“How Many Sex Partners Is Too Many?”

Recently I was talking to my 21-year-old boyfriend about how many sexual partners was considered “too many.” I told him how there was a 21-year-old guy friend who says he’s had over 20 partners but they had each meant something to him so he didn’t see a problem with it; only when you have meaningless sex does it become a problem, he said. Most of my other friends, especially my girl friends, only have had a couple partners, and I have always thought that was the norm for most people my age. When I asked my boyfriend how many he thought was “too many,” he said that if you lose count, then that’s when it becomes too much. He also said that he’s had nine and didn’t think that that was a lot at all. I personally have only had one other partner, and when I found out that he had nine, it kind of took me by surprise. I’m not mad and don’t think any differently of my boyfriend or my friend than I did before, but I’m just curious, what do most people consider to be too many partners and at what age? — Number Cruncher

I am positive that the number people think is “too many” sex partners varies greatly not only across generations and cultures, but from person to person. And, really, what difference does it make what other people consider “normal” or what they’re comfortable with? What matters is what you think, what your values are and in what way those values serve as a lens through which you view other people. What matters is that your boyfriend told you something about himself that surprised you but rather than freak out, you’ve been able to step away and see the bigger picture — you’re able to see that your boyfriend is the same person you thought he was before you found out what his number was and that maybe, just maybe, that number doesn’t really matter as much as the way he treats you and how well you get along and how you he makes you feel. I’d say that if you’ve got that much figured out at 21, you’re doing pretty well, and really, truly, honestly, you don’t need other people’s ideas of what’s wrong or right or normal messing with that.

*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.


  1. anonymous says:

    i don’t mind weny re-running some older columns, but i wish they were more than just a few months old! if they were a bit older, say, at least a year old, then i wouldnt remember them so clearly and it’d be a bit more of a surprise.

    1. Yeah, that’s what I was thinking!

    2. I don’t own copyright for anything older than this past January…

      1. That sucks! Don’t worry, we’ll be fine until you get back… enjoy your vacation!

  2. I think “more partners than the number I’ve had” is what most people think is too many. It’s all relative.

  3. You want to know what’s worse than having a ton of partners?
    Being the kind of person that judges others for having too many partners.

    1. Mr. Nightlife says:

      This probably won’t be well liked, but whatever, here we go…

      No not entirely. I believe it’s entirely rational for people to have their reservations about intimate relationships. Many people seem to carry the notion that a person’s psyche remains the same, no matter how many sexual partners they’ve been with, and for some individuals, that may be true, but I feel that for the vast majority, this sort of behavior desensitizes a person to both sex and relationships.

  4. I still struggle with the fact that my 25 year old boyfriend has had 20 partners. Its hard for me to accept, I’ve only had 2. I think its all relative for most people…

    A lot of coloumns I’ve read say not to look into the number, dont ask if you dont want to know, dont let it get to you, etc. But it certainly gets to me! I always thought it said a lot about a person-Until I met my current boyfriend. He’s been with (in my opinion) a LOT of girls. But he really opened my eyes, and helped me see another side to the number question.

    1. I always find it more easy to be on a don’t ask/don’t tell policy. Even health issues don’t need for you to be explicit in numbers. I think I have a “general handle” on people my husband has slept with and vice versa based on what we’ve said. But neither of us have asked, or cared to know what the other’s number is. It doesn’t change anything about the person you’re with. I don’t really feel it’s a big deal. I suppose if he asked, I’d tell him. But he doesn’t ask, and neither do I.

      To me it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, when you’re in a relationship what matters most is where you are at that point. I also think the number thing is misleading. For me I’d care less if my (hypothetical) man had dozens of partners from LTRs than even a handful of drunken one night stands with a girl he can’t remember her name. But that’s a personal thing. But see? I don’t ask, don’t tell. Saves the worries!

      1. honeybeenicki says:

        I know how many my husband has been with (I make 3), but he’s never been interested in my “number”, so we go with don’t ask, don’t tell. I would tell him if he wanted to know.

  5. I can tell you I haven’t had as many as Wilt Chamberlin.

  6. I never want to know any of boyfriend’s numbers nor will I let them know mine. I don’t discuss my number with my friends either, because people like the LW will judge me for something that is frankly a private matter. The only exception to this rule involves one of my friends. She dated this guy for a couple months, a year after they broke up they had ex-sex. At this point I had found out that the guy had slept with over 70 women, and countless men as well. I’m 100 percent sure of this fact. I think when you are sleeping with that many people and engaging in high-risk sexual activities with both men and women, your partner should know.

