THE BLOG
11/01/2012 11:18 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

How Many Premarital Lovers Is Too Many?

My friend Maggie (who gave me permission to write this) is a volunteer at her children's elementary school in Seattle. She's on the crunchy-granola side, makes all her kids' clothes, bakes the most delicious, homemade rustic loaves and corn breads. Her beauty is natural and understated; there's rarely a trace of makeup on her face. She's been a dedicated wife for 17 years.

Maggie does not exude Sex Goddess, yet recently she told me she's had "somewhere between 30 and 40" lovers in her life. And her husband, Mark, has had three, including Maggie.

My knee-jerk reaction was, She's had too many lovers and he hasn't had enough.

Maggie told me Mark knows she's had an array of lovers, but he doesn't want to know the exact number. Despite Mark's Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell policy, Maggie says he doesn't judge her because of where she came from: a small, West Texas, blue-collar town where booze and boredom were rampant. A home where her parents divorced when she was 14 and she was left pretty much to her own devices.

Which leads me to conclude that Mark actually does judge her since he feels the need to find an excuse for Maggie's sexual history.

I get Mark. Naturally he doesn't want to think about his wife with other men, but what about me? Why did I leap so quickly to judgment about my friend?

I decided to stop, step off my soapbox and take a look at my own sexual history.

In my 20s I went through a promiscuous phase, but in thinking about it, I didn't automatically search for what was wrong with me. Why not?

First because my number is smaller than Maggie's -- Mom, Dad, Henry, look away, -- somewhere between 10 and 20. Apparently, I find this number more romantic than Maggie's. More tasteful.

Second, because I see my younger girl as a sexual adventurer. A libertine. A sower of wild oats. And someone who's had enough experience to be married now without wondering What if?

Then, last night, in discussing this story with my college roommate, I told her my number.

Silence. Then, "Wow, Shan."

Wow, Shan? Really?

"Well, how many lovers have you had?" I asked, suddenly feeling like a Slutinka.

"Three," she said in a voice that suggested that was a much more reasonable number and that I was, indeed, a strumpet.

Apparently I'm the pot calling the kettle black.

So here's what I've decided: I will no longer judge other people's sex lives. Period. I wasn't there. I don't know what the motivators were. I don't know the affection and pleasure that was transacted. I have no idea how many lovers are too many or too few for anyone. And I wouldn't have missed any one of my former lovers for the world. (Well, maybe the Dutch boom operator who never showered or washed his sheets).

Some of the men in my past have become valued friends, and the ones who broke my heart taught me who I am, which turned out to be useful information when selecting my spouse.

What about you?

Do you judge women who had broad sexual histories before marriage more than you judge men? Does a man feel like less of a man if his wife has had more lovers than him? Or is your philosophy Live and Let Live?

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