Dear Level

Do Not Ask a Woman How Many Sexual Partners She’s Had

It’s none of your damn business

Photo illustration: Save As/Medium/Getty Images

Many years ago, I went out on a second or third date with a nice enough guy. I don’t remember his name or what he looked like. But I clearly remember why there was no fourth date.

We got to that part of the conversation where you go back and forth about… whatever. It starts with simple biographical details: college majors, first jobs, recent vacations. Then you get to the juicy stuff. Why did your last relationship end? What’s nonnegotiable in a date for you? Once the booze starts hitting, the questions tend to get more intense. Favorite place to be kissed? How long do you wait before —

And then, he got carried away.

This man looked at me and fixed his lips to ask: “So, what’s your number? You know — your body count?”

I nearly choked on my pinot grigio. “What did you just say?”

He chuckled. “I guess your number is high if you don’t want to tell me.”

At first, I thought he was asking about boyfriends. I’d dated about 5 or 6 guys at that point in my life. What did he care? And then, I quickly understood. His question was actually more hideous and invasive than I originally thought. He wanted to know how many sexual partners I’d had.

“Why on earth would you ask me that?” I asked, working out half the bill in my head.

“Are you offended?” he asked. “Like I said, your number must be pretty high.”

This was the ’90s — we had a long way to go with regard to sex positivity (and just minding your own damn business). But even for those uncouth times, this probing was a bit much.

I had honestly thought the idea of body counts had been done away with by the sex-positive millennials who brought my fellow Gen Xers out of the sexual Stone Ages.

The sad part is, I think I answered him. It probably wasn’t the real number; I knew I’d be judged whether I said two or 200. He seemed to react favorably to whatever digit I put out there. I made it through the meal and beat a hasty retreat.

Two things bothered me, both then and now: Why did it matter to him? And why did I think I needed to answer him?!

I wish I could say that never happened again. But it did. Many times, in conversation with would-be and actual partners, I’ve been asked to take a tally of who has been inside my vagina and report back.

The last time it happened, I decided, well hell, if that’s something you actually want to know, let’s figure it out together!

I looked the would-be suitor in the face and said, “My body count? Okay, here we go. I got my start back in 1989. Just one person that year. Gotta start off slow, amirite? I did some traveling in 1991, probably bumped up to 4 or 5 by then. Wait! Does oral sex count? Then we might need to go back to 1988 because — ”

This time, for whatever it’s worth, my date looked extremely embarrassed. He immediately saw the error in his way and he apologized, thoroughly.

That was all some time ago; I had honestly thought the idea of body counts had been done away with by the sex-positive millennials who brought my fellow Gen Xers out of the sexual Stone Ages.

But then, a few weeks ago, I heard Jazmine Sullivan’s newest project, Heaux Tales. The intro, “Bodies,” is a short ditty that takes us through a morning of regrets.

She talks about drunken nights with her girls, risky one-night stands, and waking up wondering if the person she brought home was a four or a 10. Here’s the line that lifted my eyebrow: “I keep on piling on bodies on bodies/Yeah, you getting sloppy, girl.”

My first thought: Sloppy according to whom?

Obviously, people are still keeping these internal counts and judging themselves by some external marker that dictates when the number of partners you’ve had becomes “sloppy.” It saddened me to think that Jazmine (or whoever is repped in that song) equates a number of partners as something to bemoan, a point of embarrassment. Do cishet men wake up after a night of sex and make an internal check mark, concerned about the growing sum? I’ll let you answer that one for yourself.

Yes, we should all be sexually responsible, especially when inebriated and dealing with a stranger. But these are personal concerns and considerations — and they’re wholly separate from a judgy dude prying about the details of a woman’s sexual history.

When Lori Harvey began dating Michael B. Jordan, some folks on Black Twitter started counting up the number of men she’d been seen with, assuming she’d had sex with them, and then determining she wasn’t worthy of a star of Jordan’s stature. The same goes for Ciara, who is considered by some undeserving of Russell Wilson’s wholesomeness due to her dating public figures in the past. It’s all hogwash.

Let me be clear: If you’ve ever had even a mild curiosity about what has happened in anyone’s else’s bedroom, you need to get a grip. It’s not your business, and it doesn’t matter. The only thing we women see when someone is preoccupied with our sexual history is that there’s something missing in their own.

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

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