A variety of partners?

Dear Alice,

Is it okay if I like to have sex with a lot of females? This question is from a male. I am a young man and I am wondering about the likelihood of this habit extending into my married life (if I get married).

Dear Reader,

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish… there’re plenty of fish in the sea! Some people have an idea of an ideal number of current or lifetime sexual partners, either for themselves or their partners. This number can differ greatly from person to person though, and it may even change for each individual depending on where they are in their life. In other words, you’re not alone — plenty of people are interested in having sex with multiple partners, and this preference won’t automatically exclude you from the opportunity to have a fulfilling marriage. To start, it might help to take some time for self-reflection and consider not only the number of partners you're comfortable having, but also what aspects of relationships (emotional, physical, legal, or otherwise) are most essential for your version of happily-ever-after.

To get started, it may help to put aside what you might feel are the current social norms and consider your personal feelings and desires honestly. How do you feel about your interest in having sex with a number of different partners? Are you talking about multiple partners in one session or one partner at a time, but many in succession? What number of sexual partners do you feel comfortable having? What personal values guide these choices? Are you worried about what your future partners might think of your past choices? As people move through their lives and encounter new experiences, grow, adapt, and mature, their preferences for physical and emotional intimacy may also change — so it’s difficult to say for certain whether your current habits will extend into the future. It’s possible you may be partial to fewer sexual partners later in life; it’s equally possible that you may prefer more. In either case, this doesn't leave you doomed to a hapless marriage (if marriage is something that you want). It might also be helpful to think about what a marriage might mean to you; what do you want it to mean to your partner, and what, if any, impact might your respective sexual histories have in a relationship?

If you think you’d like to have sex with many partners out of curiosity, a desire for variety, or just because you want to experiment with many partners, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t remain monogamous during marriage. It’s possible that after experiencing a variety of sexual partners, you may happily choose to be with only one person who chooses only to be with you. Then, if you get married, you can make a conscious decision to remain monogamous.

On the other hand, you may realize that variety is what you enjoy most. Remember that you and your partner will ultimately define the parameters of your relationship (including marriage) for yourselves, and monogamy might not be something either of you want. There are many people who choose to maintain, and even cultivate sexual variety after marriage. These extramarital relationships can be just as rewarding as more traditional ones, especially if both partners are open and clear about setting boundaries. However, while some extramarital forays are the result of a mutual decision between two partners, such as choosing to have open or polyamorous relationship, sometimes the decision is more one-sided (i.e., cheating). Have you thought about a non-monogamous relationship or marriage? For example, are you okay with your partner having other partners? Would you consider being in an open relationship or asking your partner to agree to one? Would you be okay with cheating on your spouse? Thinking through your answers to these responses may help you better understand if sexual variety and legal union can be married together. It’s also worth mentioning that if after thinking through these questions you realize that you're not really talking about a choice, but rather a need or compulsion for a series of partners that you’re struggling to control, you may consider talking with a mental health provider to explore your feelings and make a plan for moving forward.

Finally, Reader, keep in mind that your lifetime risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) goes up as the number of partners you have increases — put another way, the more sexual encounters you have, the more opportunities there will be for exposure. You can speaking with a health care provider about your current STI status (by getting tested) and how you can reduce your risk. They can also speak with you about safer sex methods and which ones might be best for you (a health promotion specialist can help with this information, too). That said, regardless of whether or not you choose to get married, maintaining open communication about STIs and sexual history is critical to any healthy relationship — no matter how many partners you have.

Last updated Feb 24, 2017
Originally published Sep 13, 1996

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