PHOTO: ALISON STEVENSON
Something interesting to think about is how many men I’ve let inside me. Not as a form of self-shame, but to reminisce.
I don’t keep a spreadsheet, which I’ve heard some women do, but I have on occasion taken the time to write down all their names. Then I usually throw that piece of paper (or two) away. I haven’t done this in a while, however; so the number I have in mind now is really a ballpark figure. I know that the number doesn’t matter and anyone who does think it matters is not someone I’m going to party with anyway.
And yet, something I’ve always battled with is how to react when someone asks to know my number. Especially my dates.
Around six months ago, I had my first genuinely terrifying internet date. The kind of date you hear horror stories about from your girlfriends, but never think will happen to you. Until this date, I’d had incredible luck with meeting strangers from the internet, something I’ve always prided myself on. Even though many were boring or a waste of a perfect winged eyeliner job, I never felt physically unsafe or threatened by any of them.
Until this guy.
I waited for him in the parking lot of the bar where we agreed to meet. As he pulled up, I saw him hit the curb and his left front tire instantly went flat. Sounds like the beginning to a rom-com, right?
Well, I tried helping him as much as I could, but have no experience changing flat tires. So I just watched as he tried to do it himself. We barely spoke, but still managed to exchange a few pleasantries here and there— mostly about how funny and incredibly awkward it all was. After around 45 minutes and still no luck, he told me I should go home and we could meet up another night. I agreed that that was probably best and went home.
An hour later, he called to tell me he finally got his spare on with the help of a passersby and asked if I was still up for meeting at the bar. I figured he could use a drink, so I got back into the clothes I had been wearing and headed back over. Luckily, the bar was close to my place (which is why I chose it).
Fast forward a few hours and I am really into this guy. He’s charming, funny, and much more attractive than in his profile—which is not usually the case. I’m not wasted, but definitely not sober. The conversation starts getting a little more sexual and he asks me flat-out how many men I’ve slept with. I didn’t think much of it and just told him my ballpark figure. Probably around 30. I’m an open book and really don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of. As soon as I throw the number out, his face changes. He is completely shocked. "That’s way more than me," he responds.
He doesn’t seem judgmental, however; more fascinated. He tells me his number is in the 20s and that he just got out of a three-year relationship. I tell him my longest relationship lasted only about six months, which is probably why my number is higher. We keep talking about other things and by the time I've invited him back to my place, I've forgotten we even talked about it.
Once at my place, we proceed to talk and start kissing. I let him feel me up a bit, but do not want to sleep with him. I've had sex on first dates, but was just not feeling like it on this one. As soon as I tell him that I don’t want to sleep with him, he grows legitimately furious. "But you’ve had sex with 30 guys. Why won't you have sex with me?"
And there it is. My number being used against me.
I attempt to explain to him that if I had sex with every guy I’ve ever been on a date with, my number would be a lot higher. I also try educating him on the fact that my number of sexual partners is not a reflection of me and my willingness to sleep with someone. Instead of being rational and understanding, he throws a fit. He keeps using my number against me and insisting there is something wrong with him—and that it's the only reason I don't want to sleep with him.
Even worse, he keeps insisting, claiming that I'm teasing him and "owe" him sex because I invited him back to my place. This is a grown man saying these things—a grown man I actually thought might be worth dating.
When I tell him he should leave, he insists on staying. At this point, I am terrified. I tell him I'm tired and need to get some rest. Instead of leaving, he insists on sleeping over anyway because of his car troubles. I tell him he can sleep on the couch, which prompts him to throw another fit. He is still trying to have sex with me even though I made it very clear I do not want to.
After a lot of arguing back and forth, he finally leaves.
He slammed my door and called me a bitch. Then, I got a slew of nonsensical text messages telling me I should have had sex with him because I’ve had sex with so many men already. He didn’t stop texting me until four in the morning. For the next few days, I felt uneasy being alone in my apartment. I was scared he would come back but fortunately he never did. He eventually apologized for his actions, but his apology went unaccepted.
This incident left me feeling a sort of existential crisis about my number of sex partners—a "sexistential" crisis if you will. If I hadn’t told him my number, none of this would have happened. However, what if I eventually did have sex with him not knowing this side of him? Was revealing my number to him a blessing in disguise? The way I see it, revealing my number was a great way to sift out this guy’s true nature, but the night turned into something so awful and could have gone way worse. I’m fortunate that no physical harm was done to me, and I’d like to avoid a repeat of the feelings I felt on this night.
So what now?
In the future, when asked by someone I’m seeing what my number is, what do I say? I honestly don’t feel that it’s wrong to talk about and women like me who embrace their number should feel comfortable talking about it. I think the best solution is to ask them why they want to know before revealing it. That’s what I should have done with this guy. Figuring out his reasoning before inviting him over would have saved me a lot of worry and fear. If their answer is vague or feels on the verge of "slut-shaming," I won’t reveal my number and definitely won’t schedule a second date. However, if they seem to just want to know in order to have a nonjudgmental discussion about it—and share their number as well—then I think it’s okay to reveal.
As I see now, this is the sort of thing I shouldn’t assume every man I meet is going to be mature about, which is an awful truth to have to live with. Hopefully things change, but until then I now know I have to be a lot more cautious when it comes to my number.