“How many people have you slept with?”
I’m sitting with my friend at a bar, and this topic pops up. It pops up from time to time.
“Like, straight intercourse? Around sixty men and women,” I reply nonchalantly. It’s an approximation. After a certain point I stopped counting because I kept on forgetting one or two of them.
“Yeah, how about you?”
“Twenty seven. Exactly. I have a spreadsheet.”
I look at my friend, and I smile, and I nod. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do with this information, mostly because we’re both single and drinking at this bar. I’m not sure what this information really means. I mean, I guess it means that I’m more sexually experienced than my friend, but it also occurs to me that this static number doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ve had more sex than her. That I’ve had better sex than her. That I know something about sex that she doesn’t. For all I know, she could be the best at sex ever and I’m just someone who’s lazy and sleeps around. We’re both in the same feminist league of wanton promiscuity and sexual affluence, but what does having slept with sixty different people really mean at the end of the day?
“Do guys ever freak out when you tell them how many people you’ve slept with?” she asks.
“No. I mean, I would never tell a guy how many people I’ve slept with. Because I would never let him ask.”
“Really? I feel like no matter how many people I say I’ve slept with, guys always freak out. If I say twenty or fifteen, it’s still a problem.”
Now, I know where she’s coming from with this comment. I think I used to care what people thought about me and what they thought about the number of sexual partners I’ve had. Of course, I’ve come to realize that the reason that people judge others based on their number of sexual partners is because they use it as a false barometer by which to assess someone else’s potential as a loyal, faithful partner who won’t run around behind their back and fuck everything that moves. However, I have come to realize that this basis for assessment is inherently flawed, because one cannot gauge a potential partner’s likelihood to cheat based merely on the number of sexual partners he or she has had. Someone who has had merely three sexual partners is just as capable of cheating as someone who has had thirty, mostly because the desire to cheat within a relationship is a personality trait that cannot be demarcated by a sexual statistic. It’s a behavior that lives in the abstract realm of human psychology, not in the quantifiable realm of the flesh.
I know the real reason why guys freak out when a sexually experienced woman comes around. It’s because they’re intimidated. Really, that’s all, because if a sexually experienced woman is able to articulate what she does and does not like in the bedroom, it is harder for a man to sexually manipulate her. Rather than being the star of the bedroom, a man will be expected to reciprocate all sexual favors. His performance might be judged based on her previous sexual experiences with other men, and for some reason that blow to the ego is too much for a man to handle. This absurd level of sexual insecurity – it’s almost comical, especially when thinking about the cultural fixation on the value of virginity and virgin brides. It is easier for a man to manipulate and control his bride through sexuality if she has no basis of pleasure or orgasm on which to base her experience. By claiming sexual dominion over a woman’s body, a man gains the right to tell her the right way to fuck. How to have sex. What she has to do. He establishes control and power, while the sexually inexperienced woman is expected to kowtow to his sexual agenda.
Of course, most people won’t admit to that mentality openly. Rather, we hear excuses such as, “It’s about STDs” or how someone might be emotionally broken because they have had too many sexual partners. While the concern about STDs is very legitimate, we live in an era when sexual education keeps us informed about various STDs as well as the ways to prevent and treat STDs. Condoms are easily available at convenience stores and many places give them away for free. However, promiscuity does not guarantee that a person has an STD. Someone with few sexual partners can contract an STD just as easily as someone who has had a lot of sexual partners. It’s someone’s inclination to practice safe sex that counts here, not the number of people they have slept with.
As for someone’s emotional and mental health, there is, admittedly, a level of sex addiction that can occur in promiscuous people that may the sign of deeper trouble. Much like drug addiction or alcoholism, there are people who take normal activities, such a drinking and having sex, and use them as an outlet for toxic behavior and emotional issues. Sex addiction is not something to take lightly, but promiscuity does not necessarily denote sex addiction. Promiscuity does not necessarily denote any emotional issues. Different people have multiple sexual partners for different reasons, be it validation, satisfaction, curiosity, or whatever else drives people to find each other. Promiscuity does not automatically imply that a person is less capable of forming an emotional connection with other people, either on a short-term or a long-term basis. If anything, promiscuity means that a person is good at talking to other people, to understanding other people’s sexual motivations and just in general a popular, well liked person. Having sex with people is no small feat, and it takes cunning and skill. However, people always grow and change, and that’s the thing about sexual history: it’s in the past. It’s not right now. And right now is what matters, especially if right now is what you have with another person.
