You've probably been asked (by romantic partners, friends, and overly-prying randos) how many people you've had sex with. The topic has become so ubiquitous that it's simply referred to as your "number," and a forgettable rom-com starring Anna Faris was made entirely on the subject. It's usually prefaced with an "I don't really care," or "I'm just curious," so the person answering won't feel judged. But...of course they will. It's a question ripe for judgement. Your "number" is automatically going to be stacked up against the asker's own number and against whatever their preconceived expectation is.
In this way, keeping track of your number becomes all about comparison. Are you more or less promiscuous than your new boyfriend? Are you the slutty one in your friend group or the prude one? Have you had sex with too many or too few people? From these comparisons many women find themselves obsessing over how their number stacks up and whether it's in that perfect range. The one that says "I'm fun and experienced but also wholesome and clean." That perfect number that allows a woman to be just the right in-between of the madonna and the whore. Of course, it's all a load of horse shit. Your number doesn't say or mean any of those things in reality, but quickly it becomes a signifier of so many things other than your number of sexual partners.
Personally, I always found my number to be generally higher than other women around me. Many a wine night I found myself mentally counting my friends' former partners and realizing that I didn't need both hands. Despite the fact that many of them had been in long-term relationships for most of their sexually mature life, I began to grow self-conscious and wondered if my rising number was becoming a scarlet letter of sorts.
I reached the number 10, shortly after reading an article (written by a man) stating that his ideal number for a woman would be 10. I panicked. I didn't want my number to edge me into an unsuitable range. A range seen as slutty, easy, gross, whorish, undateable, etc. Yet other than the addition to my number, I wasn't regretful of my sexual partners. It was around this time that when discussing my anxieties with a friend, she told me, "Who cares? Nobody knows. You can lie."
It's true. Nobody but you will ever know what your true number is if you don't want them to. Which was an entirely freeing realization to have. My number couldn't be a scarlet letter if I wasn't forced to bare it. It's nobody else's business. But while I don't believe it's wrong for someone to lie about their number, I didn't want to lie. I didn't want to feel like I needed to be disingenuous with someone down the road. Because frankly I would hope that I'd be with someone I could trust and be honest with. Someone who I wouldn't feel the need to lie about my number with because they truly wouldn't care.
So what I did instead, around that fateful number 10, was stop keeping track. And it was surprisingly easy. I thought that my number would forever and continuously burn itself into my brain, but it didn't. Not long after I stopped counting, I genuinely did not know my number. And my oh my, was it a relief.
Of course, it's far from a perfect world still, and unfortunately the answer of "I don't know" leaves just as much room for judgement, if not more. The idea that someone wouldn't know their number is assumed to mean they're just too slutty to remember. It must be in the hundreds. The trillions. Your number must be google.
Well, no. I mean hey, I get that you're probably not going to lose track of your number if that number is two. But losing track of your number is a symbolic gesture more than a numerical one. It's giving a big middle finger to the entire premise, to the societal practice of having a number. The number of sexual partners you've had says absolutely nothing about you as a person. It means nothing about your sexual preferences, your life goals, your relationships, or your personality. And no number is better or worse than another. So stop keeping track. Stop giving yourself the headache. But more importantly, to everybody else: stop asking.