Dear Emotional Hardbody,
My best friend and I are having a difference of opinion and would like you to weigh in on it. I think that when you get into a relationship with someone, you have a right to know how many sexual partners he or she has had prior to you. My friend, however, thinks you only have the right to know about the other person’s sexual health (in other words, if he's STD-free), but asking how many partners he's had crosses a line.
This has come up because I’m seeing someone new. We haven’t reached that point yet, but we’re pretty close. I was planning on asking him soon — and I really want to know — but now I’m not sure if it’s okay to ask. It’s not that I have a certain number in mind, (like fewer than four is okay, but anything more is a deal breaker), but it does matter to me whether he’s slept around a lot.
What do you think?
Wants to Know But Afraid to Ask
Dear Wants to Know:
Would it sound like I have commitment issues if I told you that you and your friend are both right? I hope not, because that’s my honest answer.
This would be much easier (but way less fun) if you were an HR manager wondering whether a certain interview question is okay or not. In that context, there are some questions you can ask and others you clearly can't ask.
But you’re not an HR manager. (At least not as far as I know. And even if you are, you’re not trying to figure out if you should hire this guy, you’re deciding whether he’s someone with whom you want to have an intimate relationship.) That means there’s no case law to consult or company policy to follow. You’re the one in charge of making the list of relevant factors and assigning weight to each one.
If the total number of your potential new boyfriend’s sexual partners is important to you, then you have the right to put it on the list. Keep in mind, however, that everyone gets to make his or her own list — including him. Like your best friend, he may feel like this question is over the line. If that’s the case and you ask him anyway, you’ll each have another question to answer: You’ll need to decide if you can have an intimate relationship with a guy who doesn’t share your view on the importance of this question and he’ll need to decide if he wants to have an intimate relationship with a woman who feels knowing this is her business.
Now that you realize that not everyone thinks this question is cool, you might want to think through what’s behind your desire to know. Could it be irrational insecurities or outdated notions of propriety or morality driving it? Adults are waiting longer to get married these days and the older a person is, the more likely it is that he or she has had relationships in the past. That’s not bad or wrong — it’s normal and healthy. At least that’s my opinion. But it’s up to you to figure out yours.
So, give some thought to why you want to know his total tally of previous sexual partners. What will that number reveal to you as a rational, mature adult in 2014? Then, if it's still important to you, ask away.
All the best,