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Sex + Relationships

Covert Operations: How Some Girls Manipulate Their Number

This piece appeared as part of a series on your “number” – see the rest of the package here.

On the surface, figuring out a sexual “number” seems like a pretty easy calculation — you add up all of the people you’ve had sex with, and the total is your number! But in reality, there can be grey areas and sticky situations that can make that number calculation a more complicated process. Beyond that, some girls actively utilize a variety of tactics to try to make their number lower or higher. Of the 100 girls I surveyed, one third of them (33 respondents) reported using measures to change their number, keep it the same, or manipulate it into something they found more acceptable. Below is a guide to five of the most popular tactics reported, and stories from girls who’ve used them.

The opinions that follow do not reflect those of Her Campus.

Repeating partners — i.e., sleeping with the same people over and over again so the number of partners stays the same

“I have definitely had sex with people I’ve already had sex with — like ex-boyfriends, past hookup buddies, etc. — if I felt like having sex but didn’t want it to count as a new thing.” — Jackie*, a 21-year-old Harvard University alumna

“I’ve gone back and slept with a previous partner after already having been with someone new, just because it was an easy option that didn’t involve increasing my number. I’m comfortable with my number right now but I don’t want it to get much higher, and sleeping with the same people is a good way to keep my number in check.” — Aysha*, a 20-year-old at the University of Michigan 

Misreporting — i.e., lying about your number when asked (often to specific groups of people)

“I’ve slept with 2 people, and while I don’t regret sleeping with the second guy, I definitely don’t tell anybody about it. All of my friends and family think that I’ve only been with one guy.” — Emily*, a 19-year-old at the University of Connecticut

“I’m totally fine with my number (3) when I’m with my Greek friends, and I think it might actually be low compared to some of the girls I hang out with there. But I have a group of more conservative friends and when I talk to them about my sex life, there’s one partner that I leave out. They think my number is 2.” — Janelle*, a 20-year-old at the University of Michigan

Deciding what to “count” — i.e., choosing whether or not to count a particular experience based on situational factors that might make it invalid

“I think my number is more of a 4.5, because I didn’t completely have sex with one of the guys. We started to, but I realized that it was a stupid thing to do, and then we stopped. But considering we actually had sex, albeit for 2 seconds, I feel like I have to count it — just not fully.” — Honesty*, a 21-year-old at the University of Michigan

Changing definitions — i.e., limiting the definition of “sex” to something that only includes specific sexual encounters and excludes other sexual acts

“I’m a virgin, so my number defined by sexual intercourse is 0. But if I included things like oral and manual sex, my number would definitely be higher.” — Jessica*, a 21-year-old at the University of Michigan

“My number is either 2 or 1, depending on how you define sex. I have vaginismus, a condition that makes vaginal sex unbearably painful, and I’ve only been able to have intercourse with my current boyfriend. But I had anal sex with my first boyfriend since we couldn’t have intercourse.” — Jill*, a 21-year-old at Harvard University

Overcompensating — i.e., deliberately trying to make your number higher to seem more experienced or impress sexually active people

“Even though I’m a virgin, I’ve spoken ambiguously to friends to make it sound like I’ve done more than I actually have.” — Micaela*, a 19-year-old Syracuse University sophomore

“When I started having sex, I used to try to make my number higher because I wasn’t very experienced. Now, I think about who I have sex with a lot more carefully.” — Courtney*, an 18-year-old at the University of Michigan

*Names have been changed.

Sarah Smith is a junior at the University of Michigan, Class of 2012, majoring in Communication Studies and Political Science. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Forum, Michigan's Greek Life Newspaper, and the secretary of Michigan's chapter of Ed2010. Sarah is also an active member of Alpha Delta Pi Sorority, and she currently serves Michigan's Panhellenic Association as the Vice President of Public Relations.  A native of Sterling Heights, MI, she has been a Michigan fan since birth and loves spending Saturday mornings cheering on her Wolverines. Some of her favorite things include The Office, Audrey Hepburn, women's magazines, and microwave popcorn - preferably with lots of butter and salt!
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