely get over, and even more that most of my issue is coming out of jealousy.

I'm also more conservative, and I believe that if someone's been getting attention their mature life, then it would show good character to demonstrate an amount of strong self-identity.

In other words, I have less issues with the fact that my girlfriend slept with that many people than with the fact that it seems like her freshman year of college was her "finding herself" by sleeping around. My own past has made the typical "freshman experience" in which many people go wild a pet peeve. If she'd had the casual sex or put herself out there like that with no intention of an intimate connection with the person afterwards, that's fine, but its the fact that she had sex expecting it to be the jumpstart of a great relationship only to get hurt just bothers me.

She's an amazing person, and I hate that my own issues have contributed so much to making me have such a problem with her.

Posted by: Sockpuppet at September 2, 2006 5:22 AM

I hope you'll ease up. She's 21. She's human and fallible -- just as you are. If your values don't mesh, and it sounds like they don't, don't torture yourself and each other; break up.

Moreover, I think it's unwise to have a serious relationship in your early 20s, because it gets in the way of "becoming." You change a tremendous amount between 20 and 25 alone...right now, I'd venture that neither one of you really knows who you are. In the early 20s, a lot of people are together simply because they live close to each other and find each other attractive.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 2, 2006 7:32 AM

I use it as a litmus test, actually. A guy who doesn't care how many people I've slept with (given that it isn't something crazy like 200 people, and given that I don't have any communicable diseases), is a guy I might want to be with. A guy who freaks because I've had sex with 14 people is someone I don't want to waste my time on.

In my last relationship, he asked my number. My number was 13, his was 5. He was disturbed that I'd slept with more people than him. He felt un-manned. He also felt that I was a slut. We talked and talked and talked about it. I told him that I think that slut is really the name one uses for "people who have had more sex than you", that whether or not he was comfortable with it it wasn't possible to change it now, and that I didn't appreciate being called a slut by someone who supposedly loved me. We discussed the fact that I had spent the previous 6 years living in a co-ed commune at college, while he had spent the previous 6 years with his girlfriend/wife, being monogamous. Duh. Of course I slept with more people than him. He never got over it. We were together for 3 years, and he brought it up every month or so. Eventually we broke up, partially because of that issue.

When I began dating my current boyfriend, it was one of the first things we discussed. I didn't want to start another relationship with someone if they felt the same way as my ex. Essentially I said, "Hey, you're #14. Does that bother you?" He said, "Uh, no. You're #... 20-something? I don't care how many people you've had sex with. Unless you have any diseases I should know about." Good answer. Test passed.

Posted by: Heather at September 7, 2006 12:55 PM

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