All articles by Sarah Smith
Let’s start with the basics: You’re a beautiful, smart and interesting woman. I’m sure boys ask you for your number all the time — in class when the campus hottie needs a study buddy, at a concert when you hit it off with the guy rocking out next to you, or at the bars when the dude you’ve been dancing with all night wants to see you again. But there’s another scenario where I’m sure your number has come up in conversation, as well — in the bedroom.
Gulp. Well, this is awkward. Assuming that the guy already has your telephone number, he’s probably referring to your “other” number — your number of previous sexual partners. This dreaded question has scared the heck out of women for decades, because sharing your number invites a partner to pass judgment on your sexual past. If he thinks your number is low, will he also think you’re inexperienced or a prude? Does a high number mean that you’re a slut or not relationship material? And who determines what numbers are high and what numbers are low anyway?
Sexual numbers have always been very interesting to me, because girls can interpret them in so many ways. When I listen to my girlfriends talk about their numbers, they’ll usually start off by justifying it: x were in long-term relationships, y was that seriously sexy dude from the gym, and z was during Welcome Week/Halloween/Spring Break, so that hardly even counts. But then comes the fear of judgment — what will other people think? Do her friends assume that she doesn’t know much about sex since her number is lower than theirs? Would her family be disappointed if they knew that she wasn’t saving it for marriage? Or would a guy be turned off by her number, deeming it too high or take it as a sign that she was promiscuous?
I wanted to learn more about what girls thought about sexual numbers, so I did what any modern college girl would do — I set up an Internet survey. It included 10 questions about sexual numbers — about how a girl perceived her own number, how she thought it would be perceived by friends, family and boys, and what role she thought a number should play in relationships. The survey was completed by 100 college women from across the country, the maximum number of respondents that my free online survey tool would allow.
Some statistics about these women: 55 of the 100 are friends, classmates or sorority sisters of mine at the University of Michigan. 33 of the 100 admit to using a plethora of tactics to change or manipulate their number, while another 16 women are virgins and don’t yet have a number at all. 6 of the women are recent college graduates, 4 define their number in terms beyond sexual intercourse, and 2 identify as bisexual.
The only statistic that I won’t be giving you about this group is an “average” number. Did all 100 tell me their number? Yep. Did I plug all of their numbers into an Excel spreadsheet? You bet I did. But after careful consideration, I’ve decided that releasing the average isn’t relevant to this investigation. Our sexual experience can be one of the most private aspects of our lives, largely because it’s so deeply personal — no one else has sex quite like we do, at the same time, with the same people, in the same way. This research, then, is about 100 personal experiences, and how they might relate to yours. Analyzing these women as a group is paradoxical to this personal nature, and revealing an average number would imply that women should have a particular number, or that numbers below and above that average are wrong. I wholeheartedly refute that idea, and thus will not reveal an average number.
In addition to the Internet survey, I also conducted round table discussions with 8 men, all students at the University of Michigan. Since many of our biggest worries about sexual numbers concern guys and relationships, I thought it would be valuable to see what guys had to say about numbers — and they certainly had a lot of different opinions, as can be seen in the “Guys Talk Numbers” piece. Furthermore, I consulted with Ali Berlin, HC’s Dating Doctor and an expert on sexuality and relationships. She was a tremendous resource in the process of writing these articles, and her insight can be found in the “What Women Want” piece.
With the exception of Ali Berlin, all of the names in these articles have been changed and are denoted with an asterisk as such. For obvious reasons, the men and women I spoke with didn’t want their names attached to their numbers — but despite their anonymity, these women have shared fascinating perspectives about modern sexuality and they have remarkable stories for you to consider. I was shocked by the wide range of experiences and beliefs that spread throughout these 100 women, and as a journalist, I hope that I can relay some of that wonder to you.
- Sarah Smith