Deirdre Reynolds asks if comparing your 'magic number' with your partner is ever a good idea.
Girls reputedly half theirs and guys double it -- so go on, be honest, what's your Magic Number?
It's the ultimate 'kiss and tell' question we all secretly want to know about our partner, yet never want to divulge ourselves: How many people have you slept with?
But now a new movie has reopened the double-standard dating debate about the number of notches on a gal's bedpost -- and how many is too many.
In rom-com What's Your Number?, in cinemas now, Anna Faris plays Ally -- a twenty-something singleton who goes into meltdown after discovering she's had twice the national average of sexual partners.
Convinced she's no longer marriage material, Ally goes in search of her past 20 boyfriends, hoping to rediscover that one of them is 'The One' -- the best ex of her life, if you will.
Stateside, the chick flick hasn't gone down too well with the critics. "I know I'm a guy, but who cares how many people so-and-so has slept with?" dismissed Chicago Times movie critic Michael Phillips. "To have the entire movie hung up on this issue ... feels all wrong."
But is it really such a ludicrous premise for a film?
"I totally understand why people get hung up on their magic number and that of their partner -- because I've often been curious about it too," says Anne Sexton, Hot Press sex columnist. "Around 75% of the men I've dated have asked me about my magic number, while fewer than 25% have asked me how many times I've ever been in love.
"Personally, I think that information is much more important in a relationship."
Rightly or wrongly, the magic number is still a burning issue for young female moviegoers today, according to Faris.
"I only have two [exes]," says the actress (34), who's married to co-star Chris Pratt. "[But] I think there is a bit of a moral identity, as women, that is somehow linked to the number of people we've been with and how much experience we have, and whether or not we should feel guilty for those experiences.
"It's a fun conversation to have sometimes, unless you're asking your husband how many people he's been with."
Having kissed the frogs to find your prince, is it a good idea to open The Ex Files?
"Never," says marriage therapist Owen Connolly of Counsellor.ie. "Discussing your magic number with your partner is a total no-no. When two people commit to each other, they have to draw a definite line under all previous relationships.
"Nowadays, people are sexually active much younger -- so by the time they're ready to settle down, a person's 'magic number' may be higher than ever.
"For guys especially, finding out that their girlfriend has more sexual experience than them can lead to problems.
"They can torment themselves wondering if they live up to her previous lovers or, worse, use it as ammunition later on during a row.
"I'm very much against the idea of revealing how many people you've slept with to your partner," adds psychologist Owen. "Anyway, it's irrelevant -- all you need to know is that this person is the one for you, and you're for them."
'Your past experience in the bedroom brings something to your marriage'
Mum-of-one Erica O'Reilly (24), who works in Toys for Joys adult store in Blanchardstown, admits she's asked her fiance his magic number -- but says the answer made no difference to how she feels about him.
"When you meet 'The One', all your past relationships fade into insignificance. So whether you've slept with one or 1,000 people, I don't think it matters at all.
"If anything, your past experience in the bedroom only brings something to your marriage. Before I met my fiance Fran, I'd had a few flings -- but I was never in love. With him, it's totally different.
"We asked each other's 'magic number', just out of curiosity, but it hasn't made any difference to our relationship. The idea of remaining a virgin until you get married has gone out with the Indians.
"Irish people have become a lot more open-minded. People used to think that sex shops were dark, seedy little places full of dirty old men, for instance.
"Since Toys for Joys opened in December, though, we've had lots of women in their twenties coming in to buy sexy lingerie, toys and 'vajazzle' stickers -- and they're certainly not just doing that for themselves.
"Once it's safe and consensual, what's the harm?
"I also do home parties for the store -- and there's one game we play where the girls write down their magic number on a piece of paper, pass it around and stick one on their forehead so the others can guess who it belongs to.
"Nothing shocks me -- I've seen everything from '0' to '50'. When you get married, as far as I'm concerned, you start afresh -- and I fully intend to wear a big white dress. I'd never dream of marrying someone I hadn't slept with. After all, you need a few practice laps before the race!"
'For blokes, the number of conquests is a sign of masculinity -- but a real man doesn't use a woman'
Meath singleton Ferghal McGrath (32) travels the country delivering the message of chastity to secondary school students with Catholic group Pure In Heart.
And practising what he preaches, he's abstaining from sex until he meets Miss Right.
"Everybody wants to find true love -- but the world tells you it's okay to sleep with everyone along the way. Before I joined Pure In Heart, I wasn't living a chaste life -- I didn't care about anyone or give a damn about a girl's feelings.
"Then after coming back into my faith in my mid-twenties, I went along to one of their prayer groups -- and it just made sense to me.
"These days, virginity is almost a dirty word. But chastity is not some medieval idea of wearing a chastity belt -- it's about love without regrets. I'm not saying that I'm a virgin, I'm not -- but if I could take it back, I would.
"When you're sleeping with someone, you're wrecked with worry about getting them pregnant or being good enough in bed.
"Since I started living a chaste life, dating is totally different. Suddenly, you get to see what the person is really like -- whether they're kind or would make a good mother.
"For blokes, the number of conquests you've had is almost a sign of masculinity -- but a real man doesn't use and abuse a woman. And to be honest, I wouldn't be very happy at the thought of somebody else doing that with my future wife.
"At least in a marriage, you know you're with someone who's got your best interests at heart.
"Years ago, it was men who treated women as notches on their bedpost -- now it's the other way around.
"When you go out, some girls are very forward. There have been times when it's nearly been offered on a plate -- and the temptation to settle can be difficult.
"At the end of the day, though, I have a heart and feelings just like a woman does. My friends slag me off and reckon that pent-up sexual energy will send me over the edge. But my energy is going where it should be going -- searching for the right person. And now I realise that I'm worth the wait, just like she is.
"Orgasm is brilliant, but it's only a fleeting moment -- true happiness lasts a lifetime."