By Kelly Bourdet, Refinery29
.Maybe you can count all of your sexual partners on one hand, maybe you lost count years ago - or maybe, you fall somewhere in the middle. But no matter, that number can often inform how you feel about sex. It can be complicated or simple - or, again, something between the two, often because our relationships with ourselves and our partners change over time, and from partner to partner. Sex can make us feel powerful, but there are also times when it can take away our power. It can be a statement of commitment or a totally no-strings-attached adventure.
That wealth and range of experience and feeling is a tremendous thing. And, although in the past, women's sexual histories have been used to shame or silence them, things are beginning to change. In many places around the world, women are claiming the expression of their sexuality in big and small ways.
But, there's still an element of mystery around sex partners - many of us feel uncomfortable with the idea of sharing our "number" with others, both fearful and curious to learn how we compare.
In reality, there's no comparison. And there's no right or wrong. But, it's interesting to see what history and experience looks like outside of our own lives. To dig a little deeper - and since no two women have the same relationship with their sexuality - we asked 12 women in their twenties and thirties to tell us about their sexual pasts. Ahead, their stories in their own words.
This 23-year-old woman has slept with 10 men
."I only really divulge 'my number' if asked directly about it in conversation. Although I think with most people (excluding maybe my parents or my boss or something) I would feel no discomfort giving that information away. I do feel a certain pride or sense of accomplishment at my number. However, I personally don't find the number itself empowering. I have felt empowered by certain situations that led to that number, but I know that number also includes situations in which I was robbed of power.
That being said, 'my number' feels very disengaged from the situations which resulted in it, especially since, being more or less a serial monogamist, it doesn't really say much of anything about my actual sex life. And, it definitely has no bearing on me as a person. Even so, I still keep track (even at one point, writing down the full list in a notebook - which I have since lost), and hold it as something important for me to know."
This 26-year-old woman has slept with 36 men and women
"My number has no significant meaning for me. My self-confidence has never depended on how sexually active I was, I think because sex to me was never about desirability. It was either unexpected, an act of exploration, or because it was last call. Most people I never saw again.
There was a period, around 18 or 19, when I was inviting strangers (men) off of Craigslist to come over.
At 22, when I first moved to New York, I became curious about the "erotic party" scene. This is probably the time when I slept with the most people and is why my exact number eludes me. I've never worried about whether or not I was getting laid enough. It just happened when I felt like it."
This 23-year-old woman has slept with two men
."That is counting only 100% P-in-V, if you know what I mean. If I count all kinds of making out and other stuff, then it's more like six. I don't find my number empowering, in fact, I kind of hate it. I can never shake the feeling that I'm not getting enough experience because I'm consistently in a "serious relationship." I've always had fewer partners than others - that's not what bugs me. It's the daunting prospect of never having sex with anyone else. I feel especially weird about it because I am a very sexual person - I basically think about having sex with every single person I see. I really want to experience casual sex, or at least I think that I do. But how am I ever going to know what I actually want if I haven't tried?
Not to mention I have some inklings about my sexuality, even my orientation, that I haven't explored because I've been in a relationship with a man for over four years. I'm not going to break up with someone I love just because I think I might want to bang some dude from the club (not like I ever go to clubs or do anything but look at cats on the Internet), but I can't help but wonder."
This 25-year-old woman has slept with zero men and women
."Many might find my number surprising, but I am actually proud to be able to sport a goose egg in a world (and country) where sex is so easily exploited and it's often expected we'll lose our virginities before we hit the two decade mark. Some people wonder how I've gone this far without sex, and all I have to say is that I can't miss something I've never experienced. I feel confident that I will catch up in my sexual experiences in my own time."
This 25-year-old woman has slept with 25 women
"I definitely don't tell my sex partners my number. I have only told one partner ever and that was probably back at 18. People don't seem to like women who have had more than five to seven partners. I've usually only had one partner at a time - at the most two. There's really no correlation between my number of partners and my self-confidence, as I have never been without sex and I'm also not ashamed of having two partners at once."
This 29-year-old woman has slept with 47 men
. "I feel pretty neutral about my number, though I imagine it's slightly higher than most people my age. It's actually pretty interesting to look back at it now - In my youth I had a number of very disempowering sexual experiences. I was sexually assaulted (I'm counting him, too) and had a lot of other, often drunken, sexual experiences in which I think I was looking for love and affirmation in the wrong places. But, in my 20s, I feel my sexual experiences have been really gratifying. There have been times when I've been in a relationship and times when I've had several, more casual sexual partners at a single time. But, at this point in my life I feel I really know what I want and how to ask for it. When I have sex, it's for fun or affection and it's on my terms."