Whom you choose to have sex with is a deeply personal matter—and it's no one's business but your own. (Well, and said sexual partner's.) So why is the antiquated idea of obsessing over your "number" still floating around? To get to the bottom of it, we asked multiple women to get real about how their tally has affected their sex lives—or not.
"My number really mattered to me—until it didn’t."
"A couple of years ago, I sometimes felt bad about my number because it’s fairly high. I felt like it meant I'd had a lot of meaningless sex, because I was pretty much always single throughout my twenties. One of the reasons I always felt ashamed of my number, or why thinking about it would get me down, was because I attached so much significance to it.
"On the one hand, it felt like, 'Oh, your number is high, you're an experienced lady.' But on the other hand, it was like, 'Wow, you've had a lot of sex with different guys—why?' When really, that doesn't matter. It's such an arbitrary way of measuring experience. I'm glad I had those experiences because they've helped shape me, but they don't constitute who I am." —Emma, 33
“My number does not define me. There was a period of time when I was more promiscuous and my relationship with sex was not healthy. Because of this, I racked up quite a few partners, a number that I can't actually define. As I became more comfortable in my skin, I stopped using sex as a vice and started having healthier relationships with my partners. Plus, the sex got better!" —Nicole, 27
"For a long time, my number was eight, and I loved that it was an even number. Then last year, I realized how my anxiety manifested itself in that number. I couldn't go over ten because that would be bad. Too many people! So I went back to partners three, four, and five throughout my twenties and early thirties, because it was more important to me to keep my overall number low than to [have sex with] someone different. I [realized] it was limiting me, so now if it goes up, it's cool. I just want to live my life and be happy with my choices. And I probably would have been more accepting of the fact that some of my situation-ships weren't going anywhere and moved on if I hadn't been so concerned with keeping my number low." —Stevie, 34
"I really hate that it's even a topic of discussion, honestly. I don't have any regrets pertaining to my sexual history, so my number is what it is. In my experience, no one worthy of my time or energy would judge me based on my number, so I don't let those who do bother me. Someone's number doesn't define them and it irritates me that people use it as another way to discriminate." —Amanda, 28
"Honestly, I wish my number were higher."
"I have extremely mixed feelings about my number. I get really self-conscious sometimes that my number is not as high as my friends', almost as if it's a competition—like whomever’s number is the highest is the best-looking, most experienced, and better than the rest of us. I have one friend in particular who consistently asks me what my number is; she asked me why my number is still lower than hers because she’s has been in a relationship for two years while I’ve been single. It made me feel like I should be sleeping with more people." —Carolyn, 25
"I feel embarrassed about my number. It's zero, and a big reason why is that I was raised in a very religious, conservative home. I always wanted to wait to get married to have sex. As the years passed and I ended up not getting married, I grew too embarrassed to admit to any potential romantic partners that I was still a virgin. It's probably contributed to why I'm still single: The whole sex thing makes me nervous overall—both talking about it and having it. I even lie to my gyno about it. Ironically, it shouldn't matter what a person's number is. We evolve and change so much throughout our lives." —Tiffany, 32
"Honestly, I wish my number were higher. I got an incurable STD a little over two years ago and it's really stifled my sex life. I used to be so sexually free, and I still am to an extent, but it definitely prevents me from having as much sex as I want. I disclose it to each new partner, and it hasn't gotten any easier. Someone's number does not reflect their level of sexual experience or competence. If you're having a consensual, safe, and fun sexual interaction with someone, then it doesn't matter what their number is." —Rebecca, 26
"It's 2019—I don’t think your number means much anymore."
"The last time I counted and wrote them down, I was at 33, and that was in 2013. I’m pretty sure mine is in the forties or fifties, but no one seems to care or ask anymore. I certainly don’t tell guys unless they ask, and if they care, fuck them. If it helps me figure out what I like in bed, then who cares?" —Hilary, 29
"It's 2019—I don’t think your number means much anymore. If anything, it gives insight into what sexual relationships have meant to that person in the past. It's also useless without context: At 25, a person's number could be one because they were in a seven-year relationship that just ended. Or it could be 30 because they were questioning their sexuality and figuring out what it meant to be with men, women, and non-binary individuals. I've always been pretty comfortable with my number—proud of it, even. I waited until I was 19 to have sex for the first time. After I broke up with that boyfriend, it took a little while to figure out who I was sexually outside of that relationship. I quickly discovered that one-night stands were not my thing and had a few two- or three-month flings before meeting my current boyfriend." —Morgan, 24
"I'm actually grateful for all the intimate experiences I've had with the 11 people on my list. I even have a list of the names on my phone. Besides one person, I cherish all my different experiences. I've learned what I like and don't like in bed from my past partners. I hope that my number will stay at 11 forever because I hope the relationship I’m in now lasts." —Carolyn, 25
"I honestly don't even know what my number is; I stopped counting around 30. I feel defiant about it. When I was single, I made a conscious decision to make it clear that I thought you were stupid if you asked me that question. And I didn't share the info because no matter what the number was, men couldn’t handle it. Low number? You’re exalted to some precious, almost virginal status. High number? You're a slut who doesn't value herself. Guys have to have a high number to be considered 'men' and women are more valuable with a low number. It's horrible all around." —Marta, 44
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