You can never have too much—or too little—sex!
This might not come as a shock to many, but the Anna Faris film What’s Your Number? is atrocious.
Originally, I had seen only the beginning on HBO in a hotel room on my most recent trip to Minneapolis. I fell asleep in a vegan pizza, Hendricks gin, and vacation happiness-induced coma halfway through – but what I had seen before that point had surprised me. A woman, unashamed of her number of sexual partners until her friends reveal their much lower numbers and engage in some good ol’ fashioned slut shaming.
I was excited, enthused even, to find a somewhat accurate representation of sexual shame in the media – we’re not ashamed until we are taught to be.
It hadn’t crossed my mind again until months later when a friend of mine texted me—fuming—after watching the film on Netflix on a lazy day. It turns out the ending is not so wonderful as its hopeful beginning. Just in case any of you were still interested in watching this movie for some god-forsaken reason, consider this your spoiler alert: Ally finds her true love and doesn’t have to become a slut by sleeping with more than 20 men. YAY TRUE LOVE! YAY NOT BEING SLUTTY!
Although women bear the brunt of slut-shaming (as illustrated in Jessica Valenti’s 2008 book, He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut), men can also be shamed for the number of sexual partners they’ve had. Think of some of the terms we use to describe people who have had a ton of sex and you’ll see that not too many of them are complimentary: slut, whore, skank, hoe. Nothing you’d want engraved on your tombstone, that’s for sure.
Then there are the other perceptions: “People who have slept around are dirty.”
While engaging in sex acts with more partners does statistically put you risk of more exposure to infections, it certainly does not make one dirty. Although it does call to mind the “favorite” abstinence-only educator metaphor that we are like tape and every time we have sex with someone, we attach ourselves to them – leaving their residue and “gunk” all over us.
Well, I have good news – we are not tape, we are people and sex is not dirty.
Alternatively, however, people can be shamed for not having enough sex. That’s right – we shouldn’t have too much or too little sex. I lived in a town that is often falsely identified as “The STI Capital of Canada” because casual sex with many partners is the norm. That just wasn’t my style! I definitely got teased and my friends had no idea why I wasn’t jumping into the culture vagina-first. I exaggerated the number of people I had slept with because I thought I should and felt weird having slept with so many less people than my ski-hill co-workers. So why are we still prejudiced and ashamed of our sexual experiences?
The thing is – the amount, quality, and frequency of the sex we have has nothing to do with how many people have seen us naked. It is entirely possible for someone to have had few partners with whom they have had all the sex. It is possible for someone with many partners to still not be able to voice their needs, haven’t been adventurous and tried new things, or have a ton of sex – and vice-versa.
All that the number of partners you have had says about you is how many partners you have had. Period.
Whether you wear the term “slut” as a badge of honor or find it deeply offensive, we should worry about questioning why someone felt qualified and justified in applying any label to your sexuality. How about we be the judge of our own sexuality, whether we have slept with eight or 58 people? When it comes down to it, “your number” is useless and just becomes another tool of a sex-negative society in keeping us focused on what we “should” be doing, instead of inciting a riot of sensuality pleasure.
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