How Many People Have You Slept With?

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. TC mark

image – Steve Johnson

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Mila Jaroniec lives and writes in New York. You can read her super short fiction on various places on the internet ... Follow Mila on or read more articles from Mila on Thought Catalog.
  • http://summerslowrunner.wordpress.com/ Summer

    Amen to this! I honestly hate the “number” conversation and prefer not to have it at all with a new partner. It doesn’t matter in the least and there’s nothing that can be done to change it, so why even bother? 

    • Anonymous

      A-fucking-men!!

  • mkgriegs

    thank you for this! I agree with so many of your comments! its refreshing to hear someone put actually say that sex doesn’t have to mean something 100% of the time, as it is fun!

  • Anonymous

    I love you for writing this. LOVE. (Though, from reading past articles of yours, I thought it was going to be about some ignorant jerk thinking lesbian sex “doesn’t count” which also would have been worth ranting about.) But yes! This was great!

    • Mila Jaroniec

       Aww thanks beb! I thought about doing one like that too, but nah…ignorant jerks aren’t worth writing about :)

  • Guest

    Hear hear! My friend recently said, “cover the Cs!” If you are:
    1. Communicative
    2. Consensual 
    3. Conscious/cautious about potential risks 
    …then go for it! Life is short and sex is fun! 

  • http://www.facebook.com/grc15r Gregory Costa

    Speaking of sex, let’s now transition to deep-water drilling. 

    Two years after the blowout of the BP oil well (yes, two years), the US has failed to act on any lessons learned from that negative experience.  The US has not enacted any legislation designed to improve safety and protect the environment–meanwhile, high oil prices of motivated the expansion of drilling into deeper waters of multiple partners: the Gulf, and off Brazil, Africa, and Europe. 

    Everyone should be outraged. 

    • Gmo Saza

      Wut?

  • Asdf

    Counting myself? One too many.

  • SP

    Let me second the hear hear!

    This is probably one of the best articles I’ve read on here in a while. 

    My boyfriend and I never discussed “the number” before because it’s completely irrelevant to both of us and I’m glad we both don’t care about it. Out previous sexual history isn’t important – our relationship and connection to each other is. Those type of issues can hinder relationships because you end up focusing about other people instead of the person in front of you.

  • Blahblah

    Not really a fan of sex being a purely physical experience >.<

  • Tnpb7d

    If it’s true that you don’t attach any judgement to the number, I’d say its a safe bet you’re one of a kind. Everyone makes conclusions about a person upon hearing the number. Whether it be that they are innocent and inexperienced or that they are someone who should wear an Open sign. I don’t think you would ask if you didn’t care on some level (unless you are looking for reason to boast your own number). But the number is not important to a relationship. It is the past and in the past for a reason. With a partner, I’ll discuss when my first time was, or funny instances along the way, or times when I’ve been shattered by a previous partner, but a count is not necessary, important, or fruitful to the relationship. So why even bring it up?

    • Anonymous

       What if someone has only slept with one person but they’ve done anal and S&M and sex swings and generally experimented with all kinds of stuff, etc etc — is that person still “innocent?”

      • Tnpb7d

         That depends on the person making conclusions based on a person’s number. It’s a completely subjective assessment of a person most likely influenced by how far the number is from their own. My point was that people will make a range of conclusions based on your number and you have no control over their response nor can their response be stopped. To say that another person’s number does not influence your opinion of them sounds like a stretch to me.

  • Guest

    I’ve never read or heard anything like this before. What a unique perspective.

  • Svenry

    I hope this isn’t another person who compares sex to doing laundry (in terms of significance).

    • Guest

      You mean you hope this isn’t another person who has different beliefs than you do about what the personal experience of sex means to them, and expresses these beliefs, while also requesting to not be judged based on other people’s beliefs about sex?

    • http://www.facebook.com/limitedrapture Jen Anderson

      God forbid someone doesn’t have the same beliefs as you, right?

      You, sir, are the reason this was written.

      Sincerely,
      #10

  • Dottedlinedolores

    Preach.

  • Alex

    I’m going to disagree with this article a little bit…the “number” conversation IS important, and is of consequence to a lot of people. It’s an indicator of promiscuity. The higher the number, the more one can assume that the physicality aspect of sex is more important to who you’re sleeping with. The higher the number, it’s likely the person you’re sleeping with will have several partners AFTER you. The higher the number the more chances there are to be reckless, and you have to worry more about diseases and tests and whatnot. I’m not saying that any of these things are deal breakers, but it’s definitely something of importance when you’re getting into a relationship, because you can find out a lot about someone’s attitude to sex from that number alone.

    • http://marcheline.myopenid.com/ Marcheline

      Wronggggggggggggggg 
      This is what people say when they’ve only had one partner

      • Xmissingnox

        And this is what people say when theyve had none

      • Me

        false.

