2/2/16
How Many Sexual Partners Officially Makes You a Slut?

Dear Em & Lo,

I am 18 and newly single, having just broken up with my boyfriend of over a year and my first sexual partner. I am worried about becoming promiscuous just as much as I am worried about denying myself, due to my old fashioned upbringing. I have been reading your site since before I became sexually active and have found it to be an extremely helpful and logical resource. As a teenager, I was advised to abstain from sexual contact, but now as an adult it seems in magazines like Cosmo that sex is completely meaningless and to be had without any sort of restraint. I have never had a firm grasp on what is and isn’t “slutty,” if you’ll excuse the term. I know if I asked anyone else I would get a simple “Do what feels right,” but that’s just not good enough for me. Can I please get an answer somewhere between “Do what you’re comfortable with” and a count of exactly how many sexual encounters elevates one to promiscuity? What might I regret? How high of a number of former partners would I have to have to shock a potential sexual partner ten years from now?

— Not Quite Like a Virgin

 

Dear Virgin-Lite,

Okay, here’s a number: 10, 234 — safe to say, that’s pretty “slutty.”

But that’s the only number we’re giving out today. After all, one person might think that ten is acceptable but eleven downright sleazy, while another could consider ten partners a year to be pretty restrained behavior. Where do you draw the line? And if you’re toeing someone else’s line, what happens when you meet someone new who has a different line? What then, huh?

Give up? So do a lot of people. They just end up relying on stupid tradition — and lying. Studies have shown that women still fib about the number of men they’ve slept with, confessing to a smaller number than is actually true to avoid seeming slutty, while men tend to inflate their numbers to seem more studly. Yep, that ole double standard is still alive and well. But buying into double standards never improved anyone’s sex life.

You could say some women’s magazines are trying to smash that double standard. But in doing so, as you said, they’ve created a brand new confusing sexpectation: the seventeen-year-old prudish prom queen who’s supposed to morph overnight into the eighteen-year-old professional porn queen. And how the hell are you supposed to accomplish that without the aid of Miley’s stylist? Using some mathematical equation ain’t gonna bridge the gap. So, ultimately, you’ve just got to do what feels right.

Oh, stop your hemming and hawing, it’s true! How you feel about it — not how your parents, nor your future partners, nor your friends feel about it — is the measuring stick. We can’t tell you what numberof partners you might regret, we can only tell you the kind of sex you might regret (and no, we’re not talking about positions or orifices or double-penetration dildos). No one ever woke up feeling sick and full of regret because they surpassed some imaginary quota, but you can bet plenty of people (us included, way back when) have met the new day feeling sick and full of regret because the previous night’s experience wasn’t satisfying or meaningful or fun or safe or sober.

Look, being “slutty” has nothing to do with numbers, but everything to do with motivation and situation — if you only hook up with someone because you selfishly want to get something out of it (like a present or a committed boyfriend) or because you have a void in your life you’re trying to fill with meaningless sex (no vagina jokes, please) or because you think it’s hipster and cool to fuck “like a guy” even though you don’t really like or care about the person you’re hooking up with, or because you’re totally out-of-your-head blotto, then that’s Slutty with a capital S — whether you’re a man or a woman. But if you like sex, are responsible with your body and the emotions of the people you’re sleeping with, then who cares how many notches are on your belt? Sex (in whatever form: hand-holding, kissing, fondling, probing, etc) should be about the safe and mutual exchange of pleasure between consenting adults (young adults too). When sex is all that, take it where (and while) you can get it!

Of course, sex that perfect is hard to find. But hey, that helps keep the numbers down (if you’re still hung up on the whole numbers thing). If we haven’t made it perfectly clear yet, the question is more about morality than numerology. The problem is that a lot of the “old fashioned” folks assume that to be sexually aware and proactive (at least, or especially, if you’re not married) negates the possibility of being an upstanding citizen with morals and values and integrity. But you can have morals and still have a lot of sex and a lot of sexual partners! Sure, there are plenty of jerks out there who have a lot of sex irresponsibly, dishonestly and unsafely, thereby giving promiscuity a bad name. But that’s all the more reason why the good folk who are having lots of good sex should be honest about it!

