I was talking to this girl a little bit ago, and we were early in the getting-to-know-each-other stage when the inevitable “So what’s your number?” question rolled around. To be fair, I asked first, mainly because a) I was just curious, the same way I was curious about where she went to school, and b) I wanted to make sure she wasn’t a virgin (being someone’s first time is a LOT of pressure, for me at least). But I really didn’t care what the answer was. She told me. And then she asked. And then I told her. And then this happened:
Her: [OMGWTF, basically]
Me: “I’m sensing some judgment…”
Her: “Well yeah! What would you think of someone your age who’s had that many partners?”
Whoa. Well, first of all I’d think “Hey, me too!” And second, nothing. Your number of sexual partners is about as important to me as that random fact on a Snapple lid: interesting to know, but ultimately of no consequence. It’s basically as meaningful as whether or not you’ve been to Canada. It’s just not something I’ve ever worried about.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating gallivanting around having boatloads of unprotected sex, or failing to discuss sexual health with a potential partner. Of course it’s stupid to throw caution to the wind and do it wherever with whomever, shielded only by “I’m sure I’ll be fine” mentality. If you’re going to be having all kinds of sex, you damn well better take the necessary precautions. But if you’re doing that, and you’re making sure you’re being safe and honest, then what’s the big deal? I just don’t see it.
Cue misplaced moral outrage. In our culture, sex outside of a monogamous relationship is typically frowned upon. We think it’s wrong, make all kinds of assumptions about the people engaging in it and like to think there’s something inherently damaged or incomplete about them. We tend to hate the idea of sex being a fun activity, of it being a purely physical experience. In other words, we want it to “mean something.” Which it can! Sex can absolutely be special and meaningful, but it doesn’t always have to be. Like any other subjective act, sex doesn’t mean anything in and of itself; it only has the meaning you give it. That’s why there are so many different types of sex. Depending on who you’re doing it with, it can be an emotional bonding experience, or it can just be fun. Or even both. But the act of sex doesn’t inherently mean anything. And you can’t place objective guidelines on a subjective experience.
Cue insecurity, another reason we sometimes get weird about a potential partner’s number. We think we won’t be good enough, that they’ve had better, they’re going to be thinking about someone else when they’re in bed with us, and so on ad infinitum. Their past serves as a marker for what we have to live up to and that makes us nervous because the last thing we want to be is “just a number.” But this just doesn’t make sense. If we barely know each other and have sex on the first date, and then it doesn’t really go anywhere, of course you’re just a number; we don’t know anything about each other and aren’t emotionally invested. But if we do get to know each other, if we do feel a genuine connection and both want a relationship, there’s no way you’ll be just a number to me. You’ll be my girlfriend, my instant happiness, the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. And at that point the number of people I’ve been with won’t matter, shouldn’t matter, because you won’t be # Whatever, you’ll be my one and only. But you can’t be worried about my number before we’ve even gotten the chance to sit down and grab a coffee. Get over that Special Snowflake Syndrome.
Sex is awesome. It’s not really science. You don’t need a PhD to figure out that orgasms make you feel like multiple layers of yum. Going along with that, you also don’t need a PhD to know that you shouldn’t be haphazard about sex, you absolutely do need to be careful and also ethical (as in, if you’re in a monogamous relationship, don’t be a cheating bastard; if you’re poly, make sure to communicate, and so on). If you’re someone who wants to have sex for no reason other than wanting to and you have all your bases covered, go for it! Have all the sex. It’s your choice. And if you’re someone who needs to be saturated with emotion before you bang someone, that’s cool too, that’s who you are. But it’s not a universal rule, and there’s no need to prematurely judge someone on the basis of a number. After all, that’s all it is really. Just a number.