LyingI didn’t think I was ashamed of the number of sexual partners I’ve had in the 20 years I’ve been getting it on until I found myself filling in a number half the true total at a recent gynecologist appointment. Although I know doctors are trained not to judge, and this doctor in particular had been particularly kind, helpful and professional when I’d seen her previously, in my head, all of a sudden the number (at best an approximation as I haven’t kept an exact count in years) seemed like cause for alarm. Even if I never had to say it out loud and its size was simply one more piece of data for her to use in evaluating me, something about it made me erase what I’d typed in the online form and halve it. As it turned out, she didn’t even ask me a single thing about my number, so that fretting was for naught—except that it taught me a lesson: slut shaming isn’t just something other people do to us, but something we can do to ourselves.

The incident shook me up,; I consider myself an advocate for sexual freedom and would never want to judge anyone for their number of partners, yet I did it to myself. When I actually recall the collected sexual experiences and lovers I’ve had, I’m not actually ashamed, because even the worst sex of my life and most harrowing relationships have taught me important lessons that I believe make me a better lover and better person. In the moment, I was making what I thought were good choices, whether sex for fun, for love, for the sake of experimentation—or all three. Do I have some former partners I wish I could completely delete from my memory, or go back in time and selectively not sleep with? Sure, but that’s part of life. If every sexual experience was perfect … okay, that wouldn’t actually be a bad thing, but it’s a pretty unrealistic standard.

Still, there’s something about my number that feels off to me, like a dress that once fit perfectly that now I can’t squeeze into no matter how much contorting I do. The number represents who I used to be, but is at odds with my current staid life. For the past year, the only person I’ve slept with is my boyfriend, and even before that, I was much more considered and careful than I’d been in my twenties and early thirties. I’d come to a place where I wanted sex to be about more than just sexual pleasure. Please note that I’m not saying sex for pleasure’s sake is wrong in any way—it’s wonderful! What I mean is that I didn’t want to have even the most mindblowing, earth-shattering sex with someone who’d lock me out of their life the next day. That tradeoff was no longer worth it.

Whereas I used to want to cram as much adventure as possible into my days and nights, now, on a typical Saturday night, I’m home reading and playing Words with Friends, or maybe eating dinner my boyfriend’s cooked for me and catching up on watching “Jeopardy.” I am not off at sex parties or even flirting with anyone, though I’ve done plenty of that.

Rationally, I know that a doctor’s job is to help people, not judge them, not to mention that by not giving her my full and truthful information, I’m depriving her and myself of the chance to learn as much as possible about my medical history. Since she didn’t ask, and I went through the routine annual exam in the exact same way my others have gone, I don’t feel too badly about fudging my number. I do feel badly for allowing myself even a moment of discomfort over something that A) can’t be changed and B) is part of who I am.

It reminded me that back in college, my first serious boyfriend wanted us to move in together after we graduated. I’d been his first lover, and he’d been my second. We broke up and got back together over the course of our time in school. I was moved by his wanting us to be together, but also knew that wasn’t the right path for me at such a young age. I smile when I see a book written by someone I’ve bedded, or see news about former lovers on Facebook. I even play Words with Friends with two of my exes (both of whom invariably beat me most of the time—grr!). When I break down the number, I remember that it’s made of up real, live people, who are fascinating and complex and varied, and that makes them all worth it.

I deliberately haven’t listed my number here, not because I’m ashamed, but because it’s not the point. My number could be two and I could feel bad about it, or 2,000 and I could be proud of it; it’s all a matter of perspective. I’m much more interested in my current partner, who not only has never asked about my number, but I’m pretty sure doesn’t care one way or the other—which is good, because my number doesn’t tell him or anyone else anything about my personality, character or level of commitment. The next time I go to the doctor, I’m going to be honest. The only thing I have to be ashamed of is letting a number dictate how I feel about myself.


This post originally appeared on The Frisky. Republished with permission.

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  • Jay

    The numbers are VERY important. Where I can understand the desire that people don’t want to be judged, some diseases are easier to catch if you’re a high risk individual (many partners even WITH protection is high risk). There are diseases that condoms don’t particularly protect people from… When a doctor knows this information, they can better advise you with choices that are relevant to your lifestyle. Women with different sexual lifestyles need different medical advice… A swinger and a monogamous housewife need different approaches to their lifestyles… Its problematic to think they don’t. What I do notice is that a woman with a number deemed small (under 10) doesn’t have a problem disclosing… It’s not slut shaming. Promiscuity creates a sense of guilt, as it should. For women AND men… I’ve had 4,5,6 women in a night, and stayed in bed the whole next day because of how shameful I felt about it… And I’m a MALE…

    • Anthony

      Six women bedded in one night? Are you a jackrabbit?
      Maybe I’m just woefully inadequate, but how one man truly satisfy that many women in one night outside of giving them all a lot of oral sex?

    • Beks

      I disagree. It isn’t the number but the type of sex one is having. There are people with low numbers who “feel” safer and engage in more risky behavior than folks who are have higher numbers and go out of their way to protect themselves. My bf who had low numbers regularly would try to engage in unprotected sex while some of my more “successful” partners were strict with the condom usage and with other barrier methods should the need arise. Any gyn will tell you the same information.
      While we can imagine that your arguement makes common sense — as in increase #’s increases the risk — the stastics show that transmission rate is not affected by # of partners but by rate of proper protection use.
      Shaming is a big problem. That person with X number and heavy shame is the most dangerous person out there… they are the least likely to disclose their status (for ANY STI’s). The less we shame each other the more sexual partners will be able to know and respond with appropriate protections.

  • shoSTOPPER

    you are only hurting yourself by lying about the number. i was just reading that they have found a “cure” to aids, but this in when its detected early- our culture has a problem.. they like to be free sexually, but don’t like talking about stds- they do exist and its rel

  • E.M.S.

    I’m glad you realized it’s not worth lying about. Especially when it comes to your health.

    Personally I’m really sick of how society judges people based on how many partners they’ve had, as if there’s a “perfect” number when there isn’t. And even if someone does judge you, forget them! Who are they to say anything?

    As long as you’re comfortable with the number, that’s all that matters.

  • Joy

    This is my story. Thanks for sharing! Although, I have never been slut shamed by anyone (to my face, anyway) I too have gotten down on myself every now and then for my number. However, I have been with only one person the last two years. When I consider the fact that I have always used protection, always done annual check ups and thank God never had an unwanted pregnancy, I am happy to just let that number be in the past. What weight do they hold in the present day in my present relationship whether the number is 2 or 12?

  • talaktochoba

    oh, stop emoting! the reason you lied is the same reason men do…because you know you’ve had too many, some more than once and others belonging to women you know/are/were friends with, probably husbands to;

    i’ll bet you cannot even remember them all, by face or by name…

    i know–neither can i…

    wish i could tell you what to do about…will directly i find out for myself;