Why Do You Want To Know How Many Men I’ve Slept With
The question says more about you than the answer does about me.
Why do we care about anybody’s sexual partners? No, really. It’s a serious question.
I heard this query in public way back in the AIDS wars. Not the medical battles of the disease, but the public perception of it as a moral issue.
During my stint in the mid-’80s as a volunteer for an organization that gave support to the AIDS/HIV community, a commonly held notion said that only sexually promiscuous people got AIDS.
Dan Rather came to San Francisco to interview men in the Castro, then the center of gay life in the city. He interviewed a friend of mine, Bobby Reynolds, about his sex life. Before he died, Bobby, a shy man, thrust himself onto the national stage by becoming an activist for the AIDS community. He had no qualms about shying away from ignorant questions by celebrity reporters.
Dan Rather queried him on his sex life and promiscuity.
He wanted to know how many partners Bobby had, the subtext I suppose was that the answer would somehow explain why Bobby had contracted AIDS.
Bobby countered by asking Rather how many partners he’d had, suggesting that if the number was one more than his own, then Rather was the promiscuous guy in the room.
In other words, what does it matter?
Only, Bobby knew it mattered. He wasn’t suggesting anything about Rather specifically, only that if a straight, high-profile white man had many partners way back before #MeToo, nobody cared. But a gay man brought his own fatal diagnosis on himself because of his promiscuity.
In 2019, we’ve kicked the moral question of AIDS to the curb.
At least we hope so. A virus doesn’t care about your sex life or your morals. It just wants to eat up your life force and will use any entry to your body it can find.
I had a client who’d just been told her husband received the virus through a blood transfusion years before. By the time he received a diagnosis, he’d infected her, and through her subsequent pregnancies, several of their children. Where’s the moral deficiency there?
But back to the question of why we have an interest in other people’s stats.
Apart from sexual compulsions, which is far above my pay grade and not the subject of this article, the curious habit of indexing another’s sexual partners happens to be a subject of serious study.
The Archives of Sexual Behavior detailed the economic reasons for keeping tabs on a woman’s sex life. We’ve heard it before. We can search way back in time before women earned their own keep. Women were dependent on men for supporting them and their children, so it behooved them to know who was impregnating them.
Men, of course, weren’t up for doling out support for some other dude’s offspring.
So they kept a tight rein on their partner’s behavior. Chastity belt, anyone?
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But today we have reliable paternity testing if a man won’t cop to having spread his seed far and wide. So why does it matter to anyone why someone else has had one or a hundred sexual partners?
Assuming consent here, is there a number of partners that determines a healthy, satisfying sex life?
Or, does the number of a person’s sexual relationships correlate with the number of good acts they perform in the world that justifies the title of good person?
It would seem that many factors come into play in understanding the curiosity and yes, judgment of a person’s character depending on their sex life.
Just today I read online that Amal and George Clooney celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary.
I have no idea how many sexual partners either of them had before they married. They seem to have found happiness with each other. In my book, that’s what counts. But before finding his true love, Mr. Clooney received considerable shade for decrying marriage and engaging in many relationships. His, at least in the public record, were conducted serially, which for some folks, absolves him of promiscuity.
But still, the sticky issue of numbers.
Did marriage absolve him of any charge of licentiousness because he was, well, male, famous, and let’s face it: George Clooney? What about the less photogenic but equally talented and libidinous Mick Jagger? Promiscuous or just, what a guy!
How about equally famous women who have celebrated their sexuality and numerous partners. Lindsay Lohan caused an uproar when she supposedly listed 36 of her famous sleeps. Hardly in the same league with Wilt Chamberlin, though, who once bragged of thousands of conquests.
Apart from these headline grabbers, what do numbers mean for us everyday folks?
Obviously, if you commit to monogamy with someone you love, then that closes the door to other relationships.
Psychological and religious factors come in to play. If two people want to have casual sex, or sex in a relationship that shows no signs of ending up in a forever after commitment, they are free to do so. If the idea of sex outside marriage sends a man or woman into fits of moral outrage on the basis of religious leanings, then they should not indulge.
Societal upheavals during the 20th century changed attitudes about sex.
Oh, people were having plenty of sex, but now they were open about it. And thanks to Woodstock, sometimes doing it in the street where it could frighten the horses.
Also, women entering the workforce, soaring divorce rates, and couples marrying later in life, along with the acceptance of living arrangements before marriage made the acknowledgment that many people would have more than one sex partner a given.
Yet, here we are, still sticking our noses into other people’s bedrooms more than half a century after the sex, drugs, and rock and roll generation. Those kids shook up our thinking about one being the appropriate number of sex partners, at least for this nice girl from the Bronx.
How many have you had, we want to ask, or fudging the numbers on our sex spreadsheet to make us look better or worse as the situation requires.
Our sex partners tell us a lot about ourselves.
They represent our choices, our needs and wants, our deepest and darkest desires. What lines we’re willing to cross; which ones we’re not. But those questions are more interesting than the actual number of people whose bodies we’ve enjoyed. Isn’t it more revealing to know why a man would seek out women time and again who insult him in public when he is a giving and compassionate soul? I’ve known such men and the answer to that question is more interesting to me than the number of women he’s slept with.
And how about women who seek out married men, or gay men, or men who can’t commit? Women who sleep their way through hordes of unavailable men looking for Mr. Right. I’d rather know who made them think they could find satisfying love by keeping blinders on, rather than listing the number of losers they’ve screwed.
If I were to take a poll, I bet you’d like to know how many men I’ve slept with. I’m officially a little old lady, so that adds an Ewww factor or a weird factor, depending on your ageist bias. So I have to ask those of you who are curious, why do you want to know? Are you also interested in the number of books I’ve read in my life? The number of written? The number of places I’ve lived? The number of countries I’ve visited? Those numbers will tell you as much about who I am as the number of my bed partners will.
We put peculiar values on sex. We make it a moral issue for some people and not others. I’m looking at you white, upper-class males. Big numbers can label a woman slutty and a man super masculine.
I’m a person who likes answers, and I’m tempted to come up with a pithy explanation for our fascination with the sex life of the other. But I don’t have an answer.
I’m not going to tell you how many men I’ve welcomed into my bed. The public record will show three. Two husbands and a man I lived with for five or six years. I know enough about myself and the world at large, that if my number displeases you, you may cast me aside as someone to follow, overlooking many worthy things I’ve done in my life. Or, if after learning about my private life, you don’t care, I might get your approval for the wrong reasons.
When it comes to consensual sex, should numbers matter? What are the parameters? Who sets the rules? When I think about people in positions of power, especially in politics, people who make laws that often restrict the rights of others, they can stand on so-called family values. We all seen many of them parade their spouses and moral vigor. But then it can come out they have been cheating the bejesus out of said spouse and possibly the public. Then, I think to myself, I’ll take a randy Mick Jagger-type any time.
I’d like to see our society get to a point where people can make up their own minds about the quality and quantity of sex in their lives, as long as they aren’t hypocrites about it.
I’m 80 and I fantasize about sex. Deal with it.
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