Counting Notches

bed post

By Rachel Krick

There is a certain importance in sharing your past sex life with your current significant other. You have your likes, your dislikes, what you’re into, and what you’re definitely not going to be into, ever. There is always a process in getting intimate with someone new, and there’s a level of honesty that must be achieved along the way. Once you find yourself in a relationship that includes text messages before 2 am, conversations begin to unfold and questions, in turn, become easier to ask. But the unavoidable question-of-all-questions is undoubtedly on the tip of their tongue, and likely, yours as well.

“…so, what’s your number?”

Personally, I’ve only been asked this question a few times, in a few different relationships, but nonetheless there is always an abrupt, uncomfortable pause before my response, and it’s a rare occasion that I even give one. Which isn’t at all because I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve slept with. Of course I know my “number.” We all know our number. And, in my opinion, it should never be anything to be ashamed of. Just ask the women of marieclaire.com. Five of them came clean about their sexual history and not a single one claimed excuses or embarrassment. And I’m nowhere near embarrassed of my past either. I could tell you my number in a matter of seconds, as if it were a yes or no question. In fact, I had this discussion with my current boyfriend just the other night. We floated in and out of the conversation for over an hour, as I waited for him to forget the question, though of course, he never did. And I never gave a direct answer. Instead, I asked him over and over again why it mattered so much to him. That if he loved me, nothing should change over some number. Not the case. I was informed, not for the first time, either, that there is a number that is unforgivable in order to be considered a worthy girlfriend.

So what is this supposed number? 6? 17? 42? Recently, I read an article on buzzfeed.com titled 9 Different Opinions on How Many Partners Women “Should” Have. Four of the nine responses stated that an acceptable number of sex partners for women is ten or less. And these people are referring to women in their twenties! I am currently 21 and I’ve encountered this topic not only in prior relationships, but with some of my guy friends as well. The maximum number always seems to round out about the same. According to my own personal poll of men, once a woman my age crosses into double digits, she has gone too far. But where is the line drawn for men? Much higher, let me tell you. The Health Survey for England states that, on average, men have twice the sexual partners as women in their lifetime. Why is no one talking about this statistic? In my experience, I’ve found that it’s best just to avoid this subject entirely, because you’re never going to hear a number to be at ease with. And maybe it’s just me, but when I think of the number 10 for a guy my age, I don’t bat an eyelash. Maybe that’s because there was a time a previous love interest told me he’d slept with 68 women. Maybe it’s the fact that I, at least, understand that this is an age at which we often experiment with our bodies and with different partners. Regardless, it’s clear there is a blatant double standard in what is an acceptable number of sexual partners.

Somewhere along the way, there emerged some kind of abstract rule that men are allowed quite a few notches on their bedpost before anyone is to feel turned off by the activity in their private lives. Women, on the other hand, apparently aren’t allowed to claim more than just a handful of names. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to all relationships, nor it is every man’s opinion that a woman should limit her number of intimate partners, but it is a conversation that comes up a lot and is often uncomfortable. All I want to know is, who do these guys intend to sleep with when they simultaneously expect women to keep their number so low? And what right does any man have to tell a woman she’s slept with too many people, when they are often coaxing us into the bedroom with promises of relationships and respect? If we could forget a few nights ever happened believe me, we would. But realize that if you hear a number you don’t particularly like, a) you asked, and b) there are probably a few encounters that we aren’t too overjoyed about, either. Don’t become one of them.

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