Is My Number Too High?
Back in freshman year, I entered the school health clinic for my first STI testing. The secretary told me to fill out a white form with my basic health information, and some questions about my sex life. I followed her instructions, but when I came to the first question I froze:
How many sex partners have you had in the past year?
I’d never been asked that before. I started to count, but realized I wasn’t even sure of the number. After making a quick list, I wrote “10” into the form, and stared at it. I was so ashamed, as I had read in a survey by Superdrug that the average number of sexual partners a person has in their lifetime is 7.
Jill Henderson*, a senior acting major, said she doesn’t tell anyone her number. “I’m afraid of people judging me just because girls definitely have more pressure on them to have like a lower number of sexual partners,” she said. According to the survey the average number that people find too promiscuous is 15. Henderson’s body count is at 18.
“How do you even know that many people?” was the response I got from my friends back home, when I confessed my number to them. They made me wonder if my number was too high. Did it make me a slut? Who would take me seriously, or even love me, with such a high number? I used to constantly think about it, and would even make people guess it because I wanted to see my number as a source of pride. Instead, I was bothered that everyone had a lower number than me.
Henderson felt the same way last year, “I felt weirdly soiled, like I was dirty in some way,” she said. “Like guys would be less likely to be my boyfriend if they knew how many men I’ve slept with.”
Henderson and I have both struggled with our high numbers, but the men around us often seemed to have concerns about the opposite.
Evan Chan*, junior Visual Media Arts major, recalled back in his freshman year how embarrassed he felt that his number was zero. “I felt pressure to have sex with someone because I’m in college and everyone else is having sex,” he said. Chan ultimately decided he shouldn’t rush to lose his virginity, and he’s happy with his decision. Now he’s content with a body count of one, and is in no rush to increase it.
Chad McPeterson*, a junior Visual Media Arts major, is another male student who was embarrassed about his lower number.
McPeterson said it largely had to do with his older friends who hooked up with people more frequently. “I was like ‘Ah so that’s what I should be doing, I should be fucking a bunch of people,’” he said, “I was embarrassed [that] I was behind them somehow, like it was a competition or a race to have the most,”
McPeterson said he’s now perfectly happy with his body count of 10.
Although Chan and McPeterson had valid concerns about their number, it’s frustrating that there’s a double standard when it comes to sex and gender. Women are constantly pressured to be chaste and ashamed of their sexual involvement.
“I find it incredibly unfair because you know we rarely call men sluts, but as soon as a woman sleeps with more than one person, or you know two people that a girl has slept with, suddenly they’re a slut,” Henderson said.
No one cares if a man says his number is 40, but when I did I remember being asked if my pussy was still tight.
With the pressure of all this number talk, I find myself asking if we should even care about them. In a health context it’s important to keep track of your partners just in case you contract an STD, and that’s why I started counting. But what does it matter socially?
Last year I told myself that I would cap it at 50. But I eventually realized it didn’t make sense to just ban myself from having sex. I’m only twenty years old. This is the age where I’m supposed to get to know myself, explore my sexuality, meet new people, and maybe fall in love. I didn’t want to let a number stop me from these experiences. So I tried to be more forgiving and less critical of myself. I learned not to care so much over a stupid number, because the only opinion of my number that matters is my own. And, I’m perfectly happy with 55.
*Names have been changed to keep interviewees’ confidentiality.