Minus The City: What’s Your Number?



Diana Stephens

Since the recent release of the rom-com What’s Your Number?, whose main character spends the entire movie searching for her soul mate among the 20 men she has slept with, I have found myself wondering, “What’s my number?” The movie begins with the protagonist, played by Anna Farris, feeling ashamed and panicked after learning from a women’s magazine that since she has slept with 20 men, she is statistically less likely to get married than women who have slept with fewer than 20 men.

I haven’t actually watched the movie, but the premise alone raises a slew of questions that get at the heart of how people, especially women, understand their sexual identities.

The first question is the one we’ve been asking ourselves since we learned what virgin­ity was in 5th grade: What counts? Is sex simply penis-in-vagina action? What if neither of you orgasm?

What about oral, does that count for half? Does anal count for double? Do hand jobs count at all? And if sex is strictly defined as a man’s penis going into a woman’s vagina, where does that leave people who aren’t straight or who are transgender or gen­derqueer? I know plenty of lesbians who wouldn’t be caught dead near a penis but who are no more virgins than Hugh Heffner.

Even if we were to come to a consensus about what counts as “sex,” a second question remains: what about love? Is there a difference between having sex and making love?

And if so, how does that change the way we un­derstand “what’s your number?” For some, sex and love-making are inseparable. These are the people who have only had sex with long-term partners, who waited for the “right person” before losing their virginities and who view one-night stands and the people who have them with disdain.

I am not one of these people. I love having sex (whatever that even means), and I am perfectly con­tent to have it with good-looking strangers I meet at the Jug, so long as they are respectful and we use pro­tection. But for me, having sex and making love are not the same thing. While sex requires no commitment and no emotion beyond arousal, making love requires emotional vulnerability.

To make love, you must genuinely put your partner’s needs before your own. Love-making goes beyond sexual pleasure; it expresses the deepest, most intimate part of your­self to another person and asks only acceptance in return. Sometimes, people make love by having penis-in-vagina sex, and that’s great—I’m all for it. But sometimes making love is simply kissing. Sometimes making love is just holding hands and sometimes it’s rough and rowdy anal.

Since making love requires more vulnerability and intimacy than casual sex, shouldn’t we give more weight to making love than one-night stands when counting up our “num­bers?” And since the distinctions between different types of sex and making love are so blurry, isn’t the question sort of meaningless?

My final question is the one least often asked, but is arguably the most important: why do people care so much? For men, a higher number signifies competence and power, but for women the opposite is true. It seems that the more sexual partners a woman has, the less valuable she becomes.

Women who have slept with too many people are degraded as “sluts” or “loose” and carry a stigma of not being marriage material. Instead of being valued for their accomplishments, for their intellect or their kindness, women are valued for how many times they’ve been “used.”

The whole concept of a person’s “number” being important is a vestige of a patriarchal structure in which women were considered men’s property in­stead of people; a time when a woman’s number be­ing too high could literally ruin her life and cause her to be shunned from a community.

It is November 3, 2011 and these antiquated no­tions continue to shape our sexual and romantic de­cisions. It is time for us, as educated, cosmopolitan Colgate students to move beyond understanding our sexual lives in terms of numbers.

We do not have relationships with numbers, we have them with people. Let’s start treating each other that way.

Contact Diana Stephens at [email protected]