Should You Care About Your Partner's Body Count?

Man and woman sleeping together in bed, early morning

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Your “body count” is a term used to describe the number of sexual partners you’ve had.

Talking about how many people you’ve had sex with can be an awkward topic of conversation for a multitude of reasons, with 2020 data from the Pew Research Center suggesting that attitudes towards both sex and dating are continuing to shift.

In fact, research published that same year found that American adults are actually, on average, having sex less than they used to, a trend that at least one researcher has hypothesized is due to adults maturing slower and spending more time on the internet.

Contemporary perspectives on sexuality and sexual experience have changed dramatically in the past several decades, making the topic of body count far less important than it once was.

But does your body count matter? And how open should you be about it in a relationship?

Should I Ask My Partner What Their Body Count Is and Do They Have to Tell Me?

Whether you should ask your partner about their body count is a complicated question. Everyone's views are different, but the bottom line is that this is personal and private information and no one is obligated to disclose information they are not ready or wanting to share, including how many sexual partners they've had in the past.

For some, casual sex has very little impact on their view of a person but others may see it as a vital piece of information that could reflect poorly. In Pew’s findings, however, 65% of respondents thought casual sex was acceptable.

How the number of people someone has slept with is viewed also differs by culture and location. Certain religions place greater emphasis on body count, which can complicate individual opinions on the matter, or the desire to share this information.

Dr. Sarah Melancon (PHD) says there are many reasons, regardless of a person’s background,  why they might not want to share their body count or might feel shame about it.

“Talking about one’s own or a partner’s ‘body count’ can be challenging, as both culturally and personally there is a tendency to judge a person’s ‘number.’  These judgments can focus on one’s partner (i.e., ‘What’s wrong with you that you’ve been with so many people?’ or ‘Don’t you have an STI with all that experience?’ or ‘You’re dirty’) and/or on oneself (i.e., ‘I’ll never be able to please my partner like others did’ or ‘I’ll never be special to my partner’ or ‘They won’t find me attractive’).”

Dr. Aliyah Moore (PHD) says it’s important to honor your own feelings when it comes to your curiosity about your partner’s body count.

“It's natural to be curious about your partner's sexual past, but it's important to approach the conversation with respect and an open mind. But if you're constantly thinking about your partner's past sexual history, it can lead to unhealthy comparisons and jealousy and put pressure on both of you.”

For Women and Queer People, Stigma Persists

In America, data collected from 2015 to 2019 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the median number of sexual partners for men was 4.3 and 6.3 for women.

Gender-wise, perceptions of body count are heavily affected by sexism and what’s called the “sexual double standard: In addition, the aforementioned CDC data only looked at those with opposite-sex partners, leaving out cultural expectations within the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Melancon points to research like a 2020 article entitled “He is a Stud, She is a Slut! A Meta-Analysis on the Continued Existence of Sexual Double Standards”. That research found that not only were discussions about body count gendered, so too were assumptions about the age when someone lost their virginity and general amount of sexual activity a person had participated in.

In fact, the history of research into the importance, or perceived importance, of the number of sexual partners a person has had is not a new phenomenon, but perspectives around this fact are changing.

What to Do If Your Partner Is Bothered By Your Sexual History?

With any difficult conversation can come a negative reaction, but having a judgmental and punitive reaction to body count is a harmful perspective that results in shame and shut down instead of closeness and connection. Having an open, respectful, curious, and intentional conversation about what the underlying concerns are beneath what the body count represents can hopefully help bring you and your partner closer together instead of farther apart.

Moore says that, regardless of your background, if you’re going to have a conversation about your or your partner’s body count, it requires thought and care.

“Take it at your own pace: This type of conversation can be sensitive and emotional. It's important to take things at a pace that works for both you and your partner. If you or your partner feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, take a break or end the conversation. You can always revisit the topic at a later time when you're both ready.”

Regardless of whether or how the conversation happens, Moore says that, when it comes down to it, it’s important not to focus too heavily on your or your partner’s body count. The number of people someone has slept with in the past before meeting you has nothing to do with their value as a person, and this message is important to share.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ueda, P., Mercer, C. H., Ghaznavi, C., & Herbenick, D. Trends in frequency of sexual activity and number of sexual partners among adults aged 18 to 44 years in the us, 2000-2018. JAMA Network Open, 2020:3(6), e203833.

  2. Twenge, J. M. Possible reasons us adults are not having sex as much as they used toJAMA Network Open, 2020:3(6), e203889–e203889.

  3. Lefkowitz, E. S., Shearer, C. L., Gillen, M. M., & Espinosa-Hernandez, G. How gendered attitudes relate to women’s and men’s sexual behaviors and beliefsSexuality & Culture, 2014: 18(4), 833–846.

  4. Endendijk, J. J., van Baar, A. L., & Deković, M. He is a stud, she is a slut! A meta-analysis on the continued existence of sexual double standardsPersonality and Social Psychology Review, 2020:24(2), 163–190.

By John Loeppky
John Loeppky is a freelance journalist based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, who has written about disability and health for outlets of all kinds.