How many people have you had sex with? 1? 5? 10? What does it mean if it’s over 100? Are you letting the pursuit of the number rule your life?
I’ve been on vacation for the last couple weeks, enjoying some fun in the sun in the south of France. This, unfortunately, has meant spending a LOT of time in airports and on international flights where the only inflight movie was Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 – the Breakening.This, in turn meant that it was time for the good Doctor to catch up on some TV viewing.
The last few days, I’ve been marathoning Californication and let me tell you, that much Hank Moody does something weird to your brain.
Of course, I figure there’s a column in this.
Y’see, there was a point when I would’ve considered a character like Hank Moody — a successful writer, a snappy quipster and, critically, insanely successful with women – to be my role model. Sure, this would require ignoring that he’s a massive fuck-up on just about every level, but when you’re 19 and a virgin and convinced that you’re going to be eligible to run for President before you ever have sex, you’re willing to overlook the small things because dude, you can bang anyone you want.
Even after losing my virginity, I tied far too much of my self-esteem and ego into sex and my ability (or rather, inability) to get girls; if I were able to get laid whenever I wanted well… I wouldn’t be a loser, now would I? The more conquests I could rack up, the cooler I would be, right? Right?
To say that this was a self-destructive cycle is understating things a bit.
Luckily for me, this ultimately lead to my becoming who I am today, but there was a point when all I had been concerned with was sleeping with as many women as possible.
And lots of dudes still are. And if we’re all perfectly honest, I’m willing to bet some of you, dear readers, are interested in that as well.
So let’s talk a little about promiscuity, why guys get so obsessed with the numbers and what it means for men and women.
Sex and Validation
Male sexuality is one commonly defined by excess; it’s axiomatic that all guys are perpetually horny, therefore of course we’re all obsessed with sticking our dicks in anything that might get us off. Get a guy horny enough and he’ll fuck a bundt cake if it’s warm enough, right, right?
Of course, this does a great disservice to men. The fact is that, frankly, human sexuality is incredibly goddamn complicated and comes in a startling number of varieties and variations. There’s more to guys wanting to dip their wicks as often as possible than some bullshit idea that “men are evolved to spread their seed as far and as wide as possible.” Frequently, what’s going on in our shorts is all about what’s going on in our heads.
For many guys, sex is gifted with mystical importance; it’s magic cure-all, the silver bullet, the one thing that would make all the difference in our lives. Never mind answers like working towards becoming a better person or building a successful, interesting lifestyle: if we could just get that incredibly hot girlfriend or have so much more sex than we’re currently having, it would makeeverything better. It would validate every other aspect of our lives. We wouldn’t wake up feeling like there’s a hole in our lives or feeling like we’re missing out on something that the rest of the world gets. We wouldn’t feel like we’re losers.
One of the nastier aspects of male sexual culture is the binary state: you’re either good with girls or you’re just pathetic. If you just weren’t one of those people who was born naturally charismatic and at ease with women then… well, there’s just no helping you, son. Those of us who weren’t given with those particular gifts in vitro are left feeling as though there is something wrong with usbecause we aren’t instinctively accomplished at what is, ultimately, a skill. Getting sex becomes a barometer of who you are as a person: if you lose your virginity then you can point and say “see? SEE? I’m not a loser!”
Of course, when you start looking at sex as a source of validation, you’re putting yourself on a slippery slope. The idea of “this many women let me have sex with them, therefore I have worth” isincredibly damaging to one’s psyche. To start with, sex quits being a matter of intimacy or a way of connecting with your fellow human beings. Instead, it becomes all about you and the fact that there’s someone else involved is ultimately irrelevant. You’re no longer concerned with your partner as a person; you’re concerned with what they represent. She’s not a person so much as a collection of social point values that represents your self-worth. This is an incredibly self-destructive path because when you’re seeking external validation, you inevitably are going to hit the wall.
The problem is that, after a while, sex-as-validation becomes like any other drug: it never works as well as it did the first time. The more you seek that external source of esteem, the less it helps and the harder you have to work to get the same “high” as you did before. You’ll try to up the intensity – either chasing after sheer numbers or increasingly unattainable women in hopes that you can find the same level of reward that you used to get. Either way, youwill burn out. Even if you’re banging a new stranger every night, those dark tendrils of self-doubt and hate will start slipping in and you’ll find that all your old ways of shutting them out — sex — just don’t work anymore. Then it’s just you and your inner demons… and you have no way of dealing with them any more.
It’s Only A Double Standard If You Have Standards
Still, even if you’re just trying to stave off the ghosts of self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness, it’s cool for guys to have as many partners as possible. If you’re a woman and start racking up more than the socially acceptable number of sex partners1, then you’re nothing but a filthy, filthy slut. After all, who respects a lock that any key can open?
