The magic number: how many people have you slept with?

19 days ago

From a 40 -year-old virgin to a role-play devotee, real people disclose everything theyve learned between the sheets. Cautioning: adult content

You didnt go all the way unless you were stupid, because it would ruin your life

Jane, 81, three partners

My grandmother was a Victorian and wouldnt mention the lavatory. For her, sexuality would have been something a woman suffered rather than enjoyed.

Coming to London in 1955 was a revelation. My friend and I shared a flat with three chaps. This was unheard of at the time, but by gosh we had fun. There was a bath in the kitchen and, if you didnt want to miss the party, people could hand you a drink through the curtain.

But Id never go all the way. You couldnt enjoy sexuality to that extent, because youd be afraid of losing control. We had no contraception. You didnt go further unless you were stupid, because it would ruin your life. Even when you were married, you were holding back, in case you got pregnant again. That destroyed a lot of the pleasure for women. The greatest liberation was the contraceptive pill. That changed everyones attitude to sex.

I marriage at 24 and had two children, but I used to wish I could have sex just for the sake of it. Im divorced now and, a couple of years back, a male acquaintance asked, Are you still active? And I supposed, whats he on about? My arms and legs still run. I can walk about. Then I realised it was a euphemism for sexually active. When I told my grandson, he burst out chuckling. Hed have to be fairly damned gorgeous, but I dont guess I could now. A man of my age would expect me to cook his food. I cant be bothered with that.

I went on Grindr when I was 16, and I was frightened

Paul, 20, three partners

When I was really young, I imagined myself being with a woman, because that was the norm. Growing up and used to identify I was gay changed everything.

At my age, a lot of gay men are quite sleazy. Straight men are likely the same. People sleep around, and its not my scene, so finding a long-term partner can be difficult. I recollect going on Grindr when I was 16, and I was terrified because older humen started sending me photos. I was like: what are you doing? Youre 40. Is that OK? That 40 -year-old humen can approach 16 -year-olds?

Its very easy for lesbian men to find sex. If I wanted to have sex tonight, I could probably find someone, but I wouldnt feel the connection. I could go on Grindr, chat person up and invite them round, but I dont like the idea of inviting a stranger into my house.

I miss people actually talking to each other, instead of being online. You ensure 90 s Tv programmes where people go up to someone in a bar and say, Hi, can I get your number? And I think, that would never, ever happen these days.

Ive not been in that situation yet, but I think sex is likely best when youre in a relationship, because youre more comfy around one another. When you dont know person, you always think, Oh God, is this OK? Am I doing this right? Especially if theyre more experienced than you. Ive slept with guys whove had more experience and guys whove had less, and you can tell the difference, so I always wonder: can they tell that about me?

There are lots of things that are way more pleasurable than penetration

Matt, 28, more than 25 partners

The sex we see in the media is one-dimensional. Its nearly always penetrative, and that might be how you construct babies, but its not the best style to induce your partner climax. I had an illness when I was a child, which meant I lost one of my legs. Disabled people have a blessing in a manner that is, because they learn that there are lots of other things that you can do that are style more pleasurable.

I discovered that confidence is a trick when I was at university. Its a style of holding your head up and faking it, because women dont actually care how you seem. But I also realised that the best thing I could do was to learn how to induce women genuinely enjoy themselves. So much of sex education is not based on female pleasure at all. A lot of men have a narrative in their head about how sex should play out, which objective up prohibiting genuine experimentation. Some humen get intimidated by a woman who is sexually empowered or open because its not what they were taught was meant to happen.

Photograph: Liz McBurney

I insure sexuality as play. If you havent got many hangups, when youre in that room and you close the door, its a space to do what youre interested in. I think some humen are intimidated by sex playthings because they induce them feel like theyre not been enough, but its merely another set of tools with which we can give our partners pleasure.

Im at a stage in my life now where, because of my disability, Im not always be permitted to do things as much as I would like to. But my partner is disabled as well, and there is never any pressure. We flirt and tease one another every day. Weve constantly get that flame being lit, and the most important thing is to make sure it doesnt go out.

When I was in my 30 s, my partner and I set up a role-play group

Christopher, 64, about 50 partners

I had BDSM interests from the age of eight, and a very full fantasy life in my head, but I didnt have sex until I was in my early 20 s, with another virgin. I took to it like a duck to water. I remember trying to establish with my doctor why my back was so messed up when I was at university, and realising Id built love 22 hours over the weekend with my first girlfriend. If I did it 22 times a year now, Id be lucky.

