Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

How many sexual partners should a woman have had?

Katrina Patterson
Jean Garland
Ali Thompson

One of these women is a virgin, one has had 13 lovers and one has only slept with her husband ... can you tell which is which? Laura McGarrity and Kerry McKittrick talk to local women about their attitudes towards sex

It’s a subject which divides the sexes like no other — how many people have you slept with? Even in these supposedly enlightened times, there are double standards.

Men often feel comfortable boasting about their number of conquests. If it is high then they are regarded as real men-about-town.

But for women, a large number of sexual partners draws a much less favourable response, often running the risk of being branded ‘easy’.

The NHS Information Centre conducted a survey last year and found on average men sleep with 9.3 partners, twice as many as women whose average is 4.7.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Strong religious beliefs, fear of sexual intimacy or the transmission of sexual diseases are some of the reasons why men and women seek only one partner in life, be that in marriage or another relationship. Despite sexual drive being a basic human instinct and sex saturating newspapers, TV shows, movies and popular culture, when it comes down to it, actually talking about your number of partners and revealing your innermost secrets, can be a daunting prospect for many women.

We asked a number of local women to tell us about their sexual experiences — or lack of them.

‘Of course I’ve been tempted, I’m only human’

Allie Thompson (22) is a physiotherapy graduate currently doing a year-long internship at the Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast. She is single and lives with her parents in Belfast. She says:

For me, it wasn't really a decision I made. I've grown up in the church, my dad is a pastor and I've been a Christian since I was five. There was never a point that I decided to abstain until I got married, it was just something I believed in.

As I've grown older though, my choice has become firmer. I've had a couple of long-term relationships with guys who have thought the same way as me. I don't just go out with anyone, I really need to know the person and be friends with them first. My boyfriends have had similar beliefs to mine so they have always respected my decision.

Of course there have been times when I've been tempted as I'm only human.

For me though, I put God first so that comes before sex.

My friends all know what I believe in. Even the non-Christian friends I had at university might not have understood my decision but they respected it. No one has ever made fun of me because of my beliefs. It's just not an issue.

I'm really happy with who I am and the life I lead. I would like to get married some day but if I don't I'm still happy if it's just me. If you're going to spend the rest of your life with someone then it needs to be the right person.

‘If guys tried to pressure me into sex I just walked away’

Katrina Patterson (29) works for Love For Life, an organisation that educates young people about sex and relationships. She lives in Belfast with her husband Stephen. She says:

I wanted to save myself for marriage — it had a lot to do with the way I was raised. I grew up Christian and my dad was a minister. My parents were very open about the whole thing and always encouraged me to discuss things like sex and relationships.

My reasons for not have sex before marriage were both Biblical and personal.

I liked the idea of only ever being with one person because I thought it would make things more personal. I also knew that I wouldn't be at risk of STDs or pregnancy.

Once I made the decision as a teenager, I stuck to it.

Most of the boyfriends I had before Stephen were Christian and had either made a similar choice or were understanding.

I had always been upfront about not having sex but there were still a couple of guys who put some pressure on me to do it.

If there was too much pressure on me then I walked away from the relationship.

Now that I am married I know I made the right choice.

Some people say that if you wait until you get married to have sex then you don't have a lot.

That's just not true — Stephen and I have lots! Sex is a very intimate thing and because Stephen is the only person I have slept with it makes marriage very real to me.

I have quite a few non-Christian friends who might once have thought I was mad to wait but now they tell me that they envy me. They feel that they might have rushed into sexual relationships and that they've missed out on something.

They have also caught STDs. People don't think that a one-night stand can have an effect on your whole life.

‘Waiting until marriage has strengthened our relationship’

Jean Garland (58) is a former nurse and midwife. Jean (left) lives in Belfast with her husband, Sid. They have three children. She says:

I was brought up as Presbyterian and when I married my husband, Sid, I started going to Evangelical Presbyterian churches.

Growing up in a Christian home, we were taught to believe in the Bible, His guidance and rules. Sex before marriage was not something that God, in His wisdom, wanted for us.

