Trust Me, The Number of Partners You’ve Had Really Doesn’t Matter

A Sex Ed(itorial) Column

Graphic Jennifer Aedy

I can remember the very awkward experience of meeting someone, spending a lot of time with them, getting closer, maybe even going on a date, and at one point or another, that awful question will pop up.

“So, how many people have you slept with?”

This dreaded question that most of us have faced at one point or another can be the difference between a good day and a bad one. With so much weight being placed on this “number,” some of us might be inclined to avoid the question entirely. But why is this question such a big deal? Why does it matter?

Women, who exceed what some consider the appropriate number of previous partners, may face harsh judgment, name-calling, and other blows to self-esteem that are virtually never warranted. There is an overwhelming amount of stereotypes surrounding women who sleep with what one considers “too many” men.

And the worst part? Men don’t generally face any repercussions whatsoever for the number of women they’ve slept with. They receive pats on the back from their fathers, where those same fathers would shame their daughters for that same exact thing.

As women, we face an immense amount of pressure on a number of different levels when it comes to sex, from the very beginnings of adolescence. I can remember feeling overwhelmingly excited to start engaging in sex, to start doing it as soon as I could. I remember being with the same person for about a year and thinking, “Huh, I should probably sleep with someone else. I’ve only had one partner after all.” in a society so focused on sex, one sexual partner just didn’t seem like enough.

Next thing I knew, a couple years later, I hated the number of people I’d slept with. It felt as if I would be judged if I shared. I worried if my number might be bigger than theirs. I worried about my number compared to my friends, or to other women. Every time someone asked me and I chose to respond honestly, I feared I would face stigma, possibly even chase people away.

It was as though the number of people I had slept with had a direct impact on my worth as a whole, and my self-worth in particular. It reached a point where it felt like I really had to avoid increasing that number, like I had to be extra careful about who I chose to sleep with, because if it wasn’t worth my time, I’d have added to my number for nothing.

The psychological effects of this “number” became almost obsessive for me, forcing me to carefully calculate all of my decisions when I was really supposed to be having fun practicing safe sex. And all of this based on what?

A number? An utterly meaningless number?

I have friends who have slept with three people, and friends who have slept with 50. Some people feel like they haven’t explored enough, like they haven’t slept with enough people and they fear they will seem inadequate to their future partners. There are some who feel that they have slept with so many people that they lie about the number because they’ve been called things like “whore,” “slut,” and much, much worse. A friend of mine has even been outright rejected because of this “number.”

The issue lies in the fact that this double standard can have detrimental, possibly even long-term psychological effects on women. As if there isn’t enough out there to stomp on a teenage girl’s flowering self-esteem, having to worry about the number of people you’ve slept with and how this will reflect on you for the rest of your life as a number that you can’t change and that you can not take back, is simply too much to bear.

A woman’s sexual practices and decisions are not reflected by how many people she has practiced with. Whether it be five, 10, or 50, as long as you are practicing safe, consensual sex, there’s really no reason to worry about how many people they’ve slept with. It took me a long time to learn that.

Demanding these kinds of answers from women does nothing but feed the stigma that already exists. Instead, we shouldn’t worry about our numbers, or anyone else’s, at all. When it comes to sexual promiscuity, the rule of thumb should be, “To each their own,” because in reality, everyone has the right to explore their sexual identity, and that shouldn’t be stifled by something as irrelevant as numbers.