Humans are curious creatures to study, and none more so than when it comes to sex and the strange rituals and cultural quirks that surround it.
A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research has taken a look in between the sheets to see whether a love interest’s attractiveness is affected by the number of notches on their bedpost, ie. how many sexual partners they have previously had.
Through an online survey of 188 participants, they rated people’s desire to get into a relationship with a set of different hypothetical people, each who have had varying amounts of sexual partners ranging from 0 to 60.
In terms of one-night stands or brief flings, the optimal number was between 2 to 6, after which it slightly declined with each additional partner.
With short relationships, the average willingness score for men was overall slightly higher than women. On top of that, men were slightly more inclined to get involved with a virgin or with someone with a low number of past sexual partners. Nevertheless, these differences between the sexes were too small to make any brave assumptions.
When it comes to long-term relationships, there was even less difference between the genders, with both appearing reluctant to get involved with someone with a lot of previous sexual partners.
The optimal number of sexual partners for a long relationship was around 2 to 3. Again, after that, each additional sexual partner gradually decreased their attractiveness.
“The effect of past partner number was very large,” the study concluded. “Thus, contrary to the idea that male promiscuity is tolerated but female promiscuity is not, both sexes expressed equal reluctance to get involved with someone with an overly extensive sexual history.”
There are a few things to take into consideration with this study. As the study itself points out, the participants are likely to be from a group that psychologists call WEIRD (that is, a group from a Western, Educated, Individualistic, Rich, and Democratic nation). So, the findings are fairly limited to a specific culture. Equally, the study didn’t appear to pry into same-sex relationships.
The participants were also recruited through Facebook, so are actively wishing to talk about their sexuality and presumably therefore very open about sex.