Awhile back, Marie Claire ran an article on sex numbers, in which 5 women confessed to the number of men they'd had sex with. Originally, I was supposed to be one of the women featured in this article. Let's just say I was asked to represent a high number.
The number I shared with the editors at Marie Claire was an estimate -- I haven't kept track of such things since I was a teenager, when I actually did keep a literal list in my journal and actually made a point of sleeping with ex-boyfriends so that I didn't have to increase its length. [I had a list in my journal when I was a teenager too! But I was always trying to make the number bigger and would sometimes exaggerate and put someone on the list when I had really only gone to third or something with them. --Jane]
The list above is obviously pre-college; my sex number today most likely has more than 2 digits. It certainly is a lot higher than 20, which is the number at which women are supposedly unable to find a husband, according to the trailer for the upcoming Anna Faris rom-com "What's Your Number"?
Coincidentally, the fictional magazine story that serves as a major plot point in the movie is also supposed to have come from Marie Claire. My Marie Claire story was pitched to me as a non-judgmental piece where women discuss their number of sexual partners to decrease stigma. We were also going to be pictured with our faces obscured. I agreed, and also asked that my arms and legs be covered so that my tattoos wouldn't identify me to readers. Later, when the editor came back to me and told me that some of the women had decided to show their faces, my first thought was, Sure, easy to say when your number is like, 3.
While it had occured to me that it didn't really do much to decrease stigma if we were all too scared to show our faces, I also knew that as the girl with the "high number" I had a lot more on the line than the other participants.
I don't think there was anything wrong with my number, but I also wasn't sure I was prepared to have a bunch of other people's shit laid on me once I'd put it out there. In addition the possibility of Internet-wide slut-shaming, I have a significant other who probably wouldn't be too thrilled to have my wanton past splashed across the pages of a national magazine. (This is an ongoing series of compromises.)
But despite these very good reasons for hesitance, I still had to wonder, was I maybe also just a little bit ashamed of my number?
I'm a recovering addict with daddy issues and low self-esteem, which means a lot of my sexual decisions have been regrettable. Even if the decision to bone a guy wasn't made in a haze of boundary-lowering chemicals, it may have been made by the overweight 13-year-old girl who is still so excited somebody thinks she's pretty that she doesn't stop to think about whether or not she even likes them. I'll stand up any day to proclaim sexual liberation a feminist value -- as long as we're having fun it shouldn't matter if the number is 5 or 500.
But the bulk of the sexual experience that led to my trumped-up tally wasn't feminist. Or fun. Some of it was downright sad, because its not even that I didn't know how to say no. It's that I didn't even know I had the option to say no.
The person I am today is the sum of these mistakes, and I'm truly not ashamed for having made them. After all, who hasn't made a few? I don't think I should have to hide my face because I was young and insecure and overly free with my genitals, but I can't either stand up and proclaim there's nothing wrong with sleeping with any guy who asks just because you think that's what you're supposed to do. I can't confuse vulnerability with empowerment.
Long story short, I declined to show my face, which isn't why I don't appear in the final article. I just got cut for length, along with a few other girls. Honestly, I've never been so relieved.
Sex is a complicated subject and I think it's normal to feel ambivalent. But while I don't feel empowered and proud about every one of the men I've slept with, I do feel good about no longer keeping track. Because the answer to "What's your sex number?" in my opinion should always be: "Who's counting?"