I am hetero-flexible. I respond sexually to girls, transvestites and transsexuals, as long as theyre garmented as girls. As soon as they put on men clothes, its not working for me.

I detected this back in 1987. I was in my 30 s when my live-in partner and I set up a role-play group. This was pre-internet, so we set an advert in a publication, and a lot of people joined, including trans girls. Its always been my attitude to be accepting of people.

In the end, its the cuddle and the spooning that are important. Sex is great, and Ive had one-night stands, but its empty as an experience. I opt the sex I have now to be part of a relationship, although nobody gets me exclusively any more.

Im on holiday with three girls at the moment. One is a former fan, one is current and one will be a fan in the future. We all know that. Nothing will happen behind anyones back, but neither does anyone have to know the full details. So thats what Im doing now, and I dont know what it constructs me, but I am instead enjoying it.

If I have an orgasm, I use it as time to focus on what I want to achieve, professionally or personally

Hattie, 41, five to 10 partners

Even if youre not in the mood for it, I think its good to have sex regularly, because it gets you out of a funk. It doesnt have to be a marathon. Theres a pressure around having great sex all the time, and get the doll out or doing the massage, but quickies can be great, too.

I have a little ritual around sex. If I have an orgasm, I use it as time to focus on what I want to achieve, professionally or personally, because its an empowering position to be in. Youre relaxed and positive, so putting out that vibe is a way of doing something with that energy.

My first teenage tries at sexuality were not promising. My confidence was low. I didnt have much of a drive and it all seemed a little bit painful and not a lot of fun. I didnt feel feminine and sensual in my 20 s at all. That came afterwards for me. I feel much more able to express myself now than I did when I was younger.

I think theres a tendency to put pressure on our partners to be everything: emotional and physical subsistence, great sexuality: its too much, particularly when children come along. Thats when my relationship broke down with my daughters dad.

My current relationship is genuinely positive. One thing I have learned is to maintain my privacy and not tell my partner everything. Not that Im being deceitful, but having bounds whether thats physical space or not oversharing is a good thing, because there needs to be a little bit of mystery there, too.

My most freeing experiences are usually around BDSM, inducing yourself with wax play, bondage, being blindfolded or spanked. Its that balance between being submissive and a feminist that I love. Its really nice to have person take control for a little while. It doesnt mean they take control in the rest of our life together. At the end of the working day, its merely an act.

Photograph: Liz McBurney for the Guardian

Ive had a few flings with girls, and detected Im probably not a lesbian

Samantha, 39, 20 to 40 partners

My mum was quite sexually aware and sassy. That was a positive influence. I wasnt made to think sexuality was bad or shameful, “its just” part of life. My parents kept it fresh. I received a pouch of naughty clothes in their wardrobe once, and I could never look at them the same route after that. They never let the trigger disappear. Even though there was a lot of screaming and slamming doorways, everyone elses mothers got divorced except mine.

There is the stuff Id instead forget( the dates where youre not that into it but end up drunkenly sleeping with them anyway ), but the things you think youll regret, you dont. Ive had a few flings with daughters. I learned Im likely not a lesbian, but I detected a lot about myself in the process.

Ive been with my partner for 10 years now. Its not the same as the early days, when you cant keep your hands off one another. We work at preserving the intimacy and excitement, because you dont want to get to the point where you know your partners next move, but we are still attracted to each other. I appreciate the fact that weve not done everything and there are adventures still to be had.

I still suppose Im the best person on earth for dedicating myself an orgasm; I guess men would say that, too. Girls need to get their boulders off in whatever way works best for them. Its important not to subsume your desires and needs for someone elses, because sexuality is so much better when a woman is genuinely enjoying herself.

The internet allowed me to be a lot more upfront about my intentions

Tom, 49, more than 100 partners

Even though a lot of guys talk lavishly about sexuality, I dont guess a lot of them care about it as much as they make out. Ive been having sex for 33 years, and it has always been of upmost importance.

I aimed up getting my first girlfriend pregnant when I was 17 and marriage her, so for the first six years I was having sex with only person or persons. After we divorced, I began to sleep with more girls. There was no internet back then, so it was asking for girls numbers in saloon. But I was an early user once the internet get started. It allowed me to be a lot more upfront about my intentions.

In my 20 s and 30 s, there was a clash between my need to experimentation and the recommend to be in a relationship. If I gratified someone I was very sexually into, Id mistake that for real feelings, dive in and it would all go wrong. It started to feel quite corrosive.

