The movie What’s Your Number came out in 2011 during my sophomore year of high school. There was a lot of buzz about it among my classmates. It wasn’t because we were enthralled by Anna Faris’ quirky personality or Chris Evans’ good looks.
It was because a kid from our school two years younger than us played a flashback role for the main character and was deemed the coolest kid in school for about a week. And though his scene was left on the cutting room floor, he appeared in television versions. So one afternoon, I watched the movie just to spot Cody on the small screen. But I was left with something much more lasting: The idea that something terrible happens to women if they sleep with too many men.
Spoiler alert for What’s Your Number: After Faris reads a magazine article saying that 96 percent of women who’ve slept with 20 or more men are unlikely to find a husband, she goes back and to try again with all of her exes. Turns out, however, that she didn’t actually have sex with one of them. So it’s totally fine that she falls for Evans. Yes, in the end, she finds the perfect guy at number 20. Perfect.
There are reasons for my hesitancy about my “number” that go far beyond Faris’ hijinks. There’s the fact that I’ve heard guys calling it a “body count” while my girlfriends sometimes have lied to their doctors to make themselves seem more innocent.
There’s the fact that a partner who emotionally abused me had a particular emphasis on my three one-night stands. And I remember feeling deeply uncomfortable the moment my eighth partner asked me how many people I’d slept with. When I said “eight,” he responded with “four.” Clearly, in his eyes, the girl wasn’t supposed to have the higher number. He then comforted me as if there was something I should have been ashamed of.
On the other hand, I also feel we’ve been taught that the more girls a guy has slept with, the more we should be expected to please him. I cowered at the idea of how many partners my last boyfriend had — not for any rational reason, but because of this underlying shame.
How primitive is it that we compare ourselves to other women based on how many men we’ve had sex with? Even the idea of counting barely makes sense. Freshman year, I would only give oral sex to boys when I was worried that I had been acting too promiscuous lately. Oral sex is no less safe. It is no less intimate. And it no more affects who I am as a woman than the number of men I’ve slept with.
Yet I struggle because when I decided I wanted to touch on this issue, I almost wanted to keep my number out of the article. By writing it, I am not celebrating the concept of the number. However, I am also not asking the number to be erased from our minds. Personally, I remember every partner because sex is intimate and memorable for me. Some keep track for health reasons. Some don’t (more power to you, I can’t keep track of everyone I have kissed). What I want is for us to be neutral on the subject.
Recently, I read an article quoting therapist and body activist Anastasia Amour that talked about “body neutrality.”
Body neutrality helps women recover by encouraging them not to hate their bodies, but to also avoid trying to radically love them. Amour encourages
neutrality and acceptance. As an eating
disorder and cancer survivor, I found this striking. In a similar way, neutrality about one’s “number” also appeals to me.
My number is 11. And it will probably go up soon.
Also, to be honest, I am not yet neutral on the subject. The devil on my shoulder is 15-year-old me, sitting there with Anna Faris, telling me that I’ll probably find my soul mate before No. 20, and if around No. 15 I start to find trouble in love, I should slow down with how much sex I am having.
That’s ridiculous. I don’t celebrate the No. 11. That’s simple because not all of it was good. But I’m hoping I can regret two of them (No. 4 and No. 7 in particular) without assuming I’d be any better off with a number of nine.
So here’s to neutrality. And fewer movies and 20-minute serials about keeping your number down. For example, the way Barney behaved in How I Met Your Mother was unlikeable, but I want both young women and young men to feel less inclined toward disgust at the punch line of his 200th woman. It might sound silly, but that may make people more comfortable when a girl has been with 20 men.
Emma Andrews is a senior majoring in international relations. Her column, “Before & After,” runs Fridays.