Why I Stopped Counting My "Number" and Why You Should Too

I’d like to say that I feel pretty confident and secure in my sexual identity. I hadn’t thought about my number nor taken a step back to unnecessarily analyze my sexual life in a while. Until one night out, someone, who at the time I had considered to be a rather close male friend of mine, looked me in the eyes and said without batting an eyelash, “You know you don’t have to hook up with everyone just because you can.” I sat there quite stunned. Is that really what my sexual activity looked like to other people? That I was hooking up with everyone in plain sight? To prove to others that I was…what? Promiscuous? Sexually dominant? Powerful? Just because I can. His words rang in my ears over and over again and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was how people, even my closest friends, viewed me.

In that moment, high school never-been-kissed scared-of-always-being-never-been-kissed me now felt like just another cold-hearted promiscuous college student stuck in the vicious cycle of hookup culture. Had I fully embodied a basic college cliché? That interaction took me a while to shake off, but then I remembered that no one except me even knows what my number might remotely be. So the whole school could see me making out on the dance floor with a different person every single night and still could never know exactly what my sex life was like. By no longer counting my number I had reclaimed my sexuality and removed the world’s judgment from it. Regardless of what people thought they knew, they would never actually truly know, and that reminder was satisfying to me.

Let’s set the scene: imagine it’s your first year of college. You’re at a pregame getting to know some new people. Someone suggests playing Truth or Dare to help break the ice. And so the seemingly innocent game begins. A few rounds in, you choose ‘truth’ and all of a sudden that question is posed directly towards you: “What’s your number?” A million thoughts flood through your head. Do I tell the truth? Do I lie? Is my number too low? Too high? What will everyone in the room think of me? Will they tell other people? Of course, they’ll tell other people. Will their perception of me change? How? Maybe I should coyly turn the tables and ask them their number first. Then I can add or subtract one and use that as my number. For years, these were the exact thoughts that went through my own head.

“What’s your number?” is a loaded question. It seeks to unveil someone’s body count, AKA how many people one has had sex with. Yet the question is problematic in itself. For starters, those asking the question and those answering it might not even hold the same definition for sex. The heteronormative notion of “body counts” often only refers to penetrative sex, so oral sex, which is a huge sexual component for many same-sex partners, gets pushed to the wayside. Then, the answers are, of course, problematic as well. When it gets down to the numbers themselves, for some, that number may be a flat 0. For another handful, it’ll sit in between 1 and 10. Then, for others, it might be upwards of 50. And, just like that, our sexual identity is reduced down to one sole superficial number. That number has become a way to make a flash judgment of an individual, for example, whether said person in question is a prude, easy, a slut, really good in bed, probably bad in bed, experienced, inexperienced, worldly (whatever that means), etc.

Unfortunately, our society has taught us to keep track of this number because somehow it intrinsically matters to “them.” But what does it really say about who I am as I person? The higher the number, the what? The more of a woman I am? The less of a woman I am? Obviously none of these are objective truths and they vary depending on exactly who you’re talking to. So, if the response to one’s number is ever-changing, why even bring it up in the first place? Regardless of your number, one’s body count is an intimate detail that literally no one other than the person it pertains to needs to ever know, not even your sexual partners and significant others. However, it’s still somehow virtually impossible to go through college without at least a dozen people, whether it’s a random person during a party game or your own intimate partner, asking, “What’s your number?” This is what I have personally experienced, and, after years of watching people being asked that question, and years of being asked that question myself, I’ve stopped counting my number and I’ve stopped answering that question entirely. My number isn’t something I want to be proud of, nor do I want to be ashamed of it. I want my number to be something that I don’t even think about and it sits in the back of my memory. I want it to stop haunting men and women across the world because regardless of your number, there’s no “good” or “bad” one. At the end of the day, do you know what it really is? Just a damn freaking number.

Okay. So I’ve stopped counting my number right? Right. But I’m not going to pretend as if there was never a time where I was counting it and I was concerned about my image. To preface this bit, I’ve always kept lists for absolutely everything. I currently have 164 notes on my phone; workout routines, grocery lists, memories, quotes from friends, wish lists, etc. And, when I was younger, I even kept a sort of “Kiss List.” I know, sounds outrageous, doesn’t it? And, sure, go ahead and poke fun at it all you want, but whether you know it or not, at least one, and probably more, of your friends have kept or currently keep this same exact kind of list. I can tell you right now that more people than you may think keep this secret tally. In fact, my own list was inspired by a friend of mine back in high school who had shown me hers. I had begun the list after I’d gotten my first kiss because I felt like I was behind the other girls in my grade and something about watching the list creep higher and higher made me feel like I was finally catching up and becoming more mature. I had this whole image that I was so more inexperienced than everyone else, that each hook up felt like some kind of gross accomplishment. I wish I had known that being the innocent girl was not only okay, but it was the norm. As soon as one person around me lost their virginity I felt as if I was the only one who had still yet to have sex.

Because of this obsessive list, I knew my number like the back of my damn hand. But, a few years ago, my phone crashed and I lost all of the information on it; my photos, my notes, my contacts, and my lists. At first, I sat there, trying to think back to my high school years, trying to remember the names of the first guys I ever kissed in order to recreate the list until I realized just how ridiculous what I was doing really was. I’d like to say that sex isn’t a defining factor of my life, that I’m an ~independent~ woman who’s free from the binds of societal expectations, but just like every other college-aged woman, I know that’s straight B.S. I never thought I’d be saying this, but my phone breaking was the best thing to happen to me.

The next time, let’s say, your significant other asks for your number, think about a few things first: are you inclined to tell them the truth? If not, why would you lie? What kind of answer do you think they’re hoping to hear (either a low or high number)? What does either of you gain or lose by disclosing this information, if anything at all? Most importantly, would you ask your significant other for their number? Everyone needs to remember that it doesn’t matter how many people you and a partner have been with because what should matter is the fact that you two are here together right now learning about one another’s bodies, not the x-number of bodies that you’ve been with in the past.

A number is just a number.

Oh, and the next time that movie What’s Your Number with Anna Faris comes on, just turn it the hell off.

Author’s note: When I started writing this article it was going to be published anonymously due to the number of personal anecdotes I wanted to include, which I decided to omit in the end. I pride myself on owning my sexuality but clearly have some ways to go in regards to that, but by publishing this article with my name, hopefully, it is one tiny step in the right direction to opening up a dialogue about positive sex on Kenyon’s campus. Have other topics you want to talk about? Feel free to email me at [email protected].


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