Ive been in a comparatively open relationship for the last eight years. Were together, but we can play with other people if we want to. Theres no lying involved, and that completely changes the dynamic. In past relationships, Id had affairs that felt like a big secret, but not now. Any participation is with my partners knowledge, and Im upfront about that with the women I meet. For some, that attains it instantly less appealing. Ive been in genuinely passionate flirtings that fizzle out the moment they realise Im not cheating.

My sex drive has started to diminish, but its a bit of a relief. I often is considered that if I was celibate, Id be a millionaire, because the time Ive expended pursuing women could have been spent on my career.

For two days after I sleep with someone, I dont trust my feelings. I call it the sexuality haze

Sadie, 25, undisclosed

This year has been my big sex awakening. My friends take the piss out of me: Sadies got that look in her eye. Watch out, men! At the same day, I have an old-fashioned shame thing when it comes to approaching men. I dont like that, but I think its quite emblematic of where women and men are at. No ones really sure what femininity means any more, and men dont know what masculinity stands for, either.

I was destroyed after my breakup and went online to remember how to interact with guys. Wed been together three years, and theres something wonderful about having sex encounters with people you really dont know, but its stressful as well. Online dating leaves a road of digital events to agonise over, depending on how emotionally vulnerable you feel. Like: Hes on Facebook now, so why isnt he getting back to me? Its a horror. And the very nature of the swipe interface on Tinder constructs the whole thing feel so disposable.

The only way Ive managed to deal with it is to set a framework in place you have to be able to protect yourself. Im methodical and rational about it now. I heard somewhere that women are predisposed to develop strong emotional ties with the person or persons they have sex with, especially if its great sexuality, so for two days after I sleep with someone, I actively dont trust my impressions. I call it being in the sexuality haze.

My allergy to relationships has passed now. Its been a year since we split. Im not as hungry as I was for new experiences. My ex had a looking that merely certain boys are capable of devoting: its about love, and who you are, and wanting you because of that, and thats really hot. I want to fall in love with a really sexy human who loves me. Is that too much to ask?

Photograph: Liz McBurney

Theres a simple sense of playfulness that get lost in adult sexuality

Sarah, 57, more than 1,000 partners

I had a breakdown at 13. I had a difficult household background and ended up in a psychotherapists office and then hospital. There was a lot of acting out and I lost my virginity shortly afterwards. I was interested in sexuality, but I had no appreciation of myself and I got a reputation for being easy without actually understanding how that had happened. I developed cravings, and as soon as my education was over, I left home. I fell into the gay women freeing movement, and for the next 25 years I identified as a lesbian.

As my addictions took over, I ended up in the sex business, and on my 30 th birthday I observed myself in rehab, having been charged with solicitation. I was so full of traumatic, undigested sexual experiences from the street; if I ever had a sexual feeling, Id shut it down.

Then, 10 years ago, I had a moment of clarity that I wanted to explore my sexuality with humen again. Being a lesbian had felt like part of who I was, so it was strange to grapple with the idea that it wasnt really true any more. One of the things I love about sex with women is that it can be so endless and full of possibilities. It doesnt have a clear start or a finish. But lesbian sexuality can at times feel labour-intensive in a way that sexuality with men doesnt.

I decided to start an erotic massage practise for men, and Ive became aware that Im much better at devoting pleasure than receiving it. Its erotic for me. Its a pleasure to give pleasure. Im moved and sometimes saddened by how much loneliness and longing I find in my naked men, but I also find a lot of what I call libidinal elation a simple sense of playfulness that I think get lost in adult sexuality as people struggle to hold partnerships together. That kind of play requires vulnerability, and an enormous currency in any relationship.

I was a 40 -year-old virgin when we marriage. I never sowed my wild oats

Terry, 67, one partner

Right from the start, I was sensitive and a little bit of a nerd. I recollect my mothers friends commenting that I looked like a little professor, and I was. At 26, the pressure and stress were getting to me. I tried online dating bureaux with no success. I was simply not equipped to get along with women. I spiralled into alcoholism and eventual recovery.

I met my spouse towards the end of my heavy-drinking period, and we pretty much clicked instantaneously. Our marriage has lasted 25 years, and its been solid throughout; we get on well and love each other deep. But weve had our challenges over the years with sex. I was a 40 -year-old virgin when we marriage and shed had sexuality only once before: at 21, consensual but traumatic, at a party.

