Charles: "What is a fair run these days...?"
Carrie: "I don't know...more than one..."
Charles: "Well, c'mon...tell."
A few minutes later in that memorable scene from "Four Weddings and a Funeral," Andie MacDowell's character, Carrie, has gone through a list of her 33 lovers, both titillating and somewhat intimidating Charles, played by Hugh Grant.
Of course, what is played for laughs in a Hollywood movie can be quite a serious topic in real life. Is honesty the best policy? When is divulging to each other your sexual history a good or bad idea? Luckily for us (or at least most of us not named Tiger Woods, Jesse James, or ironically Hugh Grant), our sexual encounters are not public fodder and we have a choice as to what info about the past we tell our partners.
Is divulging your sexual past necessary or not as you move forward in a new relationship? As you find yourself falling for someone new, it's natural to feel curious about that person's history, as they likely do about yours. Still, we've all done things we may not be proud of, and those things probably don't accurately reflect who we are today. Does your partner have a right to know each and every sordid detail, some of which may have happened years ago?
In my experience with my own dating life, as well as with clients, I have come to the conclusion that honesty is absolutely crucial from the get-go in order to build a strong foundation in a serious relationship. Yet there is a fine line, and such a thing as too much honesty that, in the end, can actually be detrimental to the relationship. I ask people to remember this: while past sexual experiences can be relevant to someone's sexuality today, it does not mean that these topics are all appropriate conversation subjects. Nor does it mean that discussing them will necessarily be beneficial to your partner or to the relationship! It's about being able to distinguish the difference in order to have a healthy, strong relationship and respect between partners.
Certainly some questions should not be asked, especially when you are first getting to know someone; such as, "How many partners have you had?" Unless there is a very specific and genuine reason for the need to know this. Quantity often isn't relevant to the current relationship, and to the union two people may now have. One has to question the motive behind such a question. Is it something your partner genuinely wants to know or is it a question that comes loaded with other intentions behind it? To me, it's about respect and neither person should feel obligated to divulge more than they are comfortable with just because their partner has asked.
If you really have bona-fide reasons for discussing sexual history with your partner, I advise people to simply determine what is relevant to the conversation with your significant other, and then decide together what you both would like to have open for discussion. Another common request that simply should never happen is asking your partner to compare you to a previous lover. While it may be human nature to wonder how you "rate," it's a completely inappropriate topic in any healthy relationship.
The only goal of an open conversation about sexual history should be that the discussion will bond you closer and nurture your relationship with deeper intimacy that comes out of appropriate and relative topics. Any discussion that serves a different purpose should never be fair ground between two people, especially if it is insisted upon by someone in the relationship who is insecure.
A healthy conversation of sexual pasts can result in an exciting and enjoyable opportunity for couples to share and explore a closer bond, both inside and out of the bedroom. If you are unsure of what is or isn't ok with your partner, broach the topic with respect and sincerity. Most importantly, be sure to listen carefully to what they say. This will ensure you are on the right road to going about a new relationship in a positive way. So enjoy, have fun, and divulge responsibly!