What's your count?
If you're a woman who has taken more than 10 lovers, you may be promiscuous - at least from the masculine viewpoint. That's the verdict of AskMen.com's " Great Male Survey" of 68,390 guys, released this week along with a sister study from Cosmopolitan that polled 15,165 women.
Men got substantially more leeway from Cosmo-loving women, who seemed reluctant to label a guy a "man-whore" until his 20th partner.
A double standard, literally.
The count is a "sexual status thing," explains James Bassil, editor-in-chief of AskMen.com.
Typically exchanged in the first heady days of a relationship, the subject tends to surface when new couples are not yet emotionally tethered but hold a giddy (and foolhardy) curiosity about a partner's past. It's all ammunition stored away for fights you'll likely have later, experts say.
"People see it as a therapeutic thing to do, but it's one of those things that resurfaces," Mr. Bassil says. "She thinks that it's going to reassure her, or you think it's going to reassure you, and it won't."
That may explain why 49 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women surveyed said they lied about their sexual history. Mr. Bassil thinks women who lie generally lower their count. Men, meanwhile, will raise a relatively low tally to protect their ego or play down an astronomic history to spare a partner's feelings. (You know, those "I'm a special snowflake" dreams.)
Still, "Guys think in numbers more, and they tend to freak out more than a woman would," says Mr. Bassil, adding that for some men, a woman with a particularly robust count is a no-go.
He denies it's the old stud/slut disparity, chalking it up to male performance anxiety: "They're thinking, 'Woah, she's got experience. Can I step up to it?' … She will have had experiences that maybe he can't rival."
The Cosmo survey revealed that women judge men just as they do their fellow women: 20 partners made a woman promiscuous in their eyes, not 10.
David Amito's count hovers "under 30, over 20." While the Toronto actor makes the admission sheepishly, he claims he's "not really too concerned about a person's sexual history."
"I don't want to know about it, but I'm grateful the person has had the experience if it contributes to our relationship and dynamic," says Mr. Amito, who stars in the play Every Woman I Slept With Before I Met You.
The largely autobiographical, one-man show follows a guy who unwittingly reveals the bulk of his sexual history to a new girlfriend over dinner. (The audience stands in for the girlfriend.)
"I don't think that's what makes a person," says Mr. Amito, 31.
Still, plenty of couples will squirrel away a partner's tally for later use on the battlefield.
"If you're the kind of person who fights dirty and hits below the belt in anger, you could turn around and use it against your partner. You know, 'Sex to you is always casual,' and 'You just use people,'" says Jane Greer, a New York marriage and sex therapist who recently wrote What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship.
She suggests being careful about sharing your count: "Your sexual history is a very intimate part of who you are and how you evolved your sexual esteem. You don't want to be flip about it. It's not part of your name, age, rank and serial number," she says. "You don't want it to be an identifying criterion."
As for why people even bother asking, Dr. Greer says, "They fancy it as a way of being open and honest in the new era of being sexually free. The expectation is we can talk about how many people we've slept with and it's a testament to our being sexually responsible and active."
In reality, partners ask because they have private hopes of being on "a level playing field."
"People want reassurance," she says. "But when you don't get the answer you want, you just wind up getting more anxious and insecure."
So how can men dodge the bullet?
"We usually say, be a gentleman," Mr. Bissel says. "Don't ask her about her past because it's none of your business, and you will be worse off knowing about it. If she's prying, just try to explain it diplomatically: that you've met each other in the present and you're looking to the future and blah blah blah."
And if she really presses, simply lie, is his sage advice.
"We came up with a rule that we call the 7/11 rule. If you slept with less than seven women, you say it's seven. If you've slept with more than 11 women, you say 11. … You're straddling double digits where you [can]be considered experienced, but not so much as to be considered out of control."
As for whether everyone actually keeps a count, Mr. Bassil asserts: "Every guy has a pretty good sense of what his count is. Maybe he updates it every few years, usually in conversation with other guys."
He adds: "It's a fun conversation within the same gender. Not so much the other way."
Editor's note: David Amito stars in the play Every Woman I Slept With Before I Met You . A correction to the title has been made in this version.