Quick question: what's a good "number" for a girl?

Written by Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.

People ask me this kind of question a lot, and I'll be honest with you: I don't get it.

I understand that people are worried about being "normal," but really, are you gonna decide how many sex partners to have based on the say-so of an article you read online? Are you gonna feel good or bad about how many sex partners you've had so far, based on how many sex partners other people have had? I mean, really, what good will this information do in your life?

The whole "number" thing is totally meaningless. For one thing, your number (as a count of your sex partners) will vary depending on what you consider sex. Is oral sex sex? Clinton says no, but your ability to get an STI says yes. Is manual sex sex? Does the guy you dry humped get counted? If we count only penile-vaginal intercourse as sex, does that mean that gays and lesbians have had no sex partners? What if a woman is sexually assaulted, does her perpetrator get counted as someone she had sex with?

And for another thing, regardless of what behaviors you count as sex, what does a person's number actually tell you? What does it say about you if you have a higher or lower number compared to other people your age? The cultural double standard is that men with high numbers are better (stud!) and women with high numbers are worse (slut!), but surely we can all agree that that's, like, so 20th century and we're ready to move on to attitudes toward sex that are more accepting of diversity, individual choice and gender parity.


I don't kid myself that the above tirade will change anyone's mind. If you're a person who feels it's important to be like other people, nothing I can say will make the averageness of your number any less important to you. But look, just remember this: deciding whether or not to juxtapose your genitals and/or mouth with someone else's genitals and/or mouth is not, I repeat, NOT, the kind of decision that should be influenced by what other people do. Arrite? Arrite.

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