There are certain discussions you expect to have with the first
person you've ever slept with—most of them
uncomfortable, all of them far from casual. The obligatory catch-up
conversations with Lover Number One usually consist of either the
awkward "how-are-you-it's-been-a-while," or the
weighted "you-did-what-with-whom!?" exchange.
They are certainly not supposed to begin with, "Hey,
Miriam, how many people do you think a girl has to sleep with
before she's a slut?"
My roommates continually argue over how to calculate this
infamous number, and my buddies voice concern over how many is too
many. Dinner parties and beach outings are crammed with sexual
debate and discussion of said experience. It's a hot number;
so hot that Lover Number 1 called me to discuss it.
A recent study done by the Center for Disease Control found that
46.7 percent of high-school students have had sex, with a higher
percentage of males than females. Roughly 14 percent of those
polled have had sexual intercourse with four or more people, again
with a higher percentage of males than females. That said, nearly
half of our first-years have had sex, and a large portion of them
have had "lots" of sex.
These numbers suggest that no matter what category you fall
under—having had sex, having not had sex, having had sex only
once, having had sex with four or more people—you should feel
comfortable, since there are many people out there just like you.
So why do we focus on numbers so much?
Numbers and sex must be having their own secret love affair;
even Lover Number One is not exempt. Number One doesn't just
affect our conversations; Number One is our ultimate teacher, the
ultimate comparison. For some of us, Lover Number One is the one
and only. That clichéd saying that the first one never truly
leaves us often proves true: who hasn't slept with their
first partner at least once more? Lover Number Two can always tell
he or she is second.
Having seen my own Number Two come and go—and more
importantly having been someone else's Number Two twice
now—I've discovered that Lover Number Two is the huge
hurdle; once we have experienced our second lover, numbers are all
we talk about. After my first experience as Lover Number Two,
despite the mediocre experience, I listened to my partner brag
about his sexual expertise and even go as far to discuss the
logistics of potentially having sex with a "fat
In a more recent discussion involving some male and female
friends, my girlfriends and I were shocked to discover that,
number-wise, we equaled or beat every guy in the group. For all
their macho talk, the best they could do was "three, maybe
four" (two of them avoided the confession altogether). A
similar discussion with a different group of people resulted in one
of the younger guys proudly declaring that he had slept with
"more than one" girl. Does sleeping with two or more
people give us the right to talk about sex? Do we need to have
slept with someone to talk at all? Or is the experience of watching
a porno enough license?
The talk doesn't stop there; when we're not proudly
parading our sexual skills, we're busy criticizing others for
their excessive experience. There's my buddy who won't
pursue his crush because she's "been with too many
people;" or, the x-equals-slut debate induced by Lover Number
One. This criticism tends to focus on the woman, and as unfair as
that may be, women feed the stereotype just as much as men. Some of
my girlfriends are quick to call each other sluts—after all,
they'll say, "she's been having sex since she was
Numbers make us uncomfortable: we play numbers up, we play them
down, we multiply and divide until we feel confident in our sexual
abilities. No matter how we spin it, though, the result is almost
always imaginary. What really matters is the fun-loving
conversation in which comparison is unnecessary. You can't
compare yourself to anybody else: the decisions you make about sex
are highly personal. You may sleep with one person and not the
other; you may sleep with one or you may sleep with 10. The key to
this equation is your own mathematics—only you know the
correct answer, the number that makes you most comfortable.
There's no denying that we love to talk, and especially to
judge. I won't for a minute pretend that I don't enjoy
the "hot number" conversations, or that my friends and
I won't continue to hold them. After all, we love to talk
about sex almost as much as we love to have it. But the solution to
Miriam Datskovsky is a Barnard College sophomore.