Different people have different beliefs and values, and the number of sexual partners a person has had may be a manifestation of that. A person’s desire to sleep with someone else is that person’s desire to connect with another person and to experience physical pleasure. People who desire that kind of connection and pleasure aren’t necessarily immoral or bad people; there’s nothing wrong with connection and pleasure, no matter how fleeting. On the other hand, people who save that kind of pleasure and connection for a select few aren’t better or more enlightened than the rest of us. They just choose to limit that kind of interaction with other people.
“Oh. I mean, I don’t even feel like I’ve slept with that many people though. So it’s not really an issue. I have friends that have slept with hundreds of women. And it doesn’t really change anything.”
“Yeah, hundreds. Although, those guys are musicians who have toured the world. I’ll never be able to get numbers like that because I’ll probably never leave Oakland.”
I can tell that my friend’s mind is blown. Mostly because she considers herself to be pretty slutty, but when you think about having sex with hundreds of different sexual partners, twenty seven just seems so small.
“Wow. That’s so many people,” she says.
“I mean, I’ve had a lot of one night stands though, so that’s probably why my number is as high as it is. But I don’t feel badly about it. I just…I like sex. So what. I’ve been single for a long time, but that doesn’t mean I’m not having sex.”
“I’ve had a lot of one night stands, too,” my friend replies, still trying to wrap her head around the possibility of sleeping with hundreds of different people. I guess it is a feat to have slept with a lot of different people, mostly because sex takes so much time and so much energy. One has to be very focused on the task of fucking in order to get numbers past the hundreds. Me? I’m too lazy for that shit.
“Well, I don’t know. I used to play this game with my best friends where we would try to see who could sleep with more people in any given month. I think I won one time, and then I lost every other month in the year.”
“Woah, that sounds like fun.”
“I mean, I guess. It was fun when I won. But then it got pretty empty so I stopped competing. I mean, fucking people just to fuck them is cool up to a certain point. It can get pretty old pretty fast.”
I can kind of see the wheels turning in my friend’s head. I can see her doing the math, carrying the one and adding up to the conclusion that she wants to fuck as many people as she possibly can. All I can really do is shrug my shoulders and say, “But you should do whatever you want to do. It’s your body and your sexuality, and no one can control that.” If she doesn’t already know that having copious sexual partners means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things, she’ll figure it out soon enough. Because it’s not about the quantity of sex that you have, it’s about the quality. I know guys who have had twice as many sexual partners as I have, and I still thought they were bad in bed or didn’t give good head. So who really cares?
Although, I can’t say, “Who really cares?” like I mean it because I know who cares: pretty much everybody. People really seem to care about other people’s sexual history, despite the fact that if I’m here right now, isn’t that what really matters? But some people just don’t seem to get that. I’ve heard so many women express anxiety over their sexual history, fearing that they have slept with too many people, but what is too many people? Is there an exact number at which society says, “Look, bitch, you slept with too many people!” ? No. There is no number that qualifies as too many people. That number is purely subjective, so if someone else thinks I’ve slept with too many people, that’s fine. That person is entitled to his or her opinion, and that opinion does not interfere with my sexual freedom or my attitudes towards my body.
The fact of the matter is, sex is just one way of knowing a person. It’s just one way of interacting with someone. Having sex with someone might require a different social skill set than other types of interaction, but because I’ve had sex with multiple people doesn’t imply a rigid truth about who I am as a person. It just means I’ve had sex. That’s it. And I’ve done a lot of other things, too, beyond just having sex. I’ve had different types of relationships, I’ve had different types of jobs. I’ve had different types of sex and different types of partners. I’ve experienced love and pleasure in myriad different ways. I’ve spent my weekends doing so many different things, knowing different people in different ways, and those are the things that shape me as a person. Not a number.
And just as I have friends who have had hundreds of sexual partners, I also have friends who have had ten sexual partners. I have no cause to judge them, either. Because they, too, are in control of their sexualities and their bodies, and they are free to make whatever sexual decisions that they so choose. Just because they have had fewer sexual partners doesn’t necessarily mean that they lack the same depth of sexual knowledge I possess. It doesn’t mean they’re sexually inexperienced. It doesn’t really mean anything other than that they have chosen to express themselves sexually with fewer people than I have, and they probably have their own reasons for doing that.
I’m not really sure why people are so insecure about their sexual histories. I think sex is great. It’s a celebration, really, and I’m not ashamed of the pleasure I have experienced.
So I turn to my friend, and I smile.
“You should just do whatever you want to do,” I say again.
“You know what? I am! I’m going to fuck whoever I want to fuck!” she says with delight. We laugh together and polish off our drinks before heading to the next bar to flirt with dudes and get down on the dance floor.