One? Ten? Fifty? How many past lovers does a nice girl own up to?

One Ten Fifty How many past lovers does a nice girl own up to

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UPDATED:

08:50 GMT, 17 September 2012

Keeping count: A woman is shocked at the huge number of lovers when she sees them in a written list

Keeping count: A woman is shocked at the huge number of lovers when she sees them in a written list

When the film What’s Your Number came out last year, there was no mystery in the title. Everyone knew the question referred to your history of sexual partners.

The fact is, there’s a shadowy numeral that stalks all adults to the grave and, for many (some would say the lucky ones), the secret will be buried with them.

Others are less coy about the figure. Coronation Street actor Bill Roache claims to have slept with 1,000 women, DJ Tony Blackburn 500, while Lynn Barber, the journalist and author of An Education, said on Desert Island Discs that she had slept with ‘probably 50 men’ during two terms at Oxford. ‘It was quite good going,’ she reflected.

Nick Clegg, displaying less sangfroid, told GQ he had slept with ‘no more than 30’ and has never lived the confession down.

The
film What’s Your Number tells the story of a young woman, played by
Anna Faris, who realises, to her horror, that her tally of lovers (20)
is double that of any of her friends. So she decides she should try to
pick out a Mr Right from her exes, in order not to bump up her tally.

The
film draws on research that reports married women, on average, tend to
have notched up ten partners, but when the number tops 20, a woman’s
chance of tying the knot recedes.

The
notion of a perfect ‘ten’ was reinforced recently when a new study
revealed this was the figure both men and women believed to be the
correct answer to the thorny question regarding past loves.

Fewer
than that number was felt to suggest a regrettable lack of experience
(and also, possibly, of desirability), while many more ran the risk of
appearing promiscuous.

Back here in the non-ideal world, however, the numbers game can be a mite more complicated.

What
of my 51-year-old friend, who has amassed a modest three partners over
his lifetime Should we deem him clumsy in the bedroom, or does the fact
he’s maintained three long-lived relationships reveal a skilled lover,
who’s good at keeping passion alive

Does
the man who’s had ten one-night-stands have a claim to more experience,
or is he demonstrating less commitment And how do you categorise one
female contemporary, who boasted of bedding 17 men in her first year at
Oxford, but then went on to wed a fellow student and has now been
married for 22 years

Last time the 40-something couple were spotted by a fellow acquaintance, she reported they were ‘smooching like teenagers’.

Many of the people I know have one
crazy period of sexual abandon, which distorts their tally. Often this
happens at university, where many a romantic high hope is dashed on an
ill-sprung narrow college bed and chased by a savage hangover.

Those people who don’t experiment as students may have a wild patch when long relationships end.
One
friend recalls the time in her 20s, when an eight-year relationship
fell apart and she spent ‘five years bedding anything with a pulse and a
vague sense of humour’.

William Roache

Tony Blackburn

An Education author Lynn Barber

Up front: Bill Roache, left, says he's slept with 1000 women, Tony Blackburn says 500 and author of An Education Lynn Barber, right, said that she slept with 'probably 50 men' in two terms at Oxford on Desert Island Discs

Such
excesses were less known to my mother’s generation. In fact, you only
need to go back to 1981 to recall it was still decreed — two decades on
from the supposed sexual revolution — that the perfect tally for the
bride of the heir to the throne was zero.

Poor,
innocent Lady Diana Spencer trotted up the aisle a virgin, while Prince
Charles had a number of love affairs behind him. Her naivety and his
experience proved a recipe for disaster and, thankfully, the virgin
stricture was not issued to Prince William.

However,
the then Kate Middleton, with her presumed past history of one, or
possibly two, exes was (and is) the modern manifestation of a blushing
blameless English rose. It would still be hard for a fun-loving party
animal to be anointed future Queen.

The
truth is old attitudes persist; many of us still attach significance to
the numbers game. In fact, women I know who are re-entering the dating
scene now, after years of marriage, are wary of men who boast many
conquests.

One told me
with horror of a man who confessed to having sex with more than 50
women. ‘But you’d slept with 30 men before you got married,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘But I wouldn’t dream of telling any man that.’

Here, it seems to me, is the nub of
the matter. We all lie about our sexual history. What else could explain
the data that for decades stated the average man had had twice as many
lovers as the average woman — other than the average person being a
jolly good fibber

The main problem with the ‘ideal number’ is that it presumes a stopping point after ten conquests.

This is all very well if Mr (or Mrs) 11 takes you to the altar, but what if they don’t

Are you to give up on sex altogether, so never add extra digits to a disagreeable sum.

And what of the newly separated who find themselves back on the market after years with one partner

One
50-something woman I know thought she’d stopped at ‘four’, but now
finds she’s at 14. Another divorcee keeps her score low by continuously
sleeping with an ex-boyfriend — pretty much the premise of What’s Your
Number.

The kooky, blonde star of that film has no need for such subterfuge. Anna Faris told a newspaper when the movie came out that her actual tally before her marriage to fellow actor Chris Pratt — far from being 20 — was five. Faris said: ‘I’m not a very good lover. I’m so nervous about my sexuality.’

Which underlines the intriguing truth that bombshells can be surprisingly restrained, while bespectacled librarians can be total wildcats.

One further feature of the survey rating ten partners as the ideal figure is the fact that the great majority of respondents said they’d rather not know a new partner’s score.

This shows commendable wisdom on the British public’s behalf. How will it benefit anyone to know their new beau has slept with half the population You want to feel that you’re special, not a statistic.

It seems to me that counting your lovers, or admitting to a figure, will always appear either gauche or rude.

I have always admired the female friend who tells all her beaus that she’s a virgin because: ‘Nothing counts before you.’

As for me, my own failsafe response to the dread question is: ‘More than Mother Teresa and fewer than Warren Beatty.’

(He has had 12,775 lovers, apparently.)