What are your thoughts on how much/what of your sexual history you should divulge to your current partner(s)? I always ask about most recent STD/STI tests, but is your current partners’ number of present (and past) sex partners important to know?
I recently watched Dan Savage’s “Savage U” (because I saw Tristan Taormino on your website and started listening to her podcast and he was on it) and the gender stereotypes and standards regarding this issue were nauseating — ie. women saying that if you’ve had less than 10 partners it’s fine to tell, but if you’ve had more than 10 you should keep it a secret.
I’ve always told my partners my number, just because I’m not very sexually experienced and my number isn’t that important to me. But what do you do with this information once/if you have it? In addition, some people don’t keep a number and this also brings up the conversation of what constitutes “sex” — fingering? any/all of the “jobs?”
Allow me to be blunt: Asking what somebody’s number is some outdated, slut-shaming, rigid boundary drawing, sexual claustrophobia-inducing bullshit.
When you ask for someone’s number, you’re not just asking for a digit; you’re quantifying that person’s multifaceted, personal sexual experiences into an arbitrary numeral and applying all kinds of value-based judgments on that number.
And as you point out, these numbers carry stereotyped values for the genders. Have a high number? You must be a slut, if you’re female, or so good at sex, you player, if you’re male. Have a low number? You must be a nerd, if you’re a male, or a virgin-in-waiting, ripe for the sexual picking, if you’re female.
As you also point out, these numbers place our sexual identities and experiences into categories, highlighting binaries and ignoring the sexual spectrum. After all, the binary itself is based on numbers (0s and 1s), leaving no room for variation. And what are people’s sexual experiences, but highly variant?
Your wondering about what constitutes sex anyway gets to the heart of this. Equating sex with penetration is a very heteronormative development of sex, which is based on the idea that “real sex” only happens when a penis is inserted into a vagina. Not only is this assumption damaging (teenagers relegated to abstinence-only sex education report high occurrences of unprotected anal sex because it “doesn’t count as sex”), but it’s also boring and invalidating.
If “real sex” was only defined by penis-in-vagina, that’d mean all gold-star lesbians and gay men would be virgins? That having an orgasm from your boyfriend using your fave Hitachi vibrator on your clit wasn’t a sexual experience? That I was abstinent for nearly a decade of my lady-loving life? More seriously, does a sexual assault add to your number?
What “counts as sex”? Whatever you think counts as sex. If I asked two people “did you have sex last night?” and they tell me “yes” or “no,” I’m pretty sure I trust their assessment of their private experience together more than I trust my assumptions.
Being an ethical sexual human means you definitely disclose your current STD/STI status to your new sexual partners and have a right to ask them for theirs. You talk about your safer-sex plan. You disclose any personal overlap that seems relevant (for example, if you’re non-monogamous and you’re also sleeping with that person’s bestie, maybe that’s something to disclose).
In your case, KC, if disclosing your “low number” is meaningful for you to divulge, then by all means do it. But besides information that directly affects your new partner’s physical and emotional health, you don’t “owe” any information you don’t want to share.
So what do you do once you have someone’s Number? You throw it out. You ask them meaningful questions about who they are as a multi-layered sexual human being like what kind of lube they like, if they have a latex allergy, if they have any triggers or hard sexual limits. You throw out the binary and the numbers that come with it because you’re not a robot, KC.•