The numbers game

Sarika Jagitiani

The mathematics of love and lust differs

Credit: Andrew popik

If ignorance is ever bliss in a relationship, it might be when wondering about your partner’s past.

Not about whether they practiced safe sex or not, or whether they’ve been tested, which should be prerequisites, but how many people someone’s slept with may not be essential knowledge.

During the honeymoon of our relationship, my ex-boyfriend and I were having one of those in-bed chats one night where you learn way too much about each other, from the fact that he used to wear turtlenecks in junior high, à la Paul Pfieffer from “The Wonder Years,” to what possessed me to perform “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To” in my third-grade talent show, and I decided to ask something decidedly more important.

“I have a question for you… no… oh, OK. I’ll ask.”

“My number? It’s seven.”

“Uh… I don’t think we’re thinking of the same question.”

“I just assumed you wanted to know how many people I’d slept with. Isn’t that what everyone always wants to know?”

I was going to ask how many of his exes he’d been in love with, which seemed far more important to me.

I’m more interested in where someone’s heart’s been than where his penis has, and I’m not alone.

To nearly everyone I asked, the number of loves in someone’s life was more important than the number of sexual partners.

“I don’t think I would ever want to know a boyfriend’s (sexual) number,” my friend Cecilia said. “Who cares… as long as they are doing everything right, the fact that they slept with two or 42 people has no bearing on my life.”

Chester, a close guy friend of mine, put out a hit on girls with high numbers.

“If both numbers are high, stay away,” he said.

His belief is that if she’s been “in love” with a lot of people, she might be needy, a turn-off for him.

And if she has a high number on the sexual side, he’s wary as well.

I would say he’s being sexist but because he holds guys and girls to the same standards, I have to let it slide.

For my friend Tasha, the numbers are both important but for completely different reasons.

People learn skills while they’re in intimate relationships.

Skills ranging from compromising to putting the toilet seat up, according to Tasha, so if she’s interested in having a relationship with someone, she’s more interested in knowing with how many people they’ve had loving relationships.

It’s more about intimacy, for her.

She’d be more concerned whether he’d said the same things, made the same promises to a lot of other women rather than if he’d had sex with a number of others.

“If it’s a question of relationships and love, it comes down to what’s between the two of you, regardless of both of your pasts,” she said. “And if it’s just sex, then I say practice makes perfect and why should you waste just sex on someone who doesn’t have a lot of practice.”

One reason people may be willing to look past the number of sexual partners is because they realize that we have sex for different reasons.

“Sex can be ecstatic or boring, but it can also be something in the middle: a way to comfort others, to find relief from the drudgeries of our lives, an affirmation of our ability to please someone else, as well as an affirmation of our own desirability,” according to a 1999 Ms. Magazine article in which Leonore Tiefer, psychologist, sex therapist and feminist, was interviewed.

I have friends who racked up a decent number of sexual partners in college and have been celibate now for over a year. So she went through a rebellious streak. An experimental time. Does that make her a slut? No.

I also have friends who are virgins. They’ve just never found someone they felt comfortable enough to have sex with. Does that mean they don’t want to have sex, or that they’re prudes? No.

The reasons for having a lot of sex, or not having any sex, are far more compelling than the actual numbers.

Sarika Jagtiani is a graduate student in journalism and the sex columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].