No, I’m not talking about the thing that all the dudes ask for when you go out looking extra fly.
Maybe you’ve heard the term while perusing a women’s advice column or lifestyle website. Maybe your girlfriends have brought it up in conversation. “What’s your Number these days?”
This term is referring to the number of sexual partners a person has acquired over the course of his or her life. One’s Number is a count merely of individuals, not of sexual encounters, so one may have multiple trysts with the same person without increasing one’s Number. Why there was a desperate need to come up with an underhanded term for this, I know not, but in female circles, especially those of college-age, it can be an all-consuming fixation.
Some are desperate to up their Number. They feel that they have not slept with enough people over the course of their life to count as a Real Live Grownup, and so their sexual exploits are informed by this burning desire to increase their Number to match the statistics of their friends.
Others go the opposite route – they feel that their Numbers have grown too large as of late, and so all their actions are in the name of not making the “damage” any worse, from sleeping with old boyfriends instead of finding new fuck buddies, to abstaining from a new relationship for fear of this magic Number growing larger. This “Number” becomes like having an invisible tattoo; no one can see it but you, but it is a permanent etching on your psychological chalkboard that, for some people, engenders regret, self-loathing, and anxiety.
Pop culture isn’t helping. A recent movie starring Anna Faris, What’s Your Number?, revolves around a thirty-something woman who decides that, at 19, her Number is too high, and she resolves to sleep with no one else until she finds “the one.” The entire plot is dictated by her obsession, and in the end, she manages to cinch the deal with some hapless male, coming in right at 20! What a relief! Vapid movies aside, there are questions abounding all over online women’s magazines about what one’s number should be at age seventeen, at age twenty-one, at age thirty. Women want to compare themselves to others. Am I a slut? Am I frigid? Should I be strapping on my Fuck-Me Boots right now and going out to hang around a street corner somewhere?
The problem with this ridiculous anomaly of our culture is that it implies that there is a range of Numbers that is Safe. If you are a college student whose Number is between, say, three and eight, you are exonerated of any and all sexual sins you may have committed, the Lord bless you and keep you. If your Number is “too high,” you are probably a disease-ridden gutter slut with something leaking down your leg right now. If your Number is “too low,” your clam is shut tighter than Fort Knox and you’ve probably never held hands with your teddy bear, let alone a boy.
But who decides these standards? Who is playing God with my private parts? Who gets to tell me whether my Number is too high or too low? The very existence of the term implies that I need to fall within a certain range, or else my sexual practices are Unsafe and I should be locked away in the highest room in the tallest tower forevermore to protect the human race from my deviant sexual practices.
This problem is not uniquely female, but the Number curse seems to follow us a bit more closely than it follows men. Men only need to worry about clearing a certain level; after that, they are a lady’s man and everything is cool. A thirty-four-year-old man with a number of, say, two has not yet jumped this magical hurdle and must have something wrong with him. But there is a shiny red tape that most men cross at some point in their lives. You have now slept with enough partners to qualify as “normal!” Hooray! Good for you! Carry on being a man! Sadly, women are not blessed with this finish line, if we want to conform to the sexual standards laid down by Society.
In all honesty, who gives a shit how many people you’ve fucked? Next time someone asks you your Number, punch them in the fucking face. Seriously. That person is an idiot and needs Jesus. My closest friend in the world is someone who I have known for over ten years and see all the time, and I have no idea what her Number is. Because it’s none of my ding dang business. As long as she is safe and healthy and happy, why would I care? So that I can compare myself to her? What good will that do me?
You are totally cleared to sleep with a thousand people if you want to. It doesn’t say anything about your personality or responsibility. You can die a virgin at the ripe old age of 95 if you want to. It doesn’t mean you are closed off or unfeeling. It’s up to you how many people you bone! It’s your business and yours alone.
So erase that number off your chalkboard. It doesn’t mean shit, anyway.