Eric Leven

How many partners is too many?

Filed By Eric Leven | May 12, 2009 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: gay sex

This is a conversation Eric the roommate and I find ourselves having quite often (he's straight, btw's.) However, it always boils down to what do we define as "sex."

For the straight world (most straights I talk to tend to agree,) sex is going all the way; while for me, sex is any form of getting off from light stuff to the whole enchilada. I suppose there is no answer, like Savage points out. But I do feel as though the difference between a healthy amount of partners and an unhealthy amount all comes down to the way you feel about yourself, your partner and how the choices you made make you feel in the end.


Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

A whole enchlada?
Is that anything like a nice warm apple pie?

Hey, so long as everyone is having fun, practicing safe sex and cares about their partner and their needs I think its ok to have one partner or as many as you want (just be honest about it, ok?)

I think thats all I can comment on. (hey,I'm asexual so for me a lot of that stuff is academic to me.)

I'd rather remain anonymous | May 12, 2009 6:47 PM

I am a lesbian womon. My best friend is a straight man. Last summer, I was uncertain about my sexuality, and he was female-identified.

At one point, we made out. I backed off, but I gave him a breast massage. Later that evening, he announced that he had gotten off during my massage. I don't consider this sex. I don't even consider it an especially intense massage.

freddyinptown | May 12, 2009 6:48 PM

An ex- and I refer to anything less than penetration as "little-boy sex." That said, we often behaved like 12 year-olds.


"The gay bath house is just a whorehouse staffed by volunteers."

OMG I can't stop laughing at that.

Dan Savage is so handsome. But he's the last person I'd listen to for sexual advice. Why does commercial media put forward dingbats to speak on serious issues? I think it's because an ignorant public is better for the commercial economy.

I am a gay man. I have, along the way, had sex with a few women and sometimes women and men at the same time (lots of bisexuality like this in the Army -- I like to speak of "servicing my country" as opposed to "serving my country"). One woman I had sex with identified as a lesbian. Since I am gay and she is a lesbian and used a strap-on on me, wasn't this "gay sex"? This is an unanswerable question, but it was a lot of fun regardless of how it was defined. She was expert at hitting my male g-spot and gave me a reach-around just like a dude would. She was an awesome top. I don't think there is an answer to the whole amount of sexual partners question. Some right-wing fanaticism clearly comes across as sexual frustration and I wonder if they are getting enough sex (which is why people like Larry Craig are cruising for cop cock in airport toilets). Every one is different and has their own emotional make-up. There are things that are not emotionally healthy for some and fine for others. I have never been to a bath house, but I did live in an Army barracks which I believe is similar to a bath house

Hmm, I like him better in written form, he falls back on a number of stereotypes and assumptions live that's probably partially thinking on his feet and partially playing to an audience. Then again, while his column is usually entertaining, it's not the world's best love and relationship advice: for really positive affirmative sex advice is actually pretty far up there, despite its overt focus on teens and to a lesser degree 20-somethings. It does a good job of pointing out where these cultural value judgements sneak in even in "the enlightened" ("light stuff to whole enchilada" for an example - not picking on you Eric, just needed a quick example, I do the same too) etc so that they can be considered intentionally, too.

Isa Kocher | May 13, 2009 9:37 AM

simple: if it gives you a hard on it's sex. if you can't get hard, or if you don't have a dick, god knows cuz i have never been there. if it doesn't give you a hard on, then i guess it's being friendly. [or unfriendly if that's the case] asfar as i know whatever it was i was doing with my last wife, i would never call it sex. if it's something someone else is doing to you without your permission, no matter how good it may feel or how guilty you get, that is not sex. most heterosexists are not having sex, but doing it to someone to prove something. that's something else.

Anthony in Nashville | May 13, 2009 10:25 AM

For me sex involves penetration.

Everything else is foreplay or an appetizer to the main meal.

I didn't realize I defined sex like that until I participated in a focus group on HIV issues and was asked if I ever had unprotected sex. I immediately said no, but when they said that included oral, I had to change my mind.

I don't consider oral "real" sex.

As far as how many partners is too much, everyone has their own standards. I read once that men had somewhere under 10 partners over their lifetime, which means either a lot of people are lying, there are differing definitions of sex, or sex is presented as more ubiquitous than it is.

