Monday, March 11, 2013

What's your number?

                                                  Can I have yo numba? Can I have it?

So, this clip isn't really related to what I'm talking about, but it's funny and I thought of it when I put this title in. I've noticed a lot lately that people are very interested in knowing how many people other people have been with. Maybe it's that they want to compare themselves and see how they measure up to others; Maybe they are simply curious. Either way, it's a difficult question to answer because we need to be able to universally define sex. If I asked you how many people you've had sex with, do you only count the ones you've had penetration with? Or do you consider oral or manual stimulation into your number? I suppose you could have a general count of all the people you've had activity with, and then break it down into oral and penetration. But to count 'sex' as only penetration doesn't exactly work for everyone. Gay men and lesbian women most certainly have sex lives, but 'sex' is not the traditional vaginal penetration. They would still need to be able to count their partners. The CDC counts all kinds of activity (oral, anal and vaginal) in their statistics. So, let's just say it's all sexual activity.

So, what's normal? As is usually figured, men tend to have had more sex partners in their lifetimes than women. According to the Kinsey Institute, men ages 30-44 report an average of 6-8 sex partners, whereas women in the same age bracket report an average of four (this particular study counted heterosexual partners).

According to the CDC, of men ages 15-44, a surprising 21.6% have had 15 or more sexual partners, and only 9% of women have had that amount. But on the other hand, 20% of men and 31% of women have only had one sex partner.

 In my personal opinion, only extremes seem to be taken to heart. For example, the movie 40 Year Old Virgin is so funny because we don't expect a fairly attractive forty year old man to have never had sex. Finding out someone is a virgin is generally pretty surprising. And on the other hand, finding out a person has had sex with hundreds of people, like Gene Simmons or Wilt Chamberlain, is also surprising. Simmons says he's slept with about 5,000 women and Wilt Chamberlain had supposedly slept with 20,000 in his life. Talk about being experienced...

I mean, look at that tongue...

What does it mean to have sex partners? Sex means something different to everyone, so this is a really hard subject to pin down. Some people think sex is just a physical act and have no problem sharing it with many people. Some people think it's only something that should be expressed in the context of a relationship, and some people think it's a one-person bond within a marriage. Past generations are more likely to have had one or two sex partners, as sex used to be so much more taboo and so did things like divorce. Nowadays, more and more people are opting out of marriage or getting married later on, leaving more time for more quantitative relationships and sexual experiences.

And another thing that could be a whole 'nother blog post in itself is what we consider to be 'sex.' Traditionally, vaginal penetration has been the definition. But it's silly to not consider other forms of sexual activity as having had sex. Oral & Anal sex is just as risky and intimate as penis-in-vagina penetration. However, I think that most people don't consider them as sex when they think about the number of people they've been with, though I think they should. You can decide for yourself what you consider it to be, which is another reason it's difficult to pinpoint what sex means, how many people you've been with, etc., etc.

But having several sexual partners isn't a bad thing. According to the Kinsey Institute, 56% of American men and 30% of women have had five or more partners in their lifetime. Of course, there are risks involved. More sexual partners means greater risk of things like sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. Ideally, protection of some sort should be used every time unless you are in a committed relationship where you have both been tested, or you are actively trying to get pregnant. Yes, I know, condoms suck and no one likes to use them. But std's are a lot more of an inconvenience, as are children, especially with someone you might not know very well.

Experiencing sexual acts with more than one person can be very enlightening. It can allow a person to see what other people are interested in, and maybe gain some new interests of their own. On the other hand, it can also make you realize what you are definitely not interested in. Sex isn't everything, but in most relationships, it plays a big role. Not being sexually compatible with a person with which you are involved could be the downfall to the relationship. Of course, there are always compromises that can allow two sexually different people to get along, but sometimes you find that your conflicting ways just won't work in the context of a long-term relationship.

One thing to remember, though, is that quantity doesn't mean quality. Just because you've been around doesn't mean you know what you're doing. Debby Herbenick, Ph.D. sex researcher (one of my favorites) says, "Having 10 partners won’t teach you what your current partner likes, and that’s all that matters." It's very true. Just because something was hot with one partner or worked with someone else, doesn't mean it will work with your current partner. Maybe your last partner liked really rough sex, but this partner doesn't. That doesn't mean you can't express your wild side, but you need to have boundaries. The most important thing about sex, in my opinion, is the ability to talk about it. No one really likes to think about someone they care about having had sex with other people (unless you're into that sort of thing ;). But having open, honest talks about people you've been with and the kinds of things you've experimented in can make for a really steamy sex life. Another important thing to keep in mind is to not compare sex. Everyone is different in how they react to things, and sex is definitely not an exception. One partner might be very verbal and expressive in telling you how the whole thing is going while another might be silent the whole time. Don't worry. Check in with each other. If you try a new move, ask your partner if it's okay, and whether or not they like it. Discuss your interests, things you've done, and things you want to try.

Dan Savage & husband Terry.
Dan Savage of the awesome column Savage Love has a term called 'ggg.' I'm a big believer in this. It stands for 'Good, Giving, and Game.' Be good to each other, focus on each other's pleasure, and be open and willing to do (almost) anything. Dan also is big on the idea of laying your fetishes out on the table, which I also agree with. Don't throw out how much of a foot fetish you have within minutes of meeting someone, but don't also wait months into a relationship to let someone know. Be open about what you like, especially if it's something you feel you need to be satisfied. If the person isn't alright with it, it's best to know early on so you can work something out or go your own ways.

Remember, you can always have more, better sexual experiences. Practice makes perfect. It's a very intimate thing, even in a one-night stand. And remember, it's between two (or more) people. It's not just about your own pleasure. If you are open an honest from the beginning about what you like and focus on each other's pleasure, every sex partner you have will be awesome. And again, it's quality, not quantity. Take every person as a learning experience, and try not to regret anything. Experiment and learn new things that you may not have ever considered. Sex is fun, so have fun with it.

If you want to comment, tell me how many sex partners you've had and which was the best.

Savage Love Wiki.
Savage Love Column
Kinsey Institute

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