What’s Your Number? Who Cares, and Why?

A new film, What’s Your Number? revisits old questions about sexual pasts, honesty, and slut-shaming. Samhita (whose new book Outdated is a treasure) writes about the film and the obsession with “the number” today at Feministing.

I recently did a still-unpublished interview with a reporter for a college paper, and in the middle of a conversation on this topic, she asked me my “number”. I blurted it out, much to my own amazement, and had to send her a message after we were off the phone to ask her not to use it. (She agreed.) For a host of reasons, I don’t disclose the number of sexual partners I’ve had, but in a relaxed moment, out it popped…

In any case, a good time to link to this piece from February at the Good Men Project: Why Does It Matter How Many Partners She’s Had? Excerpt:

I lost my virginity at 17 to my high-school girlfriend. She was a year younger but much more sexually experienced. She was my first for anything that went below the waist; I was the fifth guy she’d had sex with. I’d asked her number, of course, and then fought hard not to obsess about the four boys who had “been there” before me. But I saw the pain my questions caused her. And I came to realize that it didn’t matter.

I don’t know my wife’s number. I’ve never asked her. She’s never asked for mine. I know enough from the stories she’s told to know that there was more than one guy before me; she knows enough about my past to figure out that she can’t count my lovers on her fingers. Beyond that, we—who have shared so much sexually and emotionally in our nine years as a couple, six years as spouses, and two years as parents together—don’t need to know more specifics.

When we’re in a monogamous relationship, what we have a right to insist on is that no names get added to the list after our own. It doesn’t matter if I’m number five or 55. I’ll be crushed if my wife adds a number six or a 56 behind my back.

But the right to ask to be last is not the same as the right to know how far we are from the first. And for me, part of being a good man is knowing what I don’t need to know.

7 thoughts on “What’s Your Number? Who Cares, and Why?

  1. “And for me, part of being a good man is knowing what I don’t need to know”
    If this is what a good man is, then may your tribe increase, Hugo, but I don’t quite see why not wanting to know one’s partner’s sexual history would have such a moral/ethical connotation. Are you perhaps suggesting asking for ‘the number’ classifies a person by their sexual behaviour — I am thinking, of course, of the ‘slut’/’stud’ dichotomy — and not asking ‘the number’ is symbolic of rejecting such stereotyping? If you are, though, do you really think deliberately excluding information — especially if one really wants to know — is the right way to fight it?

    Or have I read your motivations wrong?

  2. Pingback: Sex by Numbers « Priyanka Nandy

  3. priyanka – there’s a difference between wanting to know about your partner’s sexual history, and insisting on a precise “number”. What’s the point of the latter? At all?

  4. So…people ACTUALLY keep track of this and at instant recall like their phone number? I could come up with a fairly accurate number, but I’d have to sit and think it through a bit. And I haven’t gotten around much at all.

  5. Well, I’m inclined to agree to a part. If someone has left their past behind them, and is physically and emotionally healthy, then maybe it’s worth it to try and have a relationship with them. But in the overwhelming majority of cases I’ve seen, a promiscuous sex life is indicative of other personality problems. I have yet to meet a woman who has slept with over 50 men and has managed to lead a successful long-term, monogamous relationship.

    Furthermore, I think that guys that don’t care about their partner’s pasts at all, don’t have intense feelings for her. When you really care for someone, you want to not only know about who they are, but who they were. And when you really care for someone, and you find out that lots of people before you had them, it can trigger a strong emotional response that has zero to do with our rational minds — which know that it shouldn’t matter — and is very difficult to deal with.

    I struggled with this issue for years. The only thing that ever helped me was a guide I bought over at http://www.SheWasASlut.com — the author was the first I’ve ever seen that gave a complete and accurate description of what we go through, why we go through it….and how to deal with it.

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