Ms. Lookinatchya! | May 13, 2009 10:19 PM

"gay men this, and gay men that."

who the fuck is this guy to speak for gay men? and who are these "gay men," anyway?

really, i'd like to know who died and left him in charge?!!

one word: tedious.

How many partners are "too many"? At once, or over time? *snicker*

X = too many partners;

Y = just enough partners;

X = Y + 1.

Now, what's Y? How many partners are "enough"? Well, 1 would be the lower bound. The upper bound would be limited by time and availability. So, let's see, carry the one, divide by two...

42. The answer is 42. Douglas Adams told me so. Therefore, 43 partners is "too many". However, we still haven't defined Z, the time period by which we'll measure X or Y...

I usually like Dan's column, but this sounds like crap. Gay men are more out of control than straight men? Women act as a buffer? Sounds like a right wing homophobe.

A. J. Lopp | June 5, 2009 4:36 PM

The word "sex" is ultimately a Rorschach concept that is impossilbe to define. It's good for us to ponder how sloppy our everyday definitions are; it leads to better communication if done carefully.

For years I have been enraged by safe sex surveys that ask, "Do you use a condom every time you have sex?" I always have to answer that question "No" which makes me sound like I go around having unprotected sex --- but that gives inaccurate survey results if the usual way I get off is masturbation, or mutual JO, or frottage, or blowing the carbon out of the cylinders on my beloved antique Accu-Jack.

Here is a similar question that we will not be able to agree on answering: Does masturbation count as "sex"? ...

... Many people might answer, "Not if you do it alone, but it is sex if two people masturbate each other."

Isa Kocher, above, would consider masturbation to be sex, because sex is anything that gives you a hard-on (presuming you have a penis, and it is medically capable of getting hard). Apparently, he might consider watching a really good porno movie to be sex, because that, too, can get a guy hard.

But Anthony in Nashville, above, would not consider masturbation to be sex ... unless you are masturbating against the inside of a woman's vagina ... or the inside of a man's rectum ... and calling that "masturbation" is really pushing the envelope ...

My definition of sex is very, very broad: It is sex if it gets you sexually aroused and you choose to accept and concentrate on the arousal, and you give it your primary attention for more than a brief instant. In other words, if it feels like sex, then it's sex.

On the other hand, I realize this definition is useless in many contexts. The phrases "sexual encounter" and "sexual intercourse" are somewhat more useful: an "encounter" obviously involves two people ( or two somethings), and "intercourse" implies penetration.

Does fisting count as "sex"? How about rimming? Neither one even involves the genitals, but clearly, both are done as forms of sexual stimulation.

But the exact same actions are involved between fisting and a doctor giving a man a prostate exam. The prostate exam and the fisting are exactly the same, but one is sex because it is intended to be sex, and the other, isn't.

bigolpoofter | July 6, 2009 8:58 AM

Mary, please! Queermale sexuality deserves far better than a privileged nancy prattling on about Queermen having "too many partners," as if the white-picked-fence crap foisted upon by HRC et al. is real.

Sex is ugly. Sex is painful. Sex is messy. Sex is tender. Sex is violent. Sex is wonton. Sex is good... no, it's sizzling hot, even if you don't get his name before it starts and after you both cum simultaneously.

Sex is a chaotic mix of passion, craving, intimacy, and dozens of neurotransmitters telling our brain how it makes us feel. Sex itself is value-neutral, it's our intent and motivations that are suspect. Sex with one guy can start out with slapping him until his face bleeds and be totally fine, especially if he climaxes through the beating. Try that with another, and it earns a visit to the city jail. Sex 17 times in three days with my boyfriend I haven't seen in weeks is a renewal of bonds, a joining of spirits. Sex 17 times in a weekend with 17 anonymous men may be satisfying an emptiness one cannot otherwise express.


the answer is two.

if the question is how many sex partners is too many, the answer is two.

use your brain, instead of some other organ for thought.

John Shields John Shields | July 17, 2009 1:13 AM

Excellent find, and Dan is spot-on on this.

I frequently ask both my gay and straight friends to "define sex." It runs the gamut, with my straight friends usually siding with "intercourse," my vanilla gay friends saying something about "ejaculation" and my kinky friends saying "it's the experience that counts."

