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How many sexual partners is “too many”?

May 4, 2021 • read

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How many sexual partners is “too many”?

Sex is a personal thing. Everyone has different tastes, desires, and hangups. Some have one sexual partner for their entire lives, while others see lovers come and go. Despite this wide range of “normal,” many feel like they have to lie, deny, or exaggerate when it comes to how many people they’ve slept with. But, outside of societal expectations, is it possible to have too many bedfellows? When it comes to sex, how many sexual partners is “too many?”

Different strokes for different folks

Western society is structured around the monogamous couple, where both partners commit to being only with one another. Polyamory, however, has become increasingly popular over the last few years — or at least more widely talked about. Polyamory is the practice of having more than one committed, romantic and/or sexual relationship at the same time. 

Monogamy and polyamory aren’t the only options though. Some individuals prefer to have serial sexual relationships, seeing each partner once, or only a few times. Others choose to opt out of sexual relationships entirely, or at least for periods of time. While your great-aunt Shirley might not approve, any of these models is fine as long as it’s working for you.

How many partners does the average Canadian have?

It’s hard to gauge how much sex Canadians are actually having. The internet claims that millennials are having less sex than previous generations, but that might not be as true as the headlines make out. And what about their Boomer and Gen X parents and the rest of the generations?

So, what do the stats say? The latest Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), reports that 37% of sexually active 15-24-year-olds had more than one partner in the last year. Finding out the number of lifetime partners Canadians are likely to have though, is more difficult. Our government doesn’t keep statistics on that. 

To get a sense of how many sexual partners the average Canadian has, we had to turn to Durex. Their 2007-2008 survey on sexual habits claims that Canadian males average 23 sexual partners over their lifetime, while Canadian women have around 10. Keep in mind, though, that this survey isn’t super recent, and like most surveys on sexual behaviour, its participant sample wasn’t very large. In other words, the survey might not be as reflective of Canadian sexual behaviour as it appears.

Sex comes with risk

Regardless of the number of partners you have, relationships can be hard. You have to compromise and take your partner’s feelings into account. But even when feelings aren’t involved — and when are feelings not involved — sex is still risky.

Anytime you’re in a sexual relationship with another person, it’s good to  take precautions against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The more sexual partners you have, the more you increase the possibility of contracting an STI. Having one committed sexual partner is safer than having multiple partners, but monogamous relationships aren’t risk-free either. You and your partner should be tested for STIs before beginning a sexual relationship. And, you should monitor yourselves for signs or symptoms of STIs such as lumps, bumps, sores, changes in discharge, or pain in the genitals. 

No conversation about sex is complete without mentioning the risk of pregnancy. If you’re sexually active and don’t want to get pregnant, speak to your healthcare provider about your birth control options. Using condoms as well as another form of birth control is the best way to protect against unwanted pregnancy.

How can I have safe sex?

While certain precautions can make sex safer, sex is never 100% risk free. Anytime you engage in a sexual encounter with someone, even a person you know well, there’s a possibility that you could contract an STI. Using hormonal birth control or a diaphragm can reduce your chances of getting pregnant, but condoms are the only form of birth control that helps to protect you against STIs. But even condoms don’t protect against STIs like genital warts that can develop outside of areas that the condom covers.

So, how to make sex safer? For starters, use a condom each and every time you have sex. Don’t take alchohol or drugs before having sex. Getting drunk or high can lower your inhibitions, pushing you to make decisions you wouldn’t if you were sober. And, make sure to pay attention to your partner’s genitals as well as your own. Notice any lumps, bumps or sores? Don’t have sex until you or your partner have been tested by a healthcare professional.

The number of sexual partners you have is entirely up to you. But, that’s not to say that you can afford to be care-free about it. Ask yourself, am I practicing safe sex, getting tested regularly, and is my lifestyle making me happy? If you’re satisfied, then the question of how many sexual partners doesn’t really matter. Instead, focus on having good, safe sex and keeping aware of your STI status, whether that’s in a monogamous relationship, with more than one partner, or with yourself.

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