I was having a conversation with a friend who was interested in having sex with a guy who was interested in having sex with her. So what is the problem right? Two mature adults both attracted to each other…she was hesitant to have sex with him because she was “concerned about her number”! I was taken aback for a minute, while trying to figure out exactly what she meant by number. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks, the number of sexual partners she has had. Again it took me a while to process why this had any bearing on having sex with a man she was interested in. My friend assured me that “your number” was something that women talk about and are concerned about. And that was the inspiration for this article.
First off, how many partners are too many partners? Is it 10 or is it 50 or is it 100? If your number is too high or too low who is to judge? Your number is subjective and can depend on a number of different variables like your age, your sexual appetite, your access to sexual partners, your sexual health, your sexual education, your sexual self esteem, you get the picture. The “appropriate” number is also based on who you are having the conversation with – if it is a group of sex positive, sexually empowered women who have agency over their bodies and sexual decisions then your number may be low. In contrast, if you are talking to a highly religious group of friends your number may be astronomically high and they may start praying for you.
Let’s talk a moment about why your number is important. If you number is too low you could be labelled a prude or frigid, too high and you could be labelled easy or a slut. When you engage in this conversation you are in a lose-lose situation. Sex is an important part of our lives but is shouldn’t define us. If your number is too high does that make you a bad friend, sister, wife, employee, boss, team mate, volunteer? I hope your answer is no! If you are talking with your friends and you find their number high or low you may want to ask why that is, we all have a different sexual make up and journey. Finding out why may stave off labels that you may give or receive.
There is also the misconception that if your number is too high that you are somehow dirty or have an STI (sexually transmitted disease). Research has shown, that if your number is two and you have had unprotected sex with those two partners your risk of contracting an STI is higher than if you practiced safer sex with 20 partners. So the question to ask is “how” have you been having sex with your partners if you are concerned about STI’s not the number itself.
Now what do you do when you are talking to new partners about your number of past sexual partners? When this conversation comes up and you are asked, I recommend asking, “Can you tell me why you are asking this question and why is it important to you?”. Once you have their answer I often recommend saying something along the lines of, “numbers are not important to me and I don’t really keep track of them. What I can tell you is that the sex that I have had has all been consensual and I practice safer sex and get tested regularly (if you do)” or “I am scheduled to get my next STI check next week (and go before having sex if there has been any incident that you are concerned with)”. That is all they really need to know that you were an active participant and that you do not pose a health risk to them.
It is important to remember you are not a used car, with the number of miles and owners your value does not go down. The number of partners you have had adds to your sexual experience and richness and makes you more proficient at exploring and experiencing your pleasure and your partners.
At the end of the day your number is no one’s business and let’s face it, everyone lies. So I encourage you to inject a little honesty into your communication around sex by following the above guidelines.
Remember when it comes to sex, there is no right way, there is no wrong way. There is just your way and it’s ok.
Dr. Stephen de Wit is a Toronto sexologist and sexual communications coach. Stephen is on a one man mission to ensure that everyone lives the sexually empowered existence they want. He has completed his Doctorate of Human Sexuality and focuses his energy on keynotes, workshops, seminars, writing and media appearances always with a fun, interactive, high impact approach. For more information visit www.drdewit.com.