I'm with the experience counts folks, btw.

How many partners are too many? The question could also be posed as "how many partners are too few?" The important thing is to find that balance in your life, and - as Dan points out - that balance changes.

And I loved the "bathhouses are staffed by volunteers" comment. So true...

Both males and females get hard and wet when sexually aroused. Men produce precum along with an erection; women have clitoral erections along with vaginal lubrication.

How many partners are too many? So subjective as to be unanswerable. More than what the person passing judgement thinks is a good number? Anything higher than one? I (female) have enjoyed over 200 sex partners in almost sixty lust-driven years. In retrospect, probably enough but more would be nice.

What do we define as sex? Phallocentric thinking tells us that penile penetration is required for it to be "real sex." Feminist sexologists heartily disagree. I would venture to say that sex happens when a person is aroused (hard and wet) and the activity might result in orgasm if continued for some period of time. That covers everything from masturbation to penile penetration, cunnilingus, fellation, phone sex, cybersex, mutual masturbation, reading or viewing porn, intense fantasies, foot licking . . . need I continue?

...yes you MUST continue....

John Shields John Shields | July 31, 2009 10:10 AM

I ask people what their definition of sex "is" all the time. It's rather predictable. It goes something like this:

Straight people = Intercourse.

Gay guys = Ejaculation.

Kinky gay guys = A stimulating experience.

Lesbians = Kissing, hugging and sex (since I'm not a lesbian, I'll let my lesbian friends field the 'sex' part in for me).

As far as the rest of us queers (don't slam me, I like the word), I'm not sure as I haven't asked. But I do know this - I used to consider myself straight (and, yes I have had sex with women before and may one day again), so does that make me a G, a B or a Q?

In any case, how many partners are too many? I think that question is up to the people involved. But it should be their decision, made openly, honestly and without judgment from those outside the relationship. As it is *their* relationship.

Unlike the right-wing nutjobs out there, I prefer to not tell someone how many "partners" are too many. Which brings up a good question: Define "partner."

Gay men did not fuck themselves to death in the '70's. AIDS is caused by a virus, not sex. How disgusting!

This is just one more example of Dan Savage's internalized homophobia and his misogyny masquerading as expertise. Why does anybody give him any credibility? Just because he appeals to people bigotries? He's a jackass. If you want some real information on the subject, you can start with looking toward the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexcualities, the Center for Sex and Culture, and Janet Hardy's and Dossie Easton's seminal (oardon the pun) work, The Ethical Slut.

I've been studying and practicing polyamory for 13 years, and here's what I learned on this question.

First we need to (sorry) define "partner". If we're talking occasional f***buddies with no obligation or ongoing commitment of any kind, then have at it - the more the merrier. But if we're talking about intimate, honestly-open, long-term committed relationships, then that's a very different matter. Then it comes down to how much time and emotional energy is available to properly nurture and maintain all of those ongoing relationships. This is especially true in times of adversity, i.e. major illness, loss of a job, death in the family, etc. Life crises sap energy needed to juggle relationships successfully.

People who are new to open relationships can sometimes get carried away with their newfound freedom and establish too many relationship in too short a period of time. I call this "The Kid in the Candy Store Syndrome." All that variety and access is great at first, but sooner or later something causes drama and the "kid" is suddenly faced with competing priorities for their time and attention, of which they don't have enough to make everyone happy.

I've learned that new relationships need time and steady focus to become well-established. Beginning more than one in a short period of time greatly magnifies the risks and reduces the likelihood of establishing and maintaining healthy and happy multiple relationships.

What strikes me as mad is people tend often to bundle too may expectations into relationships, usually expecting to find a twos compliment is a sexual partner, a delicate balance of expectation verus compromise is required.

gay boy

The definition above (from John Shields) kind of leaves out straight women. Two straight people have intercourse, the man has an orgasm, the woman doesn't. Two straight people are naked, fooling around but no penetration occurs, the woman has an orgasm, the man doesn't. Is that sex?

If you're going to define sex for gay guys as ejaculation, why not define sex for everybody as orgasm or actions that would typically lead to orgasm?

As far as how many partners is too many, I would say number that makes you feel cheap/crappy about yourself is too many.