      • Someone

        Agreed. You can’t really deny it, even the author said the number indicates how sex is sometimes used for fun and of course includes meaningful relationships, but a large number to me suggest not that many meaningful relationships. 
        Simple deduction, and yes doesn’t mean a dealbreaker but may be offputting to some

      • Guestropod

        Why should it suggest that?  I mean, of my number, I would say five were meaningful relationships.  Some percentage of everyone’s number probably counts towards ‘meaningful relationships.’  They’re just getting laid a lot in the interim.  

      • Guestropod

        and of course, some people are in open relationships or they swing or w/e… so they build their number while in a ~serious, meaningful~ relationship 

      • Blue You

        But how can someone ever be in a meaningful relationship if others won’t give them a have because they’ve not been in one/many before?

      • Blue You

        *chance not have. Damn phone.

    • SP

      So someone who is young and makes mistakes in their teen years and sleeps with lets say – 6 people…they should be judged eternally for that?  How does that effect their current relationship if they were smart about their sexual experiences? There’s a huge difference between being reckless sexually and your number being important. Also you say that sex is important – important how? It holds different meaning for everyone. If you want to be with someone who holds sex as this high and holy thing – then you can find that out without knowing the number.

    • http://www.facebook.com/limitedrapture Jen Anderson

      You sort of missed the point of this article, I think. Obviously the things that you are talking about with relation to the number are important; the author wouldn’t be having the “what’s your number?” conversation with partners if these things were not important, just like she specifically mentioned that you’re stupid if you don’t discuss sexual health with potential partners.

      The point is rather that your number is not who you are as a person, it does not define you. And gasping at someone’s number of sexual partners is unfairly judgmental. It’s along the same lines as making a judgment about whether or not someone is a slut because they’ve slept with more people than you.

  • Megsweetie

     I really enjoyed this article/perspective and highly respect it. After all WE are not our #, in the same way we are not our past, our judgements, perceptions, delusions, illusions, etc. We just are. And, we have the power to make any decision we want in this moment, right now, including sex! :).

  • http://twitter.com/natalieboey natalie boey cuihua

    So, what is your number ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/summer.gillen Summer Gillen

    It is a similar situation when people hear someone is a virgin. There is a negative connotation connected to the word and rarely do people care to find the “real” reason behind it. Sex is, as you say, just sex until one or both partners decide it is going to be more than that. Some people like having sex to just have sex, some people don’t like having sex and some people like having sex to solidify their connection on a physical level to someone. This is abstractly connected to the whole “my body, my choice” movement that is strictly focused on women right now. If you want to have sex with multiple people because you are in your prime and like the way it makes you feel, that is your choice. Safety is of utmost importance, as the author stressed, and we shouldn’t judge if someone has a high number nor should we be as shocked as we usually are if there number is zero. Sex is, like everything, different for everyone. 

    • Kd

      After a certain age, yes, being a virgin matters. For me, I’d run because I like long term, serious relationships. If, at the age of 26, someone says theyre a virgin, I assume theyre going to want more experiences than just me… That necessarily means they arent a likely candidate for the long term kind of relationships I want. They’d eventually need to let go and test the waters, most likely.

      • http://www.facebook.com/summer.gillen Summer Gillen

        Very true. There are, I am sure, some hold outs that still wait for marriage and are mindful of the “number” for many different, personal reasons. That is not the average anymore, yes, but sexual compatibility is quite important to many.  Sometimes people can be experienced in relationships and matters of the heart without having much, if any, sexual experience. An old roommate of mine was sexually assaulted when she was still a virgin and she never really found it in herself to sleep with her boyfriends.  She still had boyfriends (they weren’t always thrilled with her “number”) and was very fun to be around. When she eventually found somebody who didn’t blink an eye when she said she was a virgin (she still considered herself one after the attack, rightfully in my opinion), she slept with him.The relationship didn’t last for various reasons, but she would probably still be a virgin if she hadn’t found someone so open to her being one. I know more than one virgin who fudges that fact when they meet men because they know it is a turn off. Even if they aren’t looking for sex right then and there, many 20-something guys see virginity as a negative trait, thus 20-something girls also see it as a bad thing. Virginity and promiscuity are personal choices. Sex is becoming more and more of a topic that people are comfortable discussing. I think slut-shaming and virginity-shaming are equally as deplorable. It is a personal choice to choose not to sleep with virgins as it is their personal choice to be one. Promiscuity does not equal “slut” or “man-whore” and virginity does not equal “boring” or “ugly.” I think this time in our generation is a great one where people can discuss things like this more and more openly. 

      • KD

         Absolutely!

  • Dixie

    If it doesnt matter at all…. Why did you ask? I dont think that’s a typical get-to-know-you question. I do not know the exact number of most of my closest friends. In fact my boyfriend of three years and I just gave eachother a ball park number. (more than 5, 10, 20?) and that was enough for us. But dont pretend not to care when youre the one who brought it up hahaha

    • Anonymous

      I agree. I find it really weird when people ask. To me it’s kinda like asking “how many times did you shit last week?” I’d be much more interested in “how many times were you in love?” Or “on a scale of fantastic to awesome, how much did you enjoy Jurassic Park as a child?”

