The former Erotic Review magazine editor answers your sex questions…
QUESTION: I’ve been with my boyfriend for six months, we’re both 34 and I am fairly sure he’s The One. The other night we ended up having a conversation about how many lovers we’d had. He told me he had slept with eight women and suddenly I felt nervous about confessing the truth – I had a lot of flings at university and in my first job at an ad agency, so my tally is closer to 40. But I found myself saying ten and even then he looked horrified. I hate being untruthful with him, but don’t want to be judged either. What should I do?
ANSWER: I have to say that if this man is so censorious and delicate that he crumples when faced with a 34-year-old unmarried career woman who confesses to ten lovers, then he’d better take the Tardis back to 1900.
When even the leader of one of Britain’s major political parties, Nick ‘Clegg-over’, can coyly admit to ‘no more than 30 lovers’ in GQ magazine (and he has been with his wife, Miriam, some years now, so one presumes the majority of those conquests happened, like yours, at university), surely the rest of us can admit to some youthful indiscretions.
To be honest, if your man really loves you he should be able to take the full tally with equanimity. But then that would presume that he’s secure in his own skin and, as we all know, a great many people aren’t. What you perceive as censure may well be old-fashioned male insecurity.
Your boyfriend may feel daunted at the prospect of you being more sexually experienced than him and may also worry that you will compare him unfavourably with previous lovers.
There’s still a lingering machismo in society that dictates men should be more sexually sophisticated than women.
And women are conspiratorial in this scenario, as few of us want to feel like über-madam Cynthia Payne breaking in a timid punter.
It’s glorious to be seduced by a man confident enough to show a little mastery in the bedroom – however, there’s no prerequisite that the bloke in question should have had scores of lovers. Nevertheless, in order to generate this kind of sexual charisma, men often exaggerate the number of women they have slept with, while women are inclined to leave a few dismal lays off their list.
I am amused by how frequently both genders appear unaware of their own mendacity in the numbers game.
For example, I have a dear male friend who I kissed very passionately when I was 22.
Years later I discovered that he had inflated the embrace when talking about it to a mutual acquaintance and now recalled the incident as fully fledged sex. When I took him to task about this inaccuracy, he looked at me as if I was mad and declared: ‘Of course we slept together.’ But I knew with absolute, cast iron, swear-on-the-Bible certainty that our encounter had gone no further than a snog and fumble.
Meanwhile, a close female friend is given to describing herself to any new beau as a virgin (she’s 36). When the poor man looks at her in utter disbelief, she says: ‘I have no recollection of a love life before you. Time starts now.’
The truth is that there’s no normal, correct or acceptable number of sexual partners for men or women. It all depends who you’re talking to.
For some people, anything more than one lifelong soul mate is indecent, for others anything short of 50 shows a woeful lack of libido and romantic curiosity. But just so as you know, the average adult Briton claims to have had around ten lovers in their lifetime. So your boyfriend shouldn’t have batted an eyelid at that figure.
But the real issue here is should you be bolder and tell your boyfriend the truth about your early love life?
The answer to that is almost certainly yes. Honesty and trust are at the cornerstone of most relationships, and if you start dissembling now, you are setting a bad precedent.
If your chap is insecure about your tally, can’t you reassure him that those early flings were shallow, unsatisfactory and didn’t have the depth and erotic fulfilment of your own earth-shattering encounters?
In this age, where sex often seems like just another consumer commodity, with numerous opportunities for instant gratification and seemingly infinite choices of partner, most of us need some reassurance that discretion has been at play when we are chosen by our partner. And if your man is a little prudish, surely it’s best to air this seismic difference in your sexual mores, lest it causes strife later?
Having said all that, I think most lovebirds should steer clear of going into the minutiae of previous conquests.
And if a man is unwise enough to ask a woman how many lovers she’s had, can I suggest the following response: ‘Let’s just say I won’t wear white at the wedding.’