Sex & Relationships

Sexual partners, virginity (or lack thereof) and promiscuity

June 27, 2018
sexual partners Rosemary Mac Cabe

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I’ve been thinking about sexual partners a lot lately – even more than usual. In part, I blame Love Island; a challenge a few days ago saw each couple guess how many sexual partners the other had in his or her lifetime. The answers themselves weren’t the most interesting part; instead, it was each person’s reaction, not to their partner’s number, but to what their partner guessed about them.

Can we judge people by the number of sexual partners they’ve had?

Megan was outraged at Eyal’s guess that she had slept with 37 people – “just because I’m open about sex doesn’t mean I’ve slept with every Tom, Dick and Harry!” she fumed. Eyal’s own reaction was interesting, too – I could be wrong, but he didn’t seem to be judging Megan at all with his guess. Rather, he was basing the number on the fact that Megan seems to be rather relaxed about sex, at least in terms of discussing it, not to mention the fact that she’d had sex with him.

On the other hand, we had Adam, whose number of sexual partners – more than 200 – was a source of hilarity. Laura, one of the oldest in the group, gave her figure as “33-ish”, and looked particularly shame-faced about the revelation.

As in Love Island, so too in life

I’m not trying to say that Love Island is in any way representative of real life, but, in this exchange at least, the reactions didn’t seem unusual. Can we honestly purport to have come so far, when it comes to gender equality, if we are still judging men and women so differently on the basis of their sexual partners (or lack thereof)?

Where it’s interesting, too, is when you compare numbers across genders, age groups and generations – far from being the Sodom and Gomorrah we’d been promised, it seems as if, where sexual partners are concerned, our generation may in fact be one of the most conservative.

According to an article in Dazed, Brian O’Flynn talked about a new survey which revealed that one in eight 26-year-olds are virgins today; the suggestions were that porn and social media each have a role to play, although the conclusion was a little more open-ended – asking, ultimately, whether virginity is even a valid concept, given that it is entirely hetero-normative and rather narrow in its definition.

It also brought up the interesting idea that the fact a lot of young adults are living at home for longer and longer is getting in the way of their sexual adventuring, which I could well imagine would be a factor.

So… How many sexual partners have I had?

Honestly? I think I’ve finally found the one thing I don’t want to commit to print. My mother will be so proud. I do wonder, would I feel equally ashamed at a high number, as I would at a low number?  If I was a man, would I be only delighted to write down the number of sexual partners I’ve had? (Would it be in the hundreds?)

There are certain things that I believe we should talk about: salaries, for example. I know that tradition would dictate that we don’t discuss salaries – it’s rude, tradition says, it’s impolite – but I do think that opening up the conversation around wages will empower us all (particularly women) to ask for more. But sexual partners might just be the last straw for me – perhaps not only because of my own feelings about my experience, but because of the fact that, whether it’s right or wrong, people are judgemental. And this may just be the one thing I don’t feel like being judged about.

What about you? Do you feel proud of the number of sexual partners you’ve had? Would you admit it aloud? Or should it stay secret?

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2 Comments

  • Reply Kate Turner July 1, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    I’m 28, have had four.
    My first at 22, my longest relationship.
    He was 35 and had almost my age in partners.

  • Reply Anon July 2, 2018 at 8:56 am

    I’m 30 and have had 19. I was single for most of my 20s. I’m not embarrassed personally but I would be embarrassed of how others would perceive it…if that makes sense.

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