What's in a Number?

Sooner or later in any sexual relationship, someone pops the question.

"So, how many people have you slept with?"

Like most of love's big questions, this one requires a lot of thought and consideration. It's such a big question, in fact, it's acquired its own body of scientific research.

According to a recent study from the University of Alberta, Canada, men tend to overestimate the number of sexual partners they've had. Women, on the other hand, were more likely to say they knew exactly and reported a lower number (6.2, compared to men's 11.9).

Of course, that's what you'd tell a scientist. When you're all cuddled up, apr├Ęs-sex (and honestly, isn't that when this conversation seems to take place the most?), and your beloved looks at you all lovey-dovey and asks for your magic number, we're all - men and women alike - less likely to give a straight answer.

Prior experience tells us that there is no good answer. Too high a number and you look indiscriminate. Too low and you look prudish or inexperienced.

The University of Alberta survey shows that men are more likely to make a rough approximation of lovers, while women tend to think about individual encounters.

In the bedroom, though, men and women seem to take a different calculation. First, you can safely deduct any partner whose name you can't remember. Go ahead and subtract any one-night stands or meaningless encounters. Too drunk too remember much? Take that one away, too. Particularly bad sex can be ignored, too. And make sure you don't count the same lover more than once. If you hooked up again after five years apart, you still only count it once.

Likewise, if your number is on the low side, you should be able to tack on almost-encounters or any could-have-been lovers. (Purely fictional ones should be ignored.)

Our own research - from the School of Hard Knocks - suggests that the correct answer is between four and ten. How many have we been with, you ask? We take the fifth.

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