She had been imbued with the idea of a womans duty or Lie back and think of England. Sex was invariably initiated by me and, at around 46, my wifes interest waned. The menopause came and ran, her libido dropped away and our sexual encounters stopped. We are physically affectionate and greatly attached, but I miss sex and that moment of communion. I masturbate most days, mainly to the kind of internet porn that demonstrates real couples or homemade stuff, but I miss body contact.

Photograph: Liz McBurney for the Guardian

I have developed a yearning for what is highly improbable: that I can take up with a young woman for casual pleasure without commitment. I have discussed this with my wife, who has not expressed aggression to the idea; she said she just wouldnt want to know the details. The last thing I want is to hurt her. Many of my friends confess to me the infidelities that theyve kept secret, and I simply cant comprehend such a thing. It would be agony. But I never sowed my wild oats, you watch, and I regret that. Is it too late to make up for that somehow?

I remember driving across township to have sex with a stranger

Jonathan, 50, 40 partners

Im definitely a one-to-one guy. Im not into sleeping around. For me, a big part of sexuality is getting to know someone. The more you feel that sense of commitment, that locking in of trust, the more playful and expressive you are able to be.

Im not in a relationship at the moment, but I can remember periods when Ive had to stop the car to have sex with a girlfriend on the way to Brighton, and its firm commitment that has enabled me to be mischievous and expressive like that.

The truly great moments? The first time is up there, because it felt significant and I felt really loved. I was 17. If there is such a thing as a top 10, Id include those moments in a relationship when you wake up in the night impression horny and have to have sex. Also, I recollect chatting to someone online when the internet was still a novelty and driving across town to have sex. I didnt well known and I didnt assure her again, but it was thrilling.

There have been all sorts of times, in tents or up mountains, but great sex has always been when Im in tune with person. I dont find uncertainty thrilling; I find it a pain in the arse.

I had a very experienced lover. I wasnt in love: he was just the facilitator of my fantasies

Rachel, 55, a few hundred partners

Generally, I feel a little bit flat. The ups and downs you get when you have periods are all gone. But its not as if Im thinking, I wish Id had more group sexuality or I wish Id shagged 100 more people. Because I did more in 10 years than most people have done in their entire lives.

I think there is a surge of hormones in your early 40 s perhaps your body is trying to fulfil its destiny because I felt up for it all the time. I was divorced, Id had my children and I was involved with a man who was a very experienced lover. I would tell him what was going through my head and he would make it happen. I wasnt committed to him, I wasnt in love. It was just: You are the facilitator of my fantasies. I wouldnt even know what was happening half the time, because there were so many different sensations going on in my body. It was quite spiritual, in a weird sort of way.

Women in their 40 s are dangerous. Theyre nuts. The great thing is that you have the mental capacity to switch off all the drama that you had in your 20 s Does he love me? Does he not love me? In your 40 s, youre like, I definitely do not love him but, by God, hes a good shag.

I think, for women, desire happens in the brain. This is something I am constantly telling my current partner. Weve been together three years and he doesnt get it. It amazes me that no matter how intelligent guys are, they simply do not appears to get that if you dont do certain things, youre not going to come. I think there must be a lot of women who fake it, because how else have men come to the conclusion theyre all so amazing?

The intellect is an erogenous zone. It doesnt have to be intercourse

Angela, 61, one partner

I have been married for 38 years and my husband is the only sexual partner Ive had. For the last 10 years, our marriage had lacked intimacy. It wasnt that we were unhappy, it just happened as it does to lots of people: intimacy, failure to communicate, the omnipresence of children.

Just over a year ago, when I was feeling particularly sad and frustrated about this, my husband reached out to me in bed. I think he simply touched me. It was as simple as that, but it was as if a floodgate had opened. It was like a thin wall had been there, so thin you could put your thumb through it, and thats all it took for someone to break it. Theres been no looking back since then, and sex is a wonderful part of our lives now.

Im sure it was exciting and lovely when we were younger, but I think it was probably more goal-oriented, and it isnt now thats a huge difference. Now its more about is available on the moment. The whole body can be an erogenous zone. The intellect is an erogenous zone. It doesnt have to be intercourse. Thats a tiny part of it for us. This is the greatest day of my life, sexually. Everything feels very heightened and real.

My husband said he didnt know how interested in sexuality I was, and he delights in it now. And because Ive become more open and able to express myself, he has as well. You guess, why didnt I say this a long time ago? Because it wasnt hard in the end. But theres no judgment or impression of disapproval or shock or anything. Its all just wonderful.

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