A mate of mine got a shock from his new girlfriend recently when they started playing the numbers game - and her number was higher than his. His number is 15. Hers is 20. He felt emasculated and somehow threatened. They're still together, but he still can't get those other 19 willies out of his head.
Even in this sexually enlightened age of Carrie Bradshaw and Rampant Rabbits and Edwina Currie, many men still use a woman's promiscuity as a whip to beat her with.
Personally, this is a conversation I rarely instigate with a girl. I put it in the "Will Only End In Tears" category, along with Exes' Knob Sizes and The Politics of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung.
The numbers game only generally crops up in long-term relationships, and that's just because you've run out of other stuff to talk about.
But coupled with this is a nagging curiosity. We might not want to tell - but we really, really want to know.
After witnessing my mate's torment, I decided to do a quick survey. I asked about 20 male friends how many guys they expected the average girl to have slept with (I used 28 as an example age). The follow-up question was what number they would consider 'high'... and crucially, at what point in the rising scale they would start getting put off - if at all.
The results were intriguing, and split the respondents into two clear groups— those that didn't care about numbers, and those that definitely did. Here's a summary...
Fewer than five partners was considered low.
5-10 - average.
10-15 — 28 per cent of guys are questioning whether you are girlfriend material.
15-20 — you're skating close to getting a reputation.
20-30 - 61 per cent of men are now horrified.
Over 30 - you are now only desirable as a long-term partner for the blokes that don't care about numbers.
To be fair, there are quite of lot of those blokes. Many London chaps appreciate that the modern girl will treat sex in the same disposable way that they do and rack the numbers up. Several also thought that more experience = better shag. And maybe they're right.
But for many others, "traditional" values persist. It's deemed fine to have a one-night stand with a promiscuous girl, but in a relationship — the lower, the better. Plus that inglorious detail kept rearing its head: men didn't like it when girls had been laid more times than them.
I suspect some guys' assumptions are naïve about how much sex women are indulging in (perhaps you could confirm?). But anyway, I'm not sure numbers are quite as important as men think. It's not really a deal-breaker, more like a prickly but surmountable obstacle. It's also worth bearing in mind that my so-called survey is about as scientific and reliable as an iPod hand-crafted by Jonathan Ross.
In reality, people's magic numbers will vary wildly. It's the same for men. Plenty of lads I know have slept with fewer than 10 girls, while plenty of others have slept with over 30 (and are proud of it!).
Plus, these numbers are largely defined by factors like time spent in long-term relationships, age you started having sex etc. It's at best hypocritical and at worst sexist for guys to turn their noses up at women who sleep around. But the fact is, most guys still have a figure in their head that says 'slutty'.
That's why, girls, it looks like you'll have to keep lying.