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Sex + Relationships

Subtracting Self-Esteem: How Girls Feel About Their Number

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

In my research, I asked 100 college women to tell me their sexual number. After they typed in their numerical response, my first question on the survey was, “What do you think about your number?” When designing this survey, I figured that this question would serve as a transition from numerical to written responses, easing the respondent into talking about her sexual experiences. It served as quite a surprise, then, that answers to this question were among the most detailed when the responses came in. The majority of girls in my survey expressed some kind of uneasiness about their numbers — indicating that a lot of us aren’t totally pleased with our sexual pasts.

Obviously upset

“My number (11) is pretty high, and I’m not okay with it at all,” Erin*, an 18-year-old at the University of Michigan, said. “My friends seem like they’re cool with it, but guys have called me a skank before and my mom would completely freak out if she knew. I wanted to save myself for marriage — what happened?”

I’m going to put Erin and survey respondents like her in an “obviously upset” group — girls that regret their previous sexual choices and find these feelings of disappointment creeping into their day-to-day lives.

“I’ve been with 3 guys, and I’m fine with the first two,” said Mollie*, an 18-year-old at St. Norbert College. “But I regret the third guy because I was too drunk — and my friends are pretty set on me being a whore.”

Clearly, it can be difficult for girls to come to terms with choices that they’ve made in the past. Ali Berlin, HC’s Relationship Expert, has some advice for women who find themselves regretting past sexual encounters.

“If you’re feeling remorse about your decision to sleep with people in the past, take the opportunity to get closer with yourself and reflect on what was fueling your past choices,” she said. “Like anything else in your life, when you accept who you were, who you are, and who you want to be, that dissolves the charges around your past.”

Furthermore, I think it’s crucial for all us to surround ourselves with a supportive group of friends. Your parents might not be all that supportive of your sex life, and it’s impossible to predict what a potential partner will be looking for. But your friends should always be there to help you through tough times to help lift you up, not to make you feel bad about yourself.

“Don’t judge me”

Of course, not all of us feel regret about the partners we’ve been with in the past. But even among the girls who seem happy with their decisions, many of them are still worried that their numbers will be perceived negatively by other people.

“I know my number (13) is on the high side, and I’m not ashamed of it,” Lauren*, a 20-year-old at the University of Connecticut, said. “But at the same time, I don’t tell a lot of people because they can and will judge — even some of my friends that aren’t as sexually active will judge me when they first find out.”

This fear of being judged is very prominent among the survey respondents, especially by women who described their number as “high.”

“I’m a very sexual person, and in the past year I’ve had somewhat of an awakening,” Natalie*, a 20-year-old at the University of Michigan, said. “But I heard that the average lifetime ‘number’ for women is around 4, so I think others might judge me as promiscuous if they knew I’ve already been with 9 — I never tell my number to anyone.”

Missing out

While girls who described their number as “high” most often feared being judged or criticized by other people, that’s not as big of an issue for the girls who described their number as “low.” Since they’ve slept with fewer people, it’s less likely that people will be thinking they’re promiscuous, and they’re less likely to regret any encounters, as well. However, that doesn’t mean that all women with “lower” numbers are completely content with their sexual numbers.

“My number’s on the low side (1) because right now, I’ve only been with my current boyfriend,” Lindsey*, a 20-year-old at the University of Michigan said. “It’s not like I wouldn’t be interested in having a higher number.”

Parisa*, a recent Boston University grad, agrees: “Because I’ve only slept with one person, I do wonder what it would be like to have a sexual experience with someone else,” she said. “I adore the person I’m with and would never break it off because of that, but my friends talk about sex with new guys like it’s just kissing, and I can’t help but feel curious.”

While women in relationships might feel like they’re missing out on exciting sexual opportunities, women who just ended relationships can feel like they’re in a tough spot, as well. In addition to all of the sadness that comes along with a breakup, it can take a while for them to be open to new sexual experiences.

“The only person I’ve had sex with was a special person in my life — it was great for me, but now I feel pressure about how I should follow that up,” Elizabeth*, a 19-year-old at the University of Michigan, says. “I would feel so weird if my first was super meaningful and the second was just some random guy.”

Between regretting the past, fearing judgment from friends and loved ones, and wondering if we’re missing out on anything, it’s clear that our sexual self-esteems could use some improvement. As you read on to the other articles in this package, think about your own number and how it makes you feel — and remember, like Berlin advised earlier, the best way to get past insecurity is to accept everything about your past.

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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