Do You Need to Know How Many Partners Your Significant Other Had Before You?

It bothers me when people try to promote their own way of living their sexuality as the only “good” one. In a recent discussion of whether people have the right to know the number of sexual partners their significant others had before meeting them, Hugo Schwyzer presents his choice not to know as somehow more ideologically sound than its opposite:

When we’re in a monogamous relationship, what we have a right to insist on is that no names get added to the list after our own. It doesn’t matter if I’m number five or 55. I’ll be crushed if my wife adds a number six or a 56 behind my back.

But the right to ask to be last is not the same as the right to know how far we are from the first. And for me, part of being a good man is knowing what I don’t need to know.

According to this definition, I’m not a good woman because, for me, it is very important to know. Mind you, I’m not saying that people who choose not to ask are wrong and something is not good in their relationship. This is a matter of personal preference and it makes no sense, in my opinion, to attach an ideological significance to it.

Those of us who insist on knowing are in no way less “good” than those who don’t care to know.

17 thoughts on “Do You Need to Know How Many Partners Your Significant Other Had Before You?”

  1. For me, it’s important to know for pragmatic reasons: I’m so young that most of my partners have had limited sexual experience, but if we reach a point in our relationship where we’re going to have sex, I want to be able to talk about what they and I liked/didn’t like about the last few sexual partners we had, and improve our technique for each other.
    After all, for me (and just me, not going to judge anyone else) part of being a good partner is knowing what I can do to make sex better for both of us.


  2. This is curious. I don’t have any reason to care about the answer to this, but it is the sort of thing that sooner my wife and I are likely to talk about, so eventually I will likely know. As will she. But, it is sort of like knowing how old she was when she took her first plane ride. It is not of any real significance beyond idle conversation. I care about her adding more only in that I will ask her to avoid unreasonable risks of sexually transmitted infections. I will of course do the same.


  3. It is certainly very important for me to know this about a prospective partner. As someone who doesn’t consider himself highly experienced in sexual relationships, I would not prefer to have a partner who is vastly more experienced than me. That person is very likely to hold very divergent worldviews from me.


    1. “That person is very likely to hold very divergent worldviews from me” –> this is a very rational restatement of a populist moralist talking point.

      But when I was young and innocent, Kinjal, I had precisely the opposite attitude. I wanted very experienced partners, because I wanted the relationship instructive as well as more usual things. And I didn’t care that they might find me unskilled, because I admitted upfront I was.

      Learning stuff is a pretty big deal with me 🙂


      1. ““That person is very likely to hold very divergent worldviews from me” –> this is a very rational restatement of a populist moralist talking point.”

        -Honestly, I also don’t see any connection between a worldview and sexual history. But who knows, maybe that’s also part of my worldview. 🙂


        1. Don’t you? Kinjal is saying he associates multiple sexual partners with a certain kind of worldview, and this worldview is not his own. Therefore — by his logic — a person with multiple sexual partners has a worldview that is not his, and is therefore incompatible with him.

          This is a polite abd rational restatement of the “I could never date a slut (slute being gender neutral here)” mentality, and I appreciate it.


          1. Really?? Thank you for the translation. Since I never think this way, it’s hard for me to imagine anybody doing so.

            I have observed, however, that the moment one falls in love, all such philosophic and moral defenses disappear in a flash. 🙂


  4. Some may not care about numbers, as much as current character. Certainly, unless one is so in love as to be “blind” a person’s past may be an indicator of their future behavior. One thing that never ceases to amaze me is when two people meet and fall in love when they are already married, But then they act like they’ve been blind-sided when this ex-unfaithful spouse is unfaithful to them. I think most people see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, and think what they want to think, when it really comes down to it. Do we have a right to know how many STD’s, or STI’s our potential partner has?


    1. “But then they act like they’ve been blind-sided when this ex-unfaithful spouse is unfaithful to them. ”

      -Very true. 🙂 That also always surprised me.

      “Do we have a right to know how many STD’s, or STI’s our potential partner has”

      -I think that absolutely yes.


  5. I think it’s totally okay to want to know how many partners one’s current partner has had, but I also think it’s wrong to judge them for it.

    I don’t even think that someone’s “number” is necessarily a good indication of their current or future behavior. Many people sleep around in their youth, but many people also eventually want to settle down with just one person. The question is whether they’ve reached that point yet or not (assuming, that is, that you’re looking for a serious relationship yourself).


  6. Would you do a post on the controversy around knowing how many partners one’s current flame has had? My ex was a *very* well-loved man, euphemistically speaking, and he is still friends — without benefits — with several of these women, including his freshman-year sweetheart. He introduced me to them, and I loved hanging out with them with and without my ex — they were a very diverse and interesting group of people.

    However, when some of my friends and cohorts heard about it, they roundly condemned my ex for being a insecure, perverted leech who sees women as sexual possessions and cannot let go, even when he himself moves on to other women. They also informed me that by introducing me to his exes, he was effectively blackmailing me into staying with him, because the only purpose of such introductions is the message — “I don’t need you. Look at the options I still have around me”.

    I was absolutely amazed.


    1. Yes, I need to read the controversy, I’m sure it’s very curious. I’ve just been a little behind because of moving and grading, etc.

      I’m one of those people whose exes stop existing the second the relationship ends and I expect the same from my partners. Far be it from me to judge people who are different, though. This is why I find the reaction of your friends to be completely unwarranted. There are many people who are super friendly with their exes, so is every one of them a manipulator? Weird.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


  7. That reminds me of a scene in Mr. and Mrs. Smith movie, where they, after learning about each other’s secret lives start asking all kinds of questions all over again… 🙂

    Hugo is a moralist. 🙂 It is not obvious since he is not a traditional religious kind of moralist, he is rather “this is how things should be in a society where everyone is a well-developed person and a feminist” kind of moralist. But what virtue is there in not asking if one is actually anxious to know?

    I question the practical usefulness of asking though. First and obvious, people could lie. Either way. 🙂 Even if they do not lie – what exactly does the number indicate? Does the risk of STD really grow 20% just because the number is 5 instead of 4? Aren’t there other factors involved? Is “the number” an indicator of a superior experience, potentially translating into greater pleasure or an opportunity to learn something new and exciting? What if the person is into scoring for scoring sake, and the actual sexual experience is not high on his priority list? The idea that past behavior determines future behavior reduces people to automata which, once programmed, always behave the same way. The possibility of change and/or growth seems to be denied. This attitude, on my own moral book, is a worse “sin” than any particular number, either “too high” or “too low”.
    I mean, I am not advocating hiding anything. I believe that in the course of the development of a relationship, if people are open enough with each other, they acquire good enough idea both of where their partner stands on the above issues and the number itself. I just do not see a how exactly knowing if the number is 15 or 18 changes anything.


    1. In my particular case, I need to know not in order to pass any judgments (seriously, with my history, how could I judge anybody for anything?) But because I’m into these very symbiotic relationships where I need to know my partner’s entire life story. I just need to have a picture in my head of where he lived, worked, who his friends were at every stage of his life. I just find it interesting. I also am very willing to narrate my life story in any amount of detail. 🙂

      The number is absolutely no indicator of anything, you are right. Just like the number of guests one had at one’s 10th Birthday party. 🙂 It’s just curious information, not basis for conclusions.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T


  8. Personally I would like to know but it wouldn’t be a requirement. I would ask because as someone who has next to no experience I hope the number is high because at least one of us should know what they are doing.


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