A common subject and, oftentimes debate, in modern dating is one which comes with a variety of standpoints from the sexually liberated to the shamed to the in between- your "number". Your number in this case is referring to the number of sexual partners you have had in your life and there are plenty of reasons from all sides to embrace, reject, or just really not give two shits about what it is or what it means for you. I have always been on the side of your number being something that only you can define and absolutely nobody should ever judge you for and there are multiple reasons why. But, whether you choose to embrace it or reject it, there are some definite talking points to consider.
You find in our heteronormative society that some will view your number as, realistically, how many penises have entered you. But what about in the case of Bisexual or Lesbian women? I've been told numerous times that sex with a girl shouldn't, in theory, count simply because "being fingered or eaten out by a guy isn't all the way". So are all Lesbians technically on a firm 0 unless they had sex with a man at some point? Are Bisexual women's numbers far lower than they think? Or is it completely ridiculous to consider penetration with a penis the only kind of sex that counts? What about strap-ons? This reason is a key one as to why I believe that the number is bullshit- it's not about how many people you've connected with sexually for most people, it's a way to gage how many times you've been penetrated by a man, which feels like it comes from a pretty shame-y place.
Another part to this point is that for men, I've heard them state that it doesn't count unless they came and, honestly, if that's the case then most women's only real sexual partner will have been themselves or another woman in most cases I've heard (no shade but...). So my question is, if this is a fair number where you decide the boundaries of your sexual conquests, can we just stop counting the people who didn't bring us to climax? Or should we start counting those we've simply been fingered by or dry humped? Dry humping seems minor in terms of sexual activity for some but for others it could be quite the steamy activity.
Probably my least favourite element is what do we do in terms of counting sexual assaults? I would never consider a non-consensual sex act as something that would add to a theoretical number, but some would. Is this fair? Does this further play into the shame and body policing elements of the concept of a number? Is this once again something decided by the individual? But if so many elements can be subjective, is there any point having a number at all? I really don't think so.
What does it prove?
Another issue that I find is that it really tells you nothing about a person's sex life. Some would argue that a person who had slept with 20 people once would have more experience than someone who had slept with the same person for a number of years while, to me, that just seems ridiculous. So we could argue that it doesn't tell you anything about someone's sexual experience.
It also tells you nothing about a person's morals- someone could have had only two sexual partners but they comprised of them having a long standing affair which shows a much different moral standing to someone having more sexual partners but being entirely honest and respectful. Someone could have fewer partners but in each of those instances have been abusive while the person with more sexual partners was a kind and caring lover to each. The issue here with the number is that people are almost supposed to look at the number and be able to in some way judge whether it be that you're frigid or respectable, or loose and no longer dating material which, in itself, is a reason I find it to be problematic.
There is also the issue of this perception being entirely subjective. I know a person who has stated outwardly that they would never be able to love a woman who has had more than 10 sexual partners, but I also know someone who stated that they would consider anything up to 50 as reasonable. So where do you draw the line? When does the number become important and not simply interesting? For me there is really no number of sexual partners that could be bothersome in a partner, it really means absolutely nothing to me, but for others it can be a real dealbreaker. It can also be that some are judged for their number being too low, especially in the case of men, where they fear that a lower number of sexual partners indicates a lack of experience.
Can it empower you?
For some their number can be a point of pride, from the women who unashamedly embrace it as an expression of their sexuality to the men who inflate their number to assert masculinity, but, with something so easily inflated for impact, is there any point holding on to it? Sexual prowess is definitely something noted as an ego booster and, for some, a real source of validation (be that healthy or not) but is the number really the empowering thing? A woman could hold her number as a sign of her successes, she may have stories she has gained to tell, she may have amazing experiences that she can remember fondly, she may have a series of romances that helped her discover emotional depth, but none of these things really require a number beside them to be shared. For many the number of sexual partners they have had doesn't necessarily equate to the number of meaningful sexual experiences they've had- should we not be more concerned with these where empowerment is concerned? And for men it can be the same, we cannot simply assume that all sexual experiences were good just because the perception is that men generally just enjoy all sex.
It dates back forever that people had competitive or personal lists, tally's, little black books, notches on the bedpost, you name it. But, in the case of a lot of people I know, without these lists they likely wouldn't remember every person mentioned. Is there anything empowering about holding onto sexual experiences which were so uninspiring and unmemorable? My question is, is the number actually relevant to the empowerment or is it simply a by-product of this physical manifestation of proving the point that we aren't too ashamed to count? There is nothing wrong with feeling empowered by having a number and being unashamed to tell people, but I do feel that it isn't the only way to be empowered sexually.
Is it acceptable to discuss?
Some don't want to be asked at all as they feel it is personal, some don't mind being asked. Some lie about their number while others are brutally honest. Some would rather never know, some want every detail. This really is a matter of opinion and is completely subjective from individual to individual or couple to couple. My honest to god advice is this- If a number will change your opinion of a person then don't ask, you obviously can't be trusted with the information. If you must ask, then ask, but keep your opinion to yourself because shaming someone makes you a straight up asshole. If you're just curious and it won't change your opinion then ask, but also respect it if they don't want to tell. Also respect if the other person doesn't want to know. If you don't feel comfortable sharing then you never have to and don't let anyone make you feel like you do. And finally, if you don't know, care to know, or intend to keep track of your number then that's also completely cool. It's all made up anyway.
What actually matters?
Some questions I'd actually bother asking a sexual partner because they're more important than their number are as follows:
What are their boundaries?
What do they need from you sexually?
Have they recently been tested for STI's?
What are they willing to share? (Not any STI's, hopefully)
Do they have any negative sexual experiences that may be triggered? How can you avoid this?
What is the situation with contraceptives?
It still amazes me that people are more comfortable asking a sexual partner how many people they have slept with than whether they are clean of STI's or if they could put on a condom. I definitely believe that, regardless of your outlook on the number, what it means, where it holds importance, or when it should be brought up, there are definitely much higher priorities to have on the list of things you should know about someone before you touch their genitals, and that's not even including the basics of getting to know someone. But, whether you know your number and tell, or don't, I think we can all agree that, while an interesting subject, it's definitely not something that holds very much gravity in real life.