  7. “Too many” is a relative number. Granted, I’m pretty sure that my totals are universally considered “too many”. Even if I could accurately COUNT how many. Of course, there is still the argument that certain individuals don’t count (how can a sexual encounter with a female NOT count?), or certain experiences don’t count (if you don’t remember the event, it didn’t happen, if it wasn’t willing, it doesn’t count, etc).

    In all honesty, it doesn’t matter so long as you all are STD-free and still using precautions to ensure that if there is one (AIDS can take 7-10 years to “develop”), you won’t spread it, then I really think that you have nothing to worry about. Sexual experience, or lack thereof really can’t be judged by the amount of partners you’ve had. Trust me. I’ve been with guys who have been with 20+ women, and they couldn’t please a woman if their lives depended on it. They figured that with an average sized penis and a few “porn” moves, they were golden. Nuh uh. Size doesn’t always matter, but creativity, willingness to please, and a sense of “adventure”.

    1. demoiselle says:

      Perhaps their lack of an ability to please their female partners had something to do with their high replacement rate of said partners? 😉 No one wanted to come back for more…

      1. There is always that point… it would be something to study. I wonder if the gov’t would fund it. Give me a reason to ask sexually-geared questions in a bar to drunken people! *laugh*

  8. fast eddie says:

    Back in the AIDs free 70s my generation sought to rack up high numbers in a very care free manner. At the same time we were actively seeking a life partner. Open marriages and open relationships were fairly common but they didn’t last too long. Hormone induced cravings were quelled with time constants, child rearing and financial obligations. Particularly the fear of being left without someone to grow old with gave pause to experimenting. Eventually most of us accepted a compromise between “ideal” and “close enough” that we could live with. The quantitative number is just that a number. As one writer put it: Happiness has two enemies, regrets of the past and fear of the future. When your with someone you truly love those other partners were what brought you to the here and now. After 20 years of marriage I feel it’s all boils down to trust for the future and large part of that is continued fidelity.

    1. Fairhaired Child says:

      “Happiness has two enemies, regrets of the past and fear of the future’
      I love that quote – its not only fitting to this situation, but to a lot of situations when people have those nagging “doubts”. I’m going to share it with some others as well.

      1. Definitely. That’s a CotW right there.

  9. demoiselle says:

    As I believe I posted last time, “too many” partners doesn’t objectively exist. It only exists in so far as the number of partners/attitude towards sexual relations may reveal fundamental differences in values between the couple in question.

    Like NolaGirl, I’d probably have more problem (personally) with a partner who felt comfortable with having many one night stands rather than one who had had a number of stable LTRs over a long period of time. Or with someone whose number was high due to use of prostitutes. Fortunately, I found someone whose attitude towards sex is similar/reconcilable to mine, which helps. Shouldn’t that be the goal?

  10. There are two perspectives on this. The “personal” perspective (which is how most people in this forum interpret it), and the “societal” perspective, which asseses a person’s risk/benefit to society.
    From the personal perspective, there is no physical number for “too much”, as long as you are courting one person at a time in a genuine relationship in which there is enough love, trust, and mutual respect to emotionally support a physical relationship.
    Societally, it is certainly beneficial NOT to have people stalking around solely for sex and putting up big numbers because (a)the dangers of social diseases and (b)the inevitable increases in rape and sex crimes.
    Your sex life is YOUR business and what 2 consenting adults do behind closed doors is THEIR business, but at the same time, it is every responsible citizens obligation to maintain a standard of decency that [primarily] protects themselves and in so doing, makes for a safer society for all of our women, especially teenagers and kids.

  11. My boyfriend won’t tell me his “number” and it really bothered me at first, but I have learned not to worry about it. He loves me and I trust him. For me, that is all that matters.

  12. My best friend is 20 and has had sex with 12 different guys. It’s kind of disgusting to me personally. I remember her telling me about the first time she had sex with guy #10 (which was only a year ago!) and how it was unprotected. She mentioned to me in passing that she might have an STD that she would have spread to him, but didn’t seem concerned enough to tell him about it. I think when situations like that occur is when the number (or even the individual.. especially the individual) becomes a problem.

    I was close friends with both her and number #10, and when I accidentally told him post-breakup that he was number 10, he was sick to his stomach. Apparently she had lied to him about her number.

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