The start of a relationship is full of new discoveries, but when it comes to finding out about your partner’s past conquests, the jury’s out on how much we really want to hear. Is there any benefit to your other half knowing exactly how many people you’ve slept with? Or is it less awkward to just keep schtum? We spoke to dating and relationship coach Suzie Parkus and Nichi Hodgson, dating consultant for The Inner Circle, to get the lowdown…
If You Tell The Truth
It usually happens about two months in. You’re both past that dreamy honeymoon stage, are finally comfortable with each other and feel like you’ve covered every personal question under the sun… until the awkward moment when your partner quizzes you about your sexual past. Whilst honesty is always the best policy, there's a risk one of you will feel uncomfortable when you find out your other half has had far more – or far fewer – lovers than you.
“Sharing the number of people you've slept with can open up a can of worms around what you've done and with who, which can be a slippery slope towards relationship hell," Suzie says.
She explains your answer should depend on how comfortable you feel talking about your past. If you’re open to that conversation, then it could be something that benefits your relationship. It doesn’t have to be a negative conversation if you’ve racked up a high number, the more partners you’ve had, the more experienced you are. Sex is fun and exciting, and you shouldn’t feel judged if you’ve slept with more – or less – people than your other half. In fact, showing that you're open to sex should only give your partner hope that the two of you are going to have a great sex life, too.
But what if you’re honest and your partner deems your number too high? Once that information is out there, it’s pretty hard to take it back, and Suzie thinks it can change the whole dynamic of your relationship.
“When you reveal how many people you've been with, it can make the other person feel less special – secretly everyone wants to have a first with you,” she explains. “If you’ve been much more sexually active than your partner, it can call into question what's left for you to explore together. It can also cause them to worry about will they compare or match up.”
Of course, there should be an element of sensitivity to your answer (you don’t want to make your partner to feel uncomfortable or inferior), but if they ask you the question, they should be strong enough to deal with the response. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be asking in the first place. Plus – feelings of worry about measuring up aside – it doesn’t actually matter how many people you’ve slept with. As dating guru Nichi tells us, if the person you start dating is really into you, and you’re making them happy, then they shouldn't care.
“To me, the whole concept of revealing your 'number' is pretty antiquated," she says. "Why does it really matter how many people your partner has slept with if they're into you? The way to think about it is that the more experience they've had, the more likely they'll be able to give you pleasure. Think of it as someone just getting a lot of practice in in order to please you.”
No one should ever make you feel bad about your past experiences; they’re what shape you as a person. With every relationship and every break up, we get one step closer to realising what it is we actually want. If you do tell the truth, your new partner should respect you for your honesty, and know that you want to start your relationship as you mean to go forward.
“Sharing the number of people you've slept with shows your openness and willingness to be honest,” Suzie says. “The truth is, no one really feels comfortable about the number of notches on their bedpost but, at a certain age, it's just something you have to accept. Being open and honest shows that you don't want there to be any secrets.”
If You Lie
The problem with asking how many people a new partner has slept with is that it’s a loaded question. What will you/they gain by knowing the answer? You tell the truth and risk judgement, or you lie and worry that your partner may find out the truth later. Being honest and open is the key to any successful relationship, but if you think telling the truth might hinder your chances as a couple, then what’s the harm in telling a few white lies along the way?
If you don’t feel comfortable telling the truth, then don’t. That information is private to you – just because you’re in a new relationship, it doesn’t mean you have to reveal every sordid detail about your dating past. “If talking about past sexual encounters makes you feel threatened, don't do it. You need to be really secure in your relationship – and with the sex – to be able to reveal details about previous times. It's much easier to talk generally about activities you enjoy rather than sex you've had,” says Nichi.
Whatever the context, the minute you start talking about exes, the dynamic in your relationship shifts. When you start talking about people you've been intimate with in the past, it's all too easy to picture the person you care about with someone else. So why put each other through it?
“I 100% advocate openness and honesty, but pick and choose wisely,” says Suzie. “Don’t be deceitful in any way, and don’t keep things hidden from them, but don't divulge anything that isn't going to add value or benefit your relationship.”
When it comes to sex, by all means talk about the things you like and dislike, but going down the ‘ex’ road is never going to be an easy ride. Think about what effect this is going to have on the two of you, and if it’s not going to benefit you in any way, then it’s probably best to quash the conversation entirely.
Or, take Nichi's advice, and steer the conversation in a different direction instead: “Of course, if a partner asks you such a question you want to be honest and not seem as though you're dodging the answer. In a playful way you could simply smile and say, 'is it important to you, and if so, why?'. They might have a really good and simple reason for it – perhaps somebody lied in the past, inadvertently hiding exes they were still friends with whom they'd never declared past lovers," she says.
At the end of the day, there’s a reason your partner is asking this question, so you might need to do some digging to find out why. “If your partner is asking for information, this is could be a sign of insecurity – they want to know the information in order to confirm their position within the relationship, their position compared to others and to affirm your feelings for them. They are merely seeking reassurance, albeit in a non-constructive fashion,” says Suzie.
The best way to get through this constructively, and make your relationship stronger, is to talk it through – you can always give a ball park figure if it puts both your minds at rest. Be wary if your partner is demanding you reveal your ‘number’, or tries to shame you for the answer, as this could be a form of controlling behaviour and is a major red flag. It shouldn’t make a difference who you've been with before, so if it really bothers your partner, you need to question whether they're the type of person you want to be with anyway.