Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Wellness > Sex + Relationships

“What’s Your Body Count?”: The Demonization of Promiscuity and Reclaiming the Narrative

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

Has your FYP ever been flooded with TikTok videos where some random person on the street asks women about their body count? Or maybe you’ve come across a Jubilee video on YouTube where strangers try to guess each other’s numbers? Regardless of how you’ve stumbled upon this trend, it’s clear that our generation is pretty fixated on what your body count supposedly reveals about you.

Gen Z is often seen as one of the most progressive generations, especially when it comes to sex positivity. So, I’m a little confused as to why we’re putting so much importance on something like a “body count.” Does it really mean anything, or is it just another product of misogyny?

What does it mean?

In case you’ve missed it, a “body count” refers to the number of sexual partners someone has had. Its connotations are rather paradoxical. On one hand, a high body count is often seen as a sign of promiscuity, suggesting commitment issues or a lack of self-value when it comes to choosing partners. On the flip side, a low body count can be interpreted as a lack of sexual experience, potentially leading to labels like “prude” or “too picky” when it comes to choosing partners.
Let’s not overlook the double standards in our society that disadvantage both men and women. For example, it’s often considered normal and even commendable for men to have multiple sexual partners, while women engaging in similar behaviour are frequently subjected to societal judgment. However, this expectation for men to have numerous sexual partners also places an unfair burden on them. Men who choose to abstain from sex or have a low “body count” often face ridicule from both men and women for their decisions.
Putting it all on the table like this really highlights the absurdity of the “body count” concept. So, the question remains: Why does this idea still hold weight in today’s society?

The demonization of promiscuity

“Don’t be easy.”

“Play hard to get.”

“Good girls keep their legs closed.”

These phrases were ingrained in my childhood, and after many conversations with my girlfriends, it became clear that hearing these messages is a shared experience among us. As a woman of colour, I had already come to terms with the fact that the world would view me in a certain way. I observed how women who looked like me were treated in the films I watched or in the hip-hop music videos I danced along to. My mom would walk into the room, see me watching Nicki Minaj’s music video for “Beez in the Trap,” and remind me not to look up to “those” kinds of women because the way they portrayed themselves seemed “desperate”. She emphasised that respectable women would never present themselves in such a manner.

Many women grow up learning that their virginity is their most valuable asset, and because of this belief, it’s the most significant thing they can “give” to another person. The more sexual partners we have, the “cheaper” this gift supposedly becomes, until it’s deemed worthless. This is how I understood sex, and like many of us, I internalized the messages I heard during my childhood. It took me quite some time to become comfortable showing a bit of skin, let alone embracing my own sexuality. Even when I became sexually active, I felt a sense of guilt. It was as though my modesty had been compromised. Was I slowly losing my worth?

This kind of experience is not unique to me; it’s a reality faced by so many women. Thanks to a lot of feminist literature (thank you, Roxane Gay), a few honest conversations with my friends, and a particularly raunchy summer issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, I unlearned many of the misconceptions I had about sex.

For those in the back, the number of sexual partners you have is in no way an indication of your worth as a person. Whether you’re open to casual hook-ups every now and then, content with your trusted vibrator, or maybe sex doesn’t even cross your mind, it’s okay. I wish I had learned sooner that the only thing I should consider when it comes to sex is that it’s consensual and happening at a time that feels right for me.

So… back to the point

Here’s where I’m going with this: Exploring our sexuality is often mistaken for promiscuity, which, in turn, leads us to think that something as trivial as “body counts” is an indicator of someone’s self-worth.

But let’s get one thing straight – “body counts” don’t really matter… well, sort of.

Sex positivity includes being responsible when it comes to having sex. We can’t ignore the fact that STDs and unwanted pregnancies are legitimate concerns for anyone who is sexually active or even considering it.

Instead of connotating “body counts” with shame and judgement, we can link it to practicing responsible sex. It is important to keep track of your sexual partners. That way, if you do contract a sexually transmitted disease or infection, you can inform your previous partners so that they can also get tested.

In the end, the only place where “body counts” should matter is in a medical clinic, as we navigate our personal journeys of sexual exploration with respect, consent, and responsibility. Our generation’s challenge lies in reshaping the discourse surrounding sexuality and moving away from judgment.

Hi there! My name is Kelly-Ann and I am an undergraduate student at the University of Cape Town, majoring in Film and Television studies. I am passionate about anything related to film, alternative rock music, and activism. When I'm not jotting down ideas for my next article, you can find me rewatching Bojack Horseman, curating a themed playlist, or rigorously following my skincare routine.