“I lied at my gyno appointment,” says a poster in the Scary Mommy Confessional. “I said I’ve only slept with DH.”
This “confession” is notable for several reasons. Aside from setting a rather dangerous precedent of lying to your healthcare provider, it sheds light on something many women feel — shame about the number of sexual partners they’ve had.
This shame tends to increase as the number of partners does, because everyone knows — and I’m being sarcastic here, girls — that women who’ve slept with a certain number of people are sluts. And there’s nothing worse that you can be, apparently.
My number is high, my friends. I might have stayed a virgin until I was 18, but I had a really good time in college, and before long, my number hit 25. I don’t like it, or want to tell my mom this, but I also don’t feel shame about it either.
According to Slate’s sex history calculator, which uses aggregate data from 2006-2013 mined from the General Social Survey, I’ve slept with more people that 95% of my peers. Frankly, I don’t have many feelings about that. I’ve always known I was promiscuous before I met my husband; I was pretty much a hedonist and didn’t have much of a problem with it.
I’d give you the norms the article cites for Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers, but it doesn’t matter, because the norms don’t matter. When you get down to it, what does your sex number say about you?
Well, it says you had this much sex. What it means to you is a whole other question. To the lady who lies to her gyno, her sex number is a source of shame. To me, my sex number is just something to shrug about. That’s not because I’m some uncaring slut; it’s because I realize I was seeking pleasure and found it, enjoyed it.
I wasn’t, except with my serious boyfriends, seeking a serious emotional connection with my partners, an emotional connection without which my life didn’t have meaning. Do I regret having sex with a few people? Yep. But only because a few specific partners turned out to be assholes, and not because of the sex itself. And the thing is: I also regret not sleeping with a few people, like that super-cute British exchange student who was a musician.
Through all that sex, I learned what I liked and didn’t like. I had good sex and bad sex and mediocre sex. I learned about myself and my body and had a lot of fun.
Your attitude towards your number? It probably depends a lot on your attitude towards the people and situations in which you had sex. If you desperately hate your ex because your relationship went up in flames, you probably don’t feel too good remembering them as part of your sexual history. If you had a lot of sex because you were on the rebound from said bad relationship, well, you’re likely uncomfortable with those numbers too, because you don’t feel particularly great about the rebound situation. And if you had a lot of sex because you were lonely and you felt like having sex would give you the connection you desperately craved — well, then you probably feel really shitty about your number. Because you don’t remember that sex fondly or neutrally. You remember it as something that wasn’t a good part of your life. You may wish it had never happened.
And if you grew up in a culture that valued virginity and purity and stomped that into your brain, and you were never able to shake those early associations that sex equals bad, well, then having any number at all would probably lead to your lying to your gyno.
So what do you do with it, good or bad?
Your number is part of your history. And as much as we like to think that we could somehow go back and change the past, there’s this pesky thing called the space/time continuum. So you have to learn to live with your number, somehow. The best way to do that is to look in the mirror. Realize that your number is part and parcel of what made you. It helped build you and shape you. Even the hurt molded you into the person you are today.
So while you might not have made the greatest choices, the choices stand in you — and you, my friend, are pretty awesome. Look how far you’ve come, what you’ve accomplished, what you’ve done. Tuck any regrets away under the umbrella of experience — experiences you don’t want to have again, but life experiences that changed you in a way nothing else could have.
All of this, of course, assumes the sex was consensual. If it wasn’t, that’s a different issue. Please talk to these people to start your healing: National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline.
In the end, you are not your number. You are who you are: a living, breathing, loving person; someone with unique talents, with a funny laugh or a kind heart or a gentle spirit. Someone who loves Pinterest or hates it, someone whose friends come to her for advice and comfort. Someone who cleans her friends’ kitchens when they aren’t looking. This is you. Not an arbitrary number you racked up. You are so much more than that some stupid stark digits on a page. Remember that.