Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's In a Number?

On Tuesday, we talked about what to do when a guy asks for your number of sexual partners.

But this raised another issue: is keeping track of your number such a good idea in the first place?

We don’t think it is, for the same reason that you don’t want to tell your new guy the whole truth about your past: nothing good can come of it.

The past is one of those things that you can’t change. If your number of sexual partners makes you feel guilty or promiscuous, it’s not like you can go back and undo one of the bad ideas you brought home from Adams Morgan.

Sexual guilt is usually the result of your upbringing or the premium some societies place on purity. If you were raised in a religious household or a conservative community, chances are, you had a lot of people telling you to use sex sparingly.

Even if your parents were free-loving hippies, they probably encouraged you to exhibit some sexual restraint in your adolescent years to limit your risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.

So if you feel guilty about your number, this is probably where it’s coming from.

If you really think about it, what harms do you find yourself more at risk for as your number of sexual partners increases?

STDs are obviously a big one. And condoms don’t protect you from all of these—especially HPV. But we all get tested at our annual exams, and once those come back negative, the guy from last New Year’s at Rumors can’t infect you retroactively.

Some people argue that the more people you sleep with, the more you open yourself up to getting hurt. They seem to think that each time you invite a guy back to your place, you automatically give him the power to leave you with permanent emotional damage.

But if you think back on all the guys who’ve broken your heart, you’re probably going to remember a lot more people that you dated, or befriended, or perhaps even never slept with, and a lot fewer one-night stands.

A one-night stand might leave you feeling awkward or regretting going home with a guy who seemed a lot taller after four G and Ts. And yeah, you might feel shitty for a while if you never hear from him again, but it’s probably more disappointment than heartbreak, and chances are, you’ll completely forget about him in a month.

But your best guy friend who kinda, sorta flirted with you for years, even though he had a girlfriend, and seemed so into you until you confessed your love to him and then pretty much stopped talking to you—that’s going to hurt a l mot more than a guy you knew for less than 24 hours.

When you engage someone emotionally, you open yourself to a lot more vulnerabilities than you do when you engage someone physically.

At the end of the day, it’s all about what you feel comfortable with. And chances are, if you really felt it was so wrong to sleep with 30 guys in your 20s, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Most of us would like to get a DVF dress without paying for it. Most of us would say that would make us feel good. But we don’t shoplift because we know it’s wrong. That’s not to say that you might not regret some of the men on your list (the one who was engaged, the one who was your boss), but you’re probably more OK with your number than you think you are.

And the more you obsess over feeling like a slut, the less you’ll be able to enjoy sex. So worrying about your number will probably make you feel shitty and won’t provide you with any benefits. Not worrying about it: won’t hurt you. So why bother?

On the flip side, some women use the number as a way to measure their self-worth. They collect sexual partners the way some women collect designer handbags: the more Louis(es) you bring home, the better (you think) it’ll make you feel.

This, again, distracts from the main (nonreproductive) purpose of sex: enjoying yourself. If you’re constantly trying to add to your list, you’re probably less likely to enjoy the moment, since the pleasure, for you, comes from adding his name to your mental tally.

The problem with deriving pleasure from collecting things is that you never feel like you have enough. Someone always has more. And so it becomes this desire that can never really be fulfilled, and the pleasure is always negated by the hunger for more.

Sexual pleasure, however, is a lot easier to fulfill. It’s a lot easier to orgasm than it is to hit a number that’ll make you feel as good.

So focus on the present. Don’t waste time trying to judge or quantify your past—it’ll just keep you from experiencing a normal, healthy sex life right now.


  1. Thank you for this post!! I've actually forgotten my number, and I've been feeling guilty that I can't remember it. Like everyone knows their number, and keeps track, so what's wrong with me that it's not so important to me? Lots of those notches are ones I don't care about anymore and don't affect me, but everyone makes such a stink about THE NUMBER that I feel like I have to continue to keep track of them in some sort of list for everyone elses benefit.

    Never again. This will be an "I'll never tell" kind of secret. But the secret is that "I don't really know."

  2. ra

    im forgetting two.