It wasn't until my late teens that I started to believe that it wasn't what I wanted either.

After school I studied nursing and midwifery and my views on abstinence only got stronger.

Witnessing so many different difficult family situations and breakdowns, I am not condemning anyone, but I became sure that I wanted to wait to have sex until I got married.

When I was a student at Queen's I met my husband Sid, through some mutual friends.

Quite early on in the relationship we talked about our beliefs and how we both wanted to save sex until we got married. For us, this worked out well. It didn't undermine our relationship, only strengthened it.

We got married when I was 23 and shortly after that we decided that we both wanted to do missionary work in Africa.

Northern Ireland is so privileged and we as Christians wanted to get out into the world and help those less fortunate.

My husband and I worked in Nigeria for 23 years.

Most of my work was trying to prevent the transmission of HIV from a mother to her child.

It was hard for me to walk down the street and realise that two out of 10 people walking beside me were living with Aids — 90% of the cases were sexually contracted. For women, this was often because their husbands had been unfaithful to them.

People can get the impression that God's rules are there to spoil people's fun by telling us what we can't do, but I like to look at it in a more positive way.

By sharing his wisdom and guiding us, I think God is protecting us.

Waiting until you are married to have sex is what I believe in. I am not judging anyone else's decisions.

The rules that we are given are for the good of people and the community, if we could see that God is a God of love.

‘I lost my virginity to pal when I was a teenager’

Siobhan Barbour (23) is a lighting technician and lives in Belfast with her partner Matt. She says:

When you are talking about sex I think sometimes you need to distinguish between actual sex and different kinds of sex acts.

If we're talking about sex with a man then I've slept with about nine men. If we're talking about any kind of sex then it's 13 and a mixture between men and women.

I wouldn't call myself bisexual but I would say I fall outside the remit of straight. All of my long-term partners have been male though.

I've never had casual or anonymous sex. I don't do one night stands — I need to actually know the person I’m sleeping with because attraction for me isn't just physical but mental too.

I lost my virginity when I was a teenager to a close friend of mine. We weren't in a relationship but he was about to move away and he was the right person because we were so close.

I come from a family that's always been open minded about sex — my mum bought me condoms when I was younger. She was the person who told me it was nice to know the person you were sleeping with beforehand. Sex is always better when you respect the person you're with and you feel respected by them.

It's still a taboo subject particularly in Northern Ireland — people can be quite backward when it comes to talking about sex. I think if you're going to have sex then get tested for STDs on a regular basis. At the very least it gives you some peace of mind.

‘All of those I slept with were my good friends’

Kathie Krueger (21) is a call centre worker. Originally from Germany she lives in Belfast with her fiancé Ladi. She says:

I 've slept with about 13 people — one of them was a woman. I was in a long-term relationship from the age of 15 until I was 20 and most of the people I have slept with were after that.

Last year I got a job as a holiday rep and that's where I met most of them. I didn't just jump into bed with anyone though — if I'm going to sleep with someone then I have to know them.

All of those people were good friends — they weren't just one night stands. I felt comfortable enough with them to sleep with them.

Since then I have met Ladi and we have a very good relationship. We're very comfortable with each other and I can say anything to him.

I don't regret anything. I lost my virginity to someone I trusted in a good relationship. When that ended I wanted to have a bit of fun and I did. I think I'm lucky because I've also found the guy I'm going to marry and we've moved in together.

I think you have to make the decision yourself about how many people you want to be with and I don't see anything wrong with only sleeping with one person for the rest of your life.

When do people start having sex?

  • An NHS sex survey last year found men aged 25-34 on average have twice the number of partners as women — 9.3 for men compared to 4.7 for women.
  • Only 4 % of people aged 55-64 admitted to losing their virginity before the age of 16 while 27% of people aged 16-24 admitted to having sex before turning 16.
  • By contrast, a survey in More magazine in 2008 found the average 21-year-old woman has had nine sexual partners compared with seven for men.
  • It also found just 1% of young women would want to get married before sex.

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