What’s Your “Number”? Who Cares!?

Talking about the number of sexual partners you’ve had can be such a tricky thing to do. It’s fraught with so much stigma and potential shaming. I don’t really know why anyone even bothers asking that question any more, because it’s such a reductive and ineffective question.

We as a society have these arbitrary notions of what an appropriate number of sex partners is, so the expectation is that anyone who thinks they fall outside of the standard deviation is probably going to lie. The trope goes that guys will exaggerate, ladies will omit, and all inexperienced people will pad their sex resume. It’s pretty understandable why someone would lie when the subject comes up though. Especially if you haven’t identified if the person you’re talking to is non-judgmental and you’re feeling kind of anxious and unsafe, you may feel vulnerable disclosing your true number of partners. And that’s totally okay, because no one can glean anything of significance just from hearing a number, despite the fact that a lot of people do try to attach values and character traits upon hearing a number.

“A lot” (whatever that even means) of partners means you’re slutty/reckless/insecure/desperate and anything perceived as too few means you’re a loser/unattractive/prudish. And of course, these goal posts for what is acceptable/unacceptable are totally nebulous and arbitrary. Not to mention, you can’t determine someone’s sexual skills, kink level, or STD status just from their number. A person could’ve slept with over, like, 50 people, but if they were always blacked out and don’t remember any of it, they’re not functionally more experienced than someone who has only slept with one person in a really long-term yet adventurous relationship.

While your chances of contracting an STD are higher when your number of partners climbs, someone’s number is not nearly as accurate a measure as an actual STD test. It makes me really uncomfortable that there are even gynecologists out there who think it’s appropriate to ask about someone’s complete sexual history prior to drawing blood or taking samples. I have friends who have gone to gynos and on the patient information form, right between “date of last menstrual period” and the space to list your allergies is “How many sexual partners have you had?” Not only is that super vague (the definition of “sex” is open to interpretation) but any answer perceived as too high could easily invite a hyper-judgmental lecture from a doctor. It’s ridiculous for a medical professional to ask such an open-ended question. Even narrowing it down to “How many partners have you had since your last STD test” is at least a relevant question.

If you’re having a conversation with someone and you want to actually get a sense of who they are sexually, ask better questions. Things like fantasies, their thoughts on different positions, whether or not they think the Kama Sutra is overrated, how they define consent, how often they get tested…those will actually give you legitimate insight. Giving so much weight to a number is pretty unreasonable and immature, so let’s just put a moratorium on it.

[Lead image via Carolina Jaramillo/Shutterstock]

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