Some of our best friends couldn’t tell us their total body count if their life depended on it (and they certainly can’t recall last names…and even some first names) — but they still get let into church. Another friend is proud to claim three as her lucky number. And guess what? There’s not a single slut among them. As long as you consider each new partner a cause for celebration rather than concern, there is no magic number that, when reached, will magically transform you from a madonna into a whore.

Horizontal citizens’ brigade,

Em & Lo

Here are a few ways to have sex without feeling slutty:
10 Steps to Getting Casual Sex Right

7 Comments

  1. Once, a close friend described herself as a slut. I got angry with her. The word has such negative connotations that simply do not apply to her, now or then or in the past. She was a wonderful woman that had a lot of love to give. The fact that she saw having sex with men when not in a romantic liaison as something that was wrong. I asked her that when she slept with such a man, did she feel nothing for her partner in the moment? She answered, except for a couple, she always felt connected in the moment. There you go. Just so you know I never slept with her.

  2. For better or worse there’s no numerical standard: women have been judged and punished for being “sluts” for nothing more than looking at another man, and given a pass for having sex with the entire Russian army and all their horses (Katharine the Great.) So finding a “number” that will reliably shock or relieve a partner ten years from now is gonna be tough.

    You asked for something more tangible than the (excellent) when you feel comfortable but only when you feel comfortable. So let’s try and make up some numbers.

    So let’s say you’re over-the-top cautious and always wait till the 10th date to have sex. And only date one person a year. By age 30 your “number” would be 12. (13 counting your ex boyfriend.)

    But anyone calling you a “slut” for averaging one partner a year needs to go back to their monastery.

    And as for worrying what number a partner might worry about ten years from now? By age 30 most people have stopped thinking much about their partner’s “number.”

    Good luck!

    DTI

    1. Yeah, a reasonable guy takes math into account.

      I lost my v-card at 17. If I had sex with only one woman per year since then, I’d be at 19 partners.

      Sex with 19 people might sound like a lot. Sex once a year sounds like very little. There’s no right answer.

  3. Just in case you do wind up with a high number, keep in mind that some of us prefer that in a partner. I find female promiscuity very exciting and wouldn’t be compatible with a sexually unadventurous woman.

  4. The term “slut” is better thought of as a political term than a sexual term. It is used as a way to control women, both to keep them “in their place” and to discourage their sexual autonomy. Don’t believe me? Then why are 13-year-old virgins, women who have been raped, and women of a lower social class sometimes called “sluts.” A recent study of college students found that sorority women characterized lower-status (often non-college) women as sluts even when they had less sex than the sorority women. The literature about slut-shaming is extensive but it usually comes down to the same thing: power, not morality.

    Have sex with whoever you want to as long as YOU want to have that sex and aren’t doing it to please others or somehow prove something to yourself. And if anyone calls you a slut simply say “do you mean I enjoy sex and don’t let others tell me how to live? How sad that you don’t.”

  5. Dear Not Quite Like a Virgin,

    I don’t have a hard and fast number for you but, if you are being selective, having sex on your terms, say no more than you say yes you are not a slut.

  6. Dear Not Quite Like a Virgin,
    If you read eighteenth-century British literature, you will see “slut” used in its original sense of “a dirty, untidy woman.” To me a woman who is dirty and untidy is unattractive, but a woman who is sexually experienced is, ahem, err, cough – hot. You know your body; you are learning what you like; you can give me directions on how best to please you – terrific!

    Then, to underline Em and Lo’s excellent point that “buying into double standards never improved anyone’s sex life,” I will ask you to answer the question that I have posed to a number of women: what is the male equivalent of “slut”? No one was able to answer that question with anything better than with, the equally sexist, “man-whore.” Please forget the word “slut,” except in its original sense when you are deep into Fielding’s delightful _The History of Tom Jones_.

    Do you treat your lovers with respect? Are you sensitive to their needs? Do you, in short, “like sex, are responsible with your body and the emotions of the people you’re sleeping with,” as Em and Lo say? If your answers to these questions are “yes,” “then who cares how many notches are on your belt?” (amen)

    But, hey, I’m a man. What do I know?

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