Besides, it’s basic evolutionary psychology: men can father many children at once, therefore they’re supposed to be fucking far and wide while women are supposed to pick only one mate at a time in order to better maximize picking superior genes.
Of course, this bullshit belief requires profound misunderstanding of both evolution and psychology.
In fact — evolutionarily speaking2 — having multiple partners works out to a woman’s advantage; many male primates will kill a female’s children in order to ensure that his are the only ones that get raised to adulthood. By having more than one sexual partner, a female helps ensure that not only will the males not try to murder her offspring — for fear of accidentally killing their own kids by mistake — but it provides incentive for more males to help provide for them; after all, they can’t be sure that they’re not taking care of their own kids.
But why let facts get in the way of some good old-fashioned slut shaming?
Just as male sexuality is unfairly defined as being horny beyond all control and reason, female sexuality still tends to be defined as something that needs to be coaxed and cajoled out of a woman, because it needs to be kept bottled up for fear of losing it’s value. Let it too many people handle it — so the thinking goes — and suddenly it’s worthless.
The idea that men are supposed to have lots of sex and women aren’t is a cultural hang-up based around — ultimately — a fear of female sexuality and validation of male ego. After all, if a guy is supposed to be celebrated for getting a girl into bed, it takes away from his specialness when it turns out to be less of a case of a master of seduction “getting her to give it up” and more of her thinking “Well, I’m horny, you’re not unattractive and there’s really nothing good on TV tonight…”
Even in this day and age, it’s a sad testimony to our lack of cultural evolution that we hold on to the belief that while women may have sexual agency but if they spread the love too far and wide then there’s clearly something wrong with them. Hell, one of the movies on my flight back to the States was What’s Your Number?, a movie that revolves around the not-at-all misogynistic idea that a woman who has too many sex partners will *gasp* never get married.Nothing like a romantic comedy that comes with the subtext — unintentional or not — of “should’ve kept your legs shut, Anna Faris!”
What’s In A Number Anyway?
This cultural obsession with the numbers game is one that annoys me – all the more so for having been part of it. Especially since it’s absolutely meaningless. The number of a person’s sexual partners – regardless of gender – is just that: a number. It has no relevance to a person’s morality. It is not a quantifiable measure of a person’s sexual desirability; it’s not that hard to rack up large numbers of lays if that’s all you want. All you have to do is lower your standards to “breathing” and be willing to take on all comers.
Having a large number of partners doesn’t automatically make you better or somehow superior to someone with a lower number — or even none at all.
The only thing the number of sexual partners represents is an increased risk of pregnancy and STD exposure — which are two of the risks that we all accept as part of the price of entry of having an active sex life.
What’s Going On (When You’re Gettin’ On)
The moment that things changed for me, my long dark night of the soul that changed how I looked at my sex life and how I approached sex was one night when I realized that I was heading home with a woman that I really just could not stand. I thought she was annoying, rude, had all of the personality and wit of soggy toast and was more than a little asshole-ish… but hey, she was down to fuck and I was desperate to end an ego-shredding dry spell (which, for reference, was less than two months…) so who the hell cared?. It was only when I realized that I was already planning my potential escape route that I realized just how little any of it meant. If I was willing to spend hours with people I genuinely didn’t like — people with whom I would otherwise not be associating with — just because I wanted to blow a load… what the hell did that say about me?
That was when I hit the wall and realized that things had to change. I didn’t run out and become a serial monogamist or suddenly decide that the only answer was to henceforth be chaste until marriage, but it did make me realize just how I was letting sex control my self-worth. I had to build a new emotional support system that didn’t depend on how many women I slept with on a monthly basis. It took time. And it sucked. But afterwards… my life made a turn for the better. I was still finding new partners, but it had slowed down significantly… and I didn’t mind. In fact, while the quantity may have dropped, the quality increased dramatically. The women I was meeting now were smart, awesome and dynamic – most of whom I’m still friends with today.
When it comes to sex and dating, the numbers game is unimportant. Some people choose not to have as many partners as they potentially could. Others are genuinely sexually expressive people for whom sex is just a fun part of who they are and have partners ranging in the triple or quadruple digits. Some people are virgins. Some people have low – or non-existant – libidos and are quite happy that way. And that’s all fine.
It’s only when sex itself is the goal — whether its without regard for others, a way of proving a point or as a way of plugging the emotional hole – that it’s a problem. As long as your attitude and approach towards is healthy and safe, the rest…
Well, the rest ain’t nothin’ but a number.