What's your number?

What's Your Number?

It’s a charged question about an intensely private topic, but chances are good that it will arise at some point when a person embarks on a new relationship: How many people have you had sex with? The number of sexual partners a person has had is a personal detail, and it is up to each person to decide whether or not to share that information.

However, honesty about certain aspects of your sexual history can be vital. For instance, for those who neglect to utilise protection during sexual encounters, a higher number of partners can translate into greater exposure to sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Regardless of past number of partners, taking proper precautions is key to preventing the spread of STIs. Disturbingly, according to the most recent data, between 2013 and 2014, England saw a 33 percent increase in diagnoses of syphilis and a 19 percent increase in diagnoses of gonorrhoea.

To gain a better understanding of sexual trends among men and women in various parts of the world, we surveyed over 2,000 people in the U.S. and Europe to understand their experiences and gauge their feelings on this sensitive subject. Who’s most likely to lie about their sexual history? When do people believe is the best time to disclose their sexual history to a partner? What number of partners do people perceive as ideal – and how many have they actually had? Who’s most likely to break up based on sexual history? And how do STIs factor into the equation? Read on for an uncensored look into the hot topic of people’s sexual histories.

Being dishonest about sexual history

Who lies more about their number of sexual partners by gender

When discussing their number of previous sexual partners, people have three options: tell the truth, inflate the number, or deflate the number. We asked respondents which route they have taken when tackling the topic. Hearteningly, the majority of both genders (67.4 percent of women and 58.6 percent of men) reported that they always tell the truth. Another 5.8 percent of women and 10.1 percent of men admitted to both increasing and decreasing the number, presumably depending on the situation.

Our male respondents were more likely than our female survey participants to inflate their number of sexual partners: 17.5 percent of male respondents reported claiming more partners than they’ve had, while only 8.2 percent of women did the same. On the other hand, 18.6 percent of women said they’ve divulged a decreased number of partners compared with only 13.7 percent of men who have done so. It’s possible that men and women may be altering their respective numbers because they are influenced by certain outdated perceptions – for instance, that a woman with an extensive sexual past may be regarded as promiscuous or that a man with a high number of partners feels he possesses virility and sexual prowess.

How people feel about their partner's number

Feelings about number of partners by Gender

Next, we dug deeper on the subject of each gender’s feelings about sexual histories. When it comes to number of partners, our female respondents averaged seven sexual partners during their lifetimes, while men averaged 6.4. Intriguingly, men and women closely agree on the ideal number of lifetime sexual partners – and their opinions weren’t too far off from the reality. Women said 7.5 is the ideal number of partners – only 0.5 partners above their actual average. Men cited 7.6 as the ideal number of partners, which is 1.2 fewer than their own actual average.

However, women are more flexible in their viewpoints regarding the thresholds for rating a person either too promiscuous or too sexually conservative based on their number of partners.

Our female respondents said they perceive the threshold for being too promiscuous is 15.2 partners, while men consider 14 the defining number when it comes to promiscuity. On the other end of the spectrum, men believe 2.3 partners is too conservative, while women think 1.9 is the threshold for too few.

Numbers by country

Feelings about number of partners by Country in Europe

We also wanted to discern how opinions of sexual histories vary in different countries, so we asked respondents from each region to designate the number of partners they consider too conservative, ideal, and too promiscuous. People from Spain reported the lowest average threshold for what they considered too conservative: one partner. Respondents from Austria reported the highest threshold for too conservative, at seven partners.

How many partners is too many? For our respondents from France, Belgium, and Portugal, 16 is the magic number. But for survey participants from the Netherlands, 11 partners is the promiscuity threshold. As for how many partners is ideal, respondents from France pinpointed the highest (10), while people from the Netherlands stated the lowest (six). Interestingly, the Netherlands is generally perceived to be a sexually liberal location by outsiders.

People from the U.K. and the U.S. agreed that two partners mark the threshold for being too sexually conservative; however, U.K. participants said eight is ideal (compared with seven for the U.S.) and rated 14 as the promiscuity threshold (compared with 15 for the U.S.).

How far into a relationship should you disclose sexual history?

History disclosure time frame by gender

Along with covering the topic of protection, it is advisable to discuss various aspects of your sex life with a potential partner before having intercourse. One important reason: to discover whether your intended partner could have any STIs that could put you at risk as well as to disclose any STIs you have to avoid putting them at risk. As the NHS puts it, “You only have to have sex without a condom once to catch an STI that could affect you for life.” Of our survey participants, 31.2 percent of women and 33.8 percent of men said they believe it’s appropriate to share details about sexual history within the first month of meeting a potential partner.

But surprisingly, a large number of both male and female survey respondents believed it is appropriate to wait much longer to disclose their sexual history. The top response was one to four months: 36.3 percent of women and 35.3 percent of men said cited this time frame as the ideal. The percentage of respondents who selected each answer decreased as time frames grew longer, with only 3.8 percent of women and 2.6 percent of men citing over a year as the appropriate time. However, a full 10.9 percent of women and 11.3 percent of men said they believe it’s not important to ever disclose sexual history.

