What’s considered to be “too many,” “too few,” or “just right”?

by Karen Stollznow Ph.D.


  • From Casanova to Lord Byron, several historical figures have had reputations for high numbers of lovers.
  • There’s a lot of research on sex partner averages, and any given study provides a slightly different number.
  • In general, between 4-10 is considered to be an average number of sexual partners for adult men and women.
  • Ideas of what is too many, too few, or the “right” number of sexual partners vary from person to person.

Gene Simmons kickstarted the recent KISS farewell tour by revealing (yet again) that he’d had some 4,800 sexual partners during his rock career. He even had proof of his exploits. The musician admitted that he’d taken Polaroid snapshots of all of his conquests, which he’d stored in a safe-deposit box. When Simmons eventually committed to marrying his long-term partner, Shannon Tweed, the couple mutually decided to burn his prized collection of photos in an episode of their reality TV show, Family Jewels.

Casanovas, Lotharios, and Don Juans

Before the days of rock bands and groupies, several historical figures developed reputations for having high numbers of lovers. The 18th-century Italian adventurer Giacomo Girolamo Casanova is best known for being one of the most famous lovers in history. “I have loved women to a frenzy,” he wrote in his memoir, History of My Life. And he did, having some 122 sexual partners, which was a large number by the standards of the day.

But this total hardly compares to the legendary 1,000 lovers of his mythical alter ego, Don Juan, the fictional Spanish libertine who devoted his life to seducing women. In 1819, the poet Lord Byron penned “Don Juan”, a satirical poem in which the seducer was instead a victim who was easily seduced by women. Ironically, Byron was infamous for his own scandalous sex life. His one-time lover Lady Caroline Lamb once called him, “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.”

Lothario, a character in Nicholas Rowe’s tragedy The Fair Penitent, was yet another fictional womanizer, and an unscrupulous one at that.

Whether real or fictional, all of these infamous names are bestowed upon any man who has many amorous adventures, and they’re also synonymous with words like womanizer, ladies’ man, playboy, stud, and older terms like rake and scoundrel. Let’s note that terms for promiscuous women—like whore, tramp, floozy, Jezebel, and slut—are far less flattering than terms for promiscuous men; the latter terms having positive connotations of handsomeness, charm, and virility.

What’s the Average Number of Sexual Partners?

The nearly 5,000 notches on Gene Simmon’s bedpost is obviously high, but what’s the average number of sex partners today?

There’s a lot of research on this topic, although any given study provides a slightly different number. In general, anywhere between four to ten partners is considered to be an average number for adults, with men reporting more partners than women. According to one informal review, these figures differ slightly by country. In Casanova’s native Italy, the average number of sexual partners is 11.8, while people in the United States have between ten and 11 partners over the course of their lives. According to CDC data, women between ages 25 and 44 had a median of 4.2 sexual partners, while men in that age group had a median of 6.1 sexual partners.

study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found millennials have an average of eight sexual partners. A survey of people from the U.S., U.K., and Europe found women had a lifetime average of seven sexual partners. Men had an average of eight sexual partners.

These figures are also affected by social and cultural factors, typically due to preferences to abstain from premarital sex. In India, where people more generally follow strict marriage rules, the average person has three sexual partners during the course of his or her life. People who live in China and Vietnam, where views about dating and sex tend to be less permissive, have fewer than four sexual partners.

Religious factors may also influence people’s sexual decisions. The people of Utah—62 percent of whom belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—report an average of 2.6 partners. In contrast, folks in Louisiana reported an average of 15.7 sexual partners.

Too many, too few, or just right?

Another informal study showed that the “ideal” number of sexual partners is 7.5. It also revealed that people have perceptions of what is considered to be “too many” or “too few” sexual partners. Having less than two or three partners was considered to be too conservative, which was associated with feeling regret for having “too few” sexual partners. Conversely, having 15 or more sexual partners was considered to be too promiscuous; suggesting to others that the individual may have issues with commitment or problems with sexual compulsivity. Some feel judged by others for their personal “number,” be it “too low” or “too high.”

All in all, such studies have limitations. They don’t usually define the vague term “sexual partner,” or specify the type of sexual activity. They don’t always address age, sexual orientation, and any social, cultural, or religious factors that may influence the results. Furthermore, these studies are based on self-reporting, and for various reasons, people aren’t always honest when asked to disclose their sexual history. Some respondents tend to exaggerate or lower their true numbers. They may lie about their “body count” within the context of a relationship too, fearing their partner may judge them.

Ideas of what is too many, too few, or the “right” number of sexual partners vary from person to person. We all have our own ideas about what’s acceptable for us, and what isn’t, and these can change over time. There really isn’t a “right” or “wrong” number.

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