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
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Dear 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.
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