09/30/2011 09:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Does a Woman's "Number" Still Matter?

Does the number of sexual partners women have had affect their desirability? Do they think it does? Do men?

These are the questions the new movie "What's Your Number," opening tonight, raises.

The film's star and executive producer Anna Faris plays Ally Darling, a woman who reads in a newspaper that the average number of partners a woman has in her lifetime is 10.5. Though this strikes her as low, she tabulates her own "number" and discovers it is 19 (which shortly thereafter becomes 20). Determined not to go any higher, she decides that she has to find her soul mate among the men she has already slept with and sets out to track them down.

The movie is based on the 2006 novel "20 Times A Lady," recently retitled "What's Your Number?" by Karyn Bosnak, and compared to the book, the film pulls a few punches. Sure, it addresses the "number" question -- there's one scene where Colin, Ally's Lothario neighbor, argues that women are too concerned about it and that men don't care, to which Ally responds that the "right" kind of guy does. Unfortunately, instead of exploring the issue in more depth, the film's main focus becomes -- spoiler alert -- the growing chemistry between Ally and Colin. In other words, as much as the premise promises to transcend the standard romantic comedy arc, this is pretty much a movie about a woman looking for the man to complete her. As one female viewer remarked leaving a screening Tuesday night, "It could have been so much ... smarter."

But the film's shortcomings are no reason not to revisit the larger issue Bosnak's book originally raised: How much does a woman's "number" matter? This week we put that question and others to Bosnak herself.

How did you come to write "20 Times a Lady"?

Karyn Bosnak: Well it was based on a real article that I read in the New York Post (I live in New York) on the subway one day. It said that [people] had an average of 10.5 sexual partners in their lifetimes, and I thought, "That seems a bit low." I knew my own number was somewhere on the teens, so I went home and made a list and it added up to around 20. I was pretty much twice the national average, and I thought, "Why haven't I found 'the one' after so many tries? My friends are married. " I felt bad about it. When you regret your sexual past particularly, it takes away your self-esteem. It makes you feel bad about yourself. So I decided to write a story about a woman who tracks down all of her exes.

Did you track down yours?

KB: I did not -- this was before Facebook. But I did Google them with my friend. To actually track them down would hard to do, but I thought it was a fun story to write, and also "the number" was a touchy subject, and I sort of wanted to go there as well.

Do you think most people think of a certain number as being unacceptable for women?

KB: I think a certain number is hard to say. I started judging myself when I realized that I slept with more men than my friends but I hadn't found the person yet. I think that it's sort of an antiquated thing to think that numbers matter but I don't think we're completely away from it yet.

How did writing the book affect how you think about the number of partners a woman should have?

KB: I wrote the book almost 8 years ago, [and] I think [through] the process of writing the book and kind of hearing everyone's story and having people say "Thank you so much for writing a character I can identify with," I've grown up and learned that it doesn't really matter as much, the number.

I don't care about how many men that I slept with. I don't think it says anything about the kind of person that I am. There were definitely reasons that I probably shouldn't have slept with certain guys, but then in thinking through all of them I started to remember why I did. I had a lot of good memories, even with the bad [guys]. You just have to remember why you did and you should remember it fondly. I'd rather like be guilty of taking too many chances than not taking enough.

When you heard that the book was going to be made into a movie, did you worry that you would probably be asked about your sexual past?

KB: A little bit. When I got the book deal, my mom was like, "Umm, this one is fiction right?" But I felt like writing it. And when I started talking to more people about their numbers as well, how many partners they've had, I felt better about it.

Is it true that you were pressured to lower Ally's number for the movie?

KB: Yes. When I was [still] writing the book, I met with some producers who were interested in it. They all wanted to make it a girl who had ten boyfriends, 10 guys she dated, not 20 men she slept with, and I was like "No, no, no, no, no, that's not the story." [Beau Flynn], the one producer who said, "I want to keep it the way it is" is the producer of the movie.

The book was originally titled "20 Times a Lady." Why did it change for the movie?

KB: I was told that they thought "20 Times a Lady" sounded too much like a chick flick, and they didn't want the movie to just appeal to women. They thought the issue itself would appeal to men and women.

Do you think men have a "number"? Do they hit a point when they're like "I've slept with a lot of people maybe this is not great"?

KB: Maybe, but I think it is very different for men. When I was doing my research, there was a guy getting married whose fiancee asked him, "How many women have you slept with?" He didn't want to tell her the truth because it was a lot of people, so he lied and told her 75. That was his lie! He was actually at around 200.

You wrote your first book, "Save Karyn," about getting into and out of deep credit card debt. Which do you think women have a harder time forgiving themselves for: high credit card debt or a high number?

KB: I don't think either one proves anything about the person that you are. I don't think either one is shameful. We make them shameful, but they're actually not.

When I wrote "Save Karyn," I was saying, "Okay I'm bad with money, sorry. I've got a lot of other really great qualities." Writing ["20 Times a Lady"] was sort of the same journey, to take something that you feel badly about and by sharing the story say it's not that big of a deal.

What's the best thing your book and the movie could accomplish?

KB: If women have any sort of regret or feel bad about themselves for something that they did, I would hope that this allows them to let that go and move on with their lives. That's why I wrote the book.