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How many sexual partners is “too many”?

September 23, 2022 • read

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How many sexual partners is “too many”?

Sex is a personal thing. Everyone has different tastes, desires, and hang-ups. 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?”

What counts as a sexual partner?

While “sexual partner” isn’t a very sexy term, it simply means someone you’re engaging in sexual activity with. This can be any gender, sexual orientation, or amount of people — more on that below. 

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 relationship that’s often sexual 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. 

There are also people in open relationships, where they have an emotional and sexual connection with their current partner but are involved in outside sexual relationships. While your great-aunt Shirley might not approve, any of these models is fine as long as it’s working for you.

How many sexual partners is “normal”?

It’s hard to gauge the average number of sexual partners in Canada adults have, and just how much sex they’re having. The internet claims that Millennials and Gen Z are having less casual sex than previous generations. This is thought to be due to things like less alcohol consumption, more time scrolling on social media and playing video games, and living with their parents for longer. And what about their Boomer and Gen X parents and the rest of the generations?

The latest Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) reports that 37% of sexually active 15 to 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 to 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.

The impact of sex on our lives

Sex isn’t only a natural part of life and meant to be enjoyed, but it’s also really good for your mental and physical health. Let’s start with your mental health, shall we? Having sex is a surefire way to boost endorphins and other hormones that help improve your mood. This can help to relieve stress and decrease anxiety and depression. 

Sex can also have a positive impact on your self-esteem. Let’s face it, not everyone was born with confidence, and that’s ok. But having sex can make you feel confident, sexy, and even powerful — all great things for your self-esteem. 

As for the physical benefits of sex? Both men and women have been shown to experience improved heart health by participating in frequent sex, which for men specifically, is considered at least two times a week. Men may also be at a decreased risk of prostate cancer when engaging in frequent sex since regular ejaculation is linked to a lower risk, but more research is still needed to prove this. 

And, have you ever noticed that if you have some sort of pain, it’s slightly reduced during and right after having sex? That’s because sex is a natural pain reliever, thanks to the happy hormones racing through your body. 

There are many more positive health benefits to sex, but we’ll leave you with this one — something many of us could use more of — good sleep! Once you have an orgasm, the hormone prolactin paired with the release of other hormones can make you feel relaxed, leading to improved sleep.

Should you discuss your sexual history with your partner?

Discussing the number of people you’ve slept with has been dubbed the most uncomfortable topic to share with your significant other. And while you don’t need to get into the nitty-gritty details of exactly how many sexual encounters you’ve had and where they all happened, there is a benefit to discussing your sexual history. If you’ve had a sexual relationship with someone who has an STI, for example, you’ll want to be transparent with your partner. 

You should also ask your partner if they’ve been tested after the last person they had sex with before you engage in any sexual activity with them. Whether it was oral, vaginal, or anal sex with or without a condom, you could be at risk.

While a high number of sexual partners puts you at an increased risk of infection, you can still get an STI from sleeping with just one person. Your number might not be important — or comfortable — for your partner to hear, but discussing your exposure to STIs and being tested is. 

Is it ok to have multiple sexual partners?

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.

So, what is risky sex? It can be anything from:

  • Having unprotected sex
  • Using alcohol and drugs before sex — this could include sharing drug needles 
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Engaging in sex with a high-risk partner — someone who has multiple partners or other risk factors
  • Having sex at a young age — increases the risk of genital herpes
  • Sex trade work 

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, even from oral sex. Having one committed sexual partner is safer than having more than one sexual partner, but monogamous relationships aren’t risk-free either, so unprotected sex isn’t the best idea. 

You and your partner should also be tested for STIs before beginning a sexual relationship, and always use protection. If you’re at risk of contracting HIV, speak to a doctor about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention medication that can reduce your risk of getting HIV from sex by 99% when taken consistently.

While you’re doing these things listed above and focusing on having safer sex, remember that no conversation 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 type of birth control is the best way to prevent pregnancy. Yes, there’s emergency contraception like the Morning-After pill, but prevention is always the best method. 

When should you see a doctor?

The number of sexual partners you have is entirely up to you. But that’s not to say that you can afford to be carefree about it. Ask yourself, am I practicing safe sex (whether it’s with a new sexual partner or someone you know), have I been getting tested regularly, and is my lifestyle making me happy? If you’re satisfied, then the question of how many sexual partners you have doesn’t really matter. 

Instead, focus on having good, safe sex and staying on top of your STI status. You should always monitor yourself for signs or symptoms of STIs such as lumps, bumps, sores, changes in discharge, or pain in the genitals. 

If you’re looking for birth control or to speak with a Canadian-licensed doctor about any STI concerns, Maple is here for you, 24/7. And, you can even book an online appointment with an OHIP-covered gynecologist for your sexual health concerns. All consultations take place from the comfort of your home at a time that works for you. 

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional. 

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