When starting a sexual relationship with someone, there is one dreaded question that sometimes comes up in your coital conversations: What’s your number? The number of people that you’ve had sex with comes into question too often and it can be a nerve-wracking thing to answer.
I recently experienced something of a crisis while pondering my own sexual identity, and thought of this question. For the life of me, I could not remember the number of people I have had sex with. Up until this point, I felt that I had kept a fairly meticulous mental record of “my number.” I remembered when it was 2, I remembered when it was 10, I even remembered my favorite number, 15.
Somewhere after 20, however, I irretrievably lost count. I tried to make a list, crossing off “almosts” and writing question marks next to forgotten names. But alas, my list-making was to no avail. I began to question the validity of my own memory and whether some of these sexual encounters were figments of my fear, fantasy, or imagination.
But like… what’s average?
According to The National Survey of Family Growth, the median of opposite-sex partners for women is 3.2 and for men, 6.1. The same study found that only 8% of women had sex with 15 or more partners. Umm, only 8 percent?
First came shock, then came shame. I thought, “My number must be so high, it’s impossible to remember.” Too many derogatory names that too many people are called every day started to fly around in my head. I truly felt like what they call a “slut.”
Unfortunately, people (disproportionately non-male-identifying people) are societally shamed for having multiple sex partners. In my opinion, it is one of the biggest and most profoundly unfair disparities across the genders. I knew that these studies are inherently flawed. The numbers of sexual partners vary with age, location, orientation, and so many other factors. Plus, how can we know who’s lying on these surveys? And whose business is it, anyway?
Even when reeling with the injustices of slut-shaming, I still felt regret for having sex with more people than I could remember. My conditioning was stronger than my beliefs and that scared me. I didn’t want to contribute to the collective psyche of number-shaming people. I wanted to be proud of my high number and I wanted to believe that it was okay (and dare I say) better to have the experience.
And so, I made a list of the reasons why a high number can actually be a good thing. If you’re anything like me, and you struggle to move past the notion that a high number is a bad thing, read on. While it may take some time to move past the self-imposed stigma, there’s totally nothing to be ashamed of.
It means you know what you like.
Experience breeds wisdom. The more people you have sex with, the more you know what you like. The more you know what you don’t like, the easier it is to seek it out and communicate it to your partners.
It means you don’t dip into the bucket of exes.
Exes are exes for a reason. If we don’t have anxiety about increasing our numbers, our chances of texting an ex and making an epic sex-ex mistake decrease greatly. However, if you have an ex for sex and that dynamic works out for everyone involved then, by all means, dip away! Sexual independence is about taking control of your pleasure while taking care of your mental and emotional wellbeing.
It makes you appreciate different partners.
Starting a new sexual relationship is fun and exciting! Why put a damper on such an exhilarating life experience by getting down on yourself for increasing a silly number? Every partner is different and comparison only leads to insecurity. Sexual relationships are like snowflakes–no two are the same and they all (hopefully) get us wet.
It means you’re taking a stand against the stigma.
Stressing about our sexual immaculacy is subscribing to archaic beliefs about sex. It can breed unhealthy jealousy between friends and perpetuates sex-negative ideology. The danger of promiscuity is a myth. We should be celebrating our sexuality and not running from it!
So for my fellow 8% (which TBH could be a lot higher than we think), remember that it’s okay to have a high number. Sex is a good thing. It’s okay if you don’t know your number. But if you do, know it proudly!
Laurie Magers is a comedy writer and actor living in Los Angeles. Her favorite color is red and her favorite food is crab legs. Check out more from her at www.lauriemagers.com.