      • http://wolfwhistle.org/ Amy

         I watched Jurassic Park last year for the first time at age 26. It was AWESOME.

  • Aly2019096

    This article harbors so much truth. People, of both (or all) sexes are looked down upon for having an open sexuality. People are intimidated by my number, and often assume I had a bad upbringing or some tragedy that made me this sexual being. Nope. I had a loving, normal, wacky family. I just learned shit on my own, and I learned that sex – when safe, and consensual – is a fantastic experience both with and without emotional ties. 
    I agree wholeheartedly, and this is a great article that pertains to a lot of todays society. Live and let live is my motto, until someones judgments/ideals are forced onto me and make me feel uncomfortable. 

  • gerry

    three

  • Concerned

    I really appreciated this article. I’m a girl and I’ve been with 13 men (sadly only one was an actual relationship) and I always feel that when people find that out about me they start to treat me differently. I’ve been trying to tell people for a long time, sex in and of itself is just an act. I will strongly agree it’s a lot better with you care about someone, but why should you not be able to enjoy sex when you aren’t with someone in a relationship? I will admit I’ve decided to stop sleeping with anyone until I’m in a relationship again, but that’s my personal choice and I think everyone should be able to make whatever choice is right for them (as long as they’re smart about it, there’s no call for STD’s or unwanted pregnancies) and not be judged for it.  

    • guest

      why sadly? no need to be sad :)

  • Brandon

    There is some truth in this article. But it is not exactly easy to disconnect the physical from the emotional, especially the less experienced you are. It took me a few years of being sexually active to be able to successfully do that, and I think that length of time is not sufficient for most of the people I have met. But I agree with the author, it is great when sex can simply be a casual, fantastic, entirely physical experience. Feelings are messy. But for that very reason it can easily escalate into something that can generate emotional gratification, and that is when sex can destroy any level of relationship between two individuals. If there is not equal emotion (or lack thereof) in a sexual relationship, someone is going to significantly hurt. It is that simple. 

  • Spykenij

    I don’t know…I just think it’s sad sometimes that people haven’t always had that deep, emotionally meaningful experience with every sexual encounter.  I wish everyone were treated the way I’d treat them and I’d never just sleep with someone.  I guess I just think girls deserve more than that…to be treated like platinum.  I just need to know someone has serious feelings for me and I have serious feelings for them before getting freaky.  I had my chances, but I just couldn’t do it and I guess that is me.  I even thought I’d get in some practice this winter in anticipation for a visit with someone I wish I had just let myself relax with, but I couldn’t do it.  I talked about it in therapy and the best advice given was just to be myself.  I’m trying to go with the flow more, I’m trying to see the world more openly and understand that for some people sex is just a standard interaction, like shaking hands or playing basketball…  All I can do is be me and see what happens when I come to those bridges in the future.

    • Guestropod


      I guess I just think girls deserve more than that…to be treated like platinum.”

      ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww

  • http://www.sweethealthnut.com/ Marlee

    I really liked this article, but there was one sentence that I’m having a bit of trouble with (not that it’s wrong, but it’s making me ponder). “Like any other subjective act, sex doesn’t mean anything in and of itself; it only has the meaning you give it.” This made me think, if this is true, does anything have any inherent meaning? You said “like any other subjective act” and I start thinking, well, what’s objective and what’s subjective? My thought process is pretty wacky in general so once I started thinking about this in depth, I kind of got lost in these philosophical thoughts. Sex does come with built-in questions, such as, let’s not get pregnant here, or let’s not get any STIs. Though these questions are not built-in “meaning” in the emotional sense, it is still something that goes along with it (whether or not these are consideration taken before having sex). So I’m kind of thinking that everything means something. But that’s just me. I know this is totally a tangent, but I thought maybe you or some of the readers might share some thoughts on this as I have. But please don’t take this as a criticism! I really enjoyed the article and I particularly love it when I read something that makes me think about it in depth.

  • sstg

    LOVE! I lost my virginity at age 20 to my first boyfriend. He’s had between 10-20 partners. But to me  it’s completely irrelevant, just as my virginity was. I wasn’t ready or comfortable enough with anyone before him and it felt so different with him that I knew I was ready. I “gave it up” less than two weeks after we started going out but I knew before we were even official that I would have sex with him. Sometimes my friends say things like “you didn’t wait very long…” in a condescending way and I’ll start to regret it but then I remember that it was MY decision and I knew completely that I wanted it. And even though he’s had way more partners before me, we’re still in love and sex is as special as it would be if we were both virgins or if we both had 50 partners! Just as other people have said, it means whatever you want. Before me, sex was purely physical and fun for my boyfriend and that was that. Even if it wasn’t it doesn’t matter what he had with OTHER people. He was safe and I asked if he had been tested recently before we started having sex. He is no less committed to me because of his number of partners just as I am no more committed to him because of mine. Sex is what you make it, not what other people say it is for you.

  • Fgdgh

    I haven’t had any kind of intimite relation in my life and I don’t plan to :D I’ve always taken it for granted to be a sexual virgin forever because I’m an asexual person.

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