Looking at Europe's average number of partners

Average number of sexual partners by Country across Europe

Once we’d assessed our survey respondents’ feelings about sexual histories, we decided to inquire about their own sexual histories. People from the U.K. lead the way with the most partners, averaging seven sexual partners. Those from the Netherlands follow closely, with 6.9.

On the other hand, respondents from Italy averaged only 5.4 sexual partners, and people from Belgium had just slightly more (5.41). The average for the European Union was 6.2, which was also the average number of partners for people from Germany.

Looking at the US's average number of partners

Average number of sexual partners by State in the US

Over the years, Americans’ attitudes regarding sex outside of marriage have evolved. Currently, nearly 7 in 10 people in the U.S. believe that sex between unmarried partners is morally acceptable. Within the U.S., breaking down the number of sexual partners by each of the 50 states reveals a wide disparity. People in first-place Louisiana averaged nearly six times as many sexual partners as residents of bottom state Utah: 15.7 compared with 2.6. People from Mississippi, Kansas, and West Virginia all ranked on the low end with fewer than five sexual partners on average. On the high end, residents of Oklahoma, Nebraska, and South Carolina average more than 10 partners.

In Louisiana, the No. 1 state for sexual partners, the reported rate of STIs was also higher than average. In fact, in 2014, Louisiana (per capita) ranked first for gonorrhoea, second for primary and secondary syphilis, and third for chlamydia. In last-place Utah, on the other hand, the rate of STIs was markedly lower: Utah ranked 43rd for gonorrhoea, 43rd for primary and secondary syphilis, and 47th for chlamydia. Why is the average number of sexual partners so low in Utah? One possible reason is the high proportion of residents who are Mormons. In fact, 60 percent of Utah residents say they belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which subscribes to the belief that.

Too many partners

likelihood of discontinuing a relationship due to someone having too many previous sexual partners

We also tackled a more difficult topic: how a person’s sexual past can affect a current relationship. We asked respondents how likely they would be to break off a relationship due to their partner’s having what they felt were too many previous sexual partners. Thirty-seven percent of people said they would be somewhat unlikely or very unlikely to end a relationship based on this, while 33 percent reported having a neutral opinion. Thirty percent said they would be somewhat likely or very likely to end a relationship over the issue.

Too few partners

likelihood of discontinuing a relationship due to someone having too few previous sexual partners

We then posed a different question: Who would be likely to end a relationship due to what they perceived as their partner’s having had too few past sexual partners? Over half of respondents said they would be very unlikely to walk away due to a partner’s conservative past, and another 15 percent said they would be somewhat unlikely. Only 8 percent reported they would be somewhat or very likely to end a relationship due to this issue.

Sexually transmitted infections

Percentage diagnosed with an STI by number of sexual partners

Across the world, more than 1 million sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are acquired every day. Engaging in any sort of sexual activity (including oral sex) can put a person at risk for an STI, and in some cases these can lead to serious reproductive health consequences.

To investigate the correlation between sexual history and STI diagnoses, we asked survey respondents to provide their number of partners and disclose whether they had been diagnosed with an STI. Of people with 15 or more sexual partners, 13 percent reported having ever been diagnosed with an STI – the highest proportion. Eight percent of respondents reported having been diagnosed with an STI for both the five to nine partner bracket as well as the 10 to 14 bracket. Of those with the fewest number of partners, only three percent indicated they had ever been diagnosed with an STI. Of all respondents surveyed, a total of 6.2% reported that they had been diagnosed with an STI.

For people in the U.K., numerous options for STI testing are available. Sexual health clinics, some contraceptive clinics, some sexual health services, and some GP surgeries can perform tests, and certain pharmacies can provide chlamydia screenings. Additionally, at Superdrug Online Doctor, you can order a wide range of STI test kits and treatments from the comfort and privacy of your own home.

Taking charge of your sexual health

Perceptions and attitudes toward people’s sexual histories have evolved over the years. Our survey revealed that the majority of men and women are honest about their sexual pasts. However, when disclosing details to a partner, men are more prone to inflating their number of sexual partners, while women are more likely to report fewer than their true number.

Perceptions of promiscuity vary by country. Our respondents from France, Belgium, and Portugal were more liberal with the number of partners they would deem a person promiscuous, while those in the Netherlands had a lower threshold.

Among European nations, people from the U.K. averaged the highest number of sexual partners, while those from Italy averaged the fewest. The discrepancy within U.S. states was even greater than that among countries: Louisiana was the top state for sexual partners, while Utah residents averaged the fewest. Over 44 percent of our respondents who reported an STI diagnosis related they’d had 11 or more past sexual partners.

Regardless of your number of past partners, what’s most important in any sexual relationship is taking precautions to prevent the spread of STIs. If you want to protect your sexual health and the health of your partners, visit Superdrug Online Doctor for a wide range of STI test kits and treatments. You’ll enjoy discreet delivery from the privacy of your own home – with no need to visit a GP, pharmacy, or clinic.


We surveyed 2,180 respondents on questions relating to sexual history. 1,263 respondents identified as male with 917 respondents identifying as female. Of these respondents, 1,058 were from the United States and another 1,122 were located within Europe. Countries represented by fewer than 10 respondents and states represented by fewer than five respondents were omitted from results.

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