What is Sex? Your Number is Nothin' but a Number.
I used to keep a tight mental-list of the number of people that I’d slept with. Awake at night, I’d go over that tab, searching for faces or bodies I’d surely forgotten. It gave me some a strange comfort. Some women pride themselves on their vast shoe collections. I took delight in my veritable rainbow of sexual partners.
My favorite was to imagine someone had locked them all in a room, forcing them all to interact. Who would get along? Who would already know each other? Would they guess what they had in common? While my list was a source of pride, I was still meticulous about that number, paranoid about it’s weight.
“As long as your number is lower than your age, you are fine” my college roommate said. At the time I nodded with relief, I was okay. But what if there were nothing to worry about, what if we didn’t count? What if any consensual sexual decisions were seen as valid, not taboo and up for questioning? What would sex look like?
The number issue is largely a female one. That eye-roll inducing double-standard still exists, a woman with a lot of partners is a slut worthy of shame while being a a male-slut is not such a bad look.
According to studies by Anne Campbell from Durham University, this stereotype is not perpetuated by men, but by other women. Women are more likely to spread stories of STD’s and getting around in hushed tones. They are also likely to alienate “those” women in order to “protect their own reputations.” This slut-shaming can be seen as a way women compete in the reproductive arena. I think this knowledge should push us to check ourselves more, be mindful of what we are thinking and saying–and where it comes from.
As I counted cocks in order to lull myself to sleep, it inevitably got fuzzy. Did that one time in the cab count? Was there actual peen in vag penetration? This seem to stem from protecting the precious hymen, that invisible piece of skin elevated to such importance. That was what mattered right? The issue of “getting in.”
While number steadily grew, I came out as bi. This didn’t immediately make me question that whole penis/vagina thing because surely there was some black and white definition for girl-sex, cloaked in lesbian secrecy.
I found there was no code, at least that I was let in on. The method I started using was that if it felt like sex then it was sex. Kind of like trying to define porn, you just know it when you see it.
But it was when I started having “lesbian sex” with my husband, that my sex-consciousness expanded. I realized that what counted as sex was incredibly vast. Also, my number was a lot higher than I thought. And it didn’t even matter.
It is about a broader definition, which should be discussed between partners. In studies conducted for the book “Why Women Have Sex” it was found that women often agree to sex with their partners that they don’t want. Or what I call gray-rape. One of the popular reasons cited for why they didn’t want sex was that they were uncomfortable with the act.
I’ve been there. But knowing that sex can be so many different things, and that it is about what I am comfortable with has challenged just saying yes to get it over with. If more women defined sex in their relationships, maybe this wouldn’t happen as much. Maybe women could take more of an active role in sex, and find what “good sex” is for them. Further, teaching this in sex-ed classes could also lead to this freedom earlier, as well as smarter decisions.
In any relationship there is that dreaded question: “how many before me?” If a partner asks you “how many?” Why not ask “what do you think sex is? “To me, sex can be any physical, sexual intimacy. I do like the idea of defining sex for yourself but I don’t think we can be fully free to define sex as long as that ticking number holds such guilt.
What do you think? Are numbers important? What is sex to you?