"I know you don't believe in discussing how many sexual partners you've had with someone you are dating, but what about if you are about to get married? Is that something that should be known -- or, if your partner wants to know, should you discuss it?" --S.V. I'm not a fan of disclosing your number under any circumstances, and though it's a popular question, I can't believe that anyone over the age of 18 still asks anyone how many people he or she has slept with.
In the same way that many women assume that a man must be a "good catch" if he has a degree and earns six figures, or in the way that many men assume that a woman is "wife material" if she can throw down in the kitchen and fixes his plate, many people -- more so men -- also assume that a person's "number" is indicative of his or her morals, values and worth as a partner. And it's just not accurate.
The answer to "How many people have you slept with?" doesn't really give you any useful information. The answer from a 40-year-old woman could be three. That's harmless enough, but it doesn't tell you if the men were all serious relationships, if any of them were married or if all three encounters occurred in some wild ménage à trois (plus one) the week before, and one of the participants was the would-be best man at the upcoming wedding.
For a woman, there is no right answer, and any answer is likely to be used against her, which is why I suggest you don't answer. No matter how tame her past may be in comparison with that of the man asking, she's likely to be looked down upon in some way -- even if she's a virgin. It's slut-shaming at its finest.
It's no secret that our culture holds men to a different and more liberal sexual standard than women, or that many men take advantage of that double standard. If a guy is answering the question, no matter how high the number, it's usually dismissed with a shrug under the guise of "Well, boys will be boys."
A few months ago, I participated in a roundtable discussion for Essence magazine's February 2012 issue with the leading relationship bloggers, including The Root contributor Damon Young of Very Smart Brothas, Anslem Samuel from Naked With Socks On, Jozen Cummings of Until I Get Married and Charli Penn-Watkins from Man Wife and Dog. Cummings actually applauded women for being more mature for not caring as much about numbers. I had to inform him, "That's not a sign of maturity. It's an understanding that if women were to start rating men the way they rated us based on how many partners they've had, there may not be very many men to date."
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