Sexpert David ponders the infamous question, “How many is too many?”.
I recently received a call from one of my best guy friends, Eric. He was excited to inform me that after a six month dry spell, he had finally gone on a first date with a girl who was smart, sexy, and serious. A true triple “S.” I was overwhelmed with happiness for my friend’s good fortune, because Eric is the sweet, sensitive type—you know the guy you should respect and bring home to mom. But being the sweet type, he frequently has his heart stomped on by women looking for that infamous archetype, “The Bad Boy.”
I’ve digressed slightly from the topic at hand, but I think background information is important to this story. After Eric finished telling me about their Hollywood-worthy first date, he confessed that there was one small snag with this new woman. He prefaced the issue by asking me the age-old question, “How many is too many?” Meaning, dear reader, what is the magical number of past sexual partners where a person stops becoming acceptable to date because he or she is a “slut”?
The question threw me, and I gave a solidly immature answer, “Well generally, after you’re able to count past your fingers and your toes, then you know you’re a slut.” Eric was pleased, it seems his new boo had only slept with eleven other gentlemen, which he initially thought was a high number.
After I finished convincing Eric that this girl was worthy of his time and affection, I hung up the phone and honed in on my boyfriend, who was sitting across from me at dinner. We started to talk about numbers, a conversation that had truly never come up in our relationship. That’s when I started to ponder whether or not my own number was “too high.” Sure, I’m sexually liberal and have been around the block with quite a few guys, but despite the fact that I have surpassed the number quantified by the cliché rule I shared with Eric, I still do not consider myself promiscuous.
But something about my conversation with my friend and boyfriend struck a nerve—I couldn’t stop thinking about numbers. After all, we quantify everything in this society—our weight, credit, waistline, GPA, etc. Do numbers really matter in regards to sexual partners? And if they do, to whom do they matter?
I read a coming-of-age story once where a female character on the cusp of losing her virginity envisioned herself in bed with not only her lover, but also his past sexual conquests. I couldn’t stop thinking about this, and as my boyfriend and I started to have sex that night I envisioned all of our past partners standing around my bed watching us. It was startling. Some of them have blurred faces, casualties of nights spent at a club drinking too much. Others are lacking last names. And the greater majority of them were what a Sexpert might jokingly refer to as, “One hit wonders.”
Suddenly I was immersed in shame, slut shame as the kids call it these days. How could I possibly keep having sex? Haven’t I maxed out my quota of passionate lovers? These were the questions circulating through my head, and they were preventing me from going through with my traditional, nightly lovemaking.
I started asking friends about their ideas on numbers—hoping to find relief to the embarrassment I was feeling. I found the results disappointing.
My male co-worker answered that he wouldn’t date a girl if she had slept with more than five guys, which I found hypocritical since he had long surpassed this quantity.
A girlfriend of mine explained that she doesn’t believe in counting—after all ain’t nobody got time for that. I chocked this response up to the fact that she was too ashamed of her own number, and decided approximating was the way to go.
A gay friend of mine wanted me to clarify between oral and anal sex. Which depressed me even further—should we be counting oral sex? I mean I know it’s “sex,” but there’s no penetration involved, right? He was relieved when I said to discard oral and he admitted a shockingly low number of three sexual partners.
Overall, I was starting to feel worse and worse about my own number. In the past, I’ve always thought of this quantity as a sheer by-product of luck, good timing, and sexpertise. But suddenly the cockiness I had surrounding my sexuality was fleeting, and I was left feeling like week-old garbage on the side of the street.
With this idea in mind, I came home from work to find a note from my boyfriend taped to the mirror. He clearly understood the source of my troubled state of mind, because in the note he states his ambivalence to “numbers” when it comes to the person he loves. It was the sort of note that makes your heart skip a beat and mood lift instantly. And it was just the thing I needed to read in order to conclude this column on a high note.
To conclude, I’ll steal an idea from a qualitative research class I took last semester where we identified that empirical data and research is a flawed system when trying to understand the human condition. Should we continue to classify and quantify people in this postmodern society? No, we should not. Have we not progressed beyond the idea that numbers are the only truth? Yes, we have. It’s the experiences and emotions that we are left with, not sheer statistics—especially when love is involved.
So the true answer to the question of, “How many is too many?” is that it’s actually indefinable. We should never regret or feel shame for our past partners, but rather we must recognize their value in bringing us one step closer to “the one.” And once you end up in love, then no personal statistic can take that feeling away.
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