A lot like “virginity,” a “body count” is an arbitrary metric used to define a person’s sexual experiences in a rudimentary way, simply referring to how many people someone has had sex with. It has no tangible impact on who you are as a person or how you operate in a relationship. Plus, it’s subjective: Does someone you’ve had oral sex with get added to your body count list? What about anal? What about group sex? If you’re in a foursome but you don’t touch one of the participants, are they still on your list?
It’s a topic designed to shame the sexually active — there’s really no “normal” number.
Rates of sexual activity have decreased
A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association’s in 2020 found that sexual inactivity increased among American men and women between the ages of 25 and 34 from 2000 to 2018. That tracks with recent findings suggesting that Gen Z is also more hesitant about hookups than preceding generations.
If you’ve wondered whether your body count is “too low,” these findings are for you. From concerns about the future of access to reproductive healthcare like birth control and abortion to lingering effects of the pandemic and its lockdowns, there are plenty of reasons people are banging less. Plus, some people just aren’t — and never have been — into casual hookup culture. If you’re concerned you’re not experienced enough for a more experienced partner, have an open conversation with them about what you perceive as your lack of experience. You might be surprised how enthusiastic they are to show you the ropes.
The average rates of sexual partners vary a lot
In spite of what you might see on Twitter or Reddit, there is no “acceptable” number of lifetime sexual partners. That hasn’t stopped all manner of researchers from trying to pinpoint a number, anyway.
For instance, U.K.-based health retailer Superdrug conducted a survey of about 2,000 Americans and Europeans in 2019, finding that women, on average, had seven partners in their lifetime and men had 6.4. Both genders agreed that about 7.5 was the optimal number for a single person. That same survey, though, pointed out how relative those numbers are: Louisiana residents reported an average of 15.7 lifetime partners, but residents of Utah reported about 2.6.
People are so curious about the average body count that even the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has waded into the discourse. The CDC’s latest data says that stateside, the median number for women is 4.3, and for men, it’s 6.3. Per the organisation, these numbers account for respondents who’ve had “vaginal, oral, or anal sex with a partner of the opposite sex,” so they’re heteronormative but inclusive of more than just penis-in-vagina intercourse.
The CDC’s data also shows that 12.9% of women between 25 and 49 and 28.3% of men in that age range have had 15 or more partners, while 17.7% of women and 11.2% of men in that age range have had just one — so there’s more room for variation than the 4.3 and 6.3 might lead you to believe.
What does this mean for you and your relationship?
Body counts do not matter and, for the most part, they’re pretty sexist. While it’s clear from the data above that men tend to have higher counts than women, it’s women who are routinely shamed for this arbitrary number. On forums like Reddit, for instance, posts about body counts are framed with questions like, “Does a woman’s body count actually matter to men?” and “Should a woman’s body count be a dealbreaker?” The cultural pearl-clutching around women’s body counts in particular is part of the same misguided nonsense as concerns that sex “changes” a woman’s body or otherwise alters her. We already know that the tightness of a vagina is not related to how much PIV sex its owner has had, but even if it were, body counts are irrelevant: Someone with a count of 50 one-time partners would still have had less sex than someone whose body count was just one, but had sex with their partner every three nights over the course of a year.
Luckily, if you look into most of the Reddit threads referenced above, you’ll also find some reasonable answers. While commenters agree body counts “matter” culturally, they also agree “it mostly boils down to insecurity.”
In a thread where a man lamented learning his girlfriend had been with about 300 people before him, one person wrote, “You’ve got to be a grown up and realise that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE’S PAST IS ABOUT YOU, and here’s another thing, YOU DON’T OWN PEOPLE.” While some commenters point out the number is none of a current partner’s business, it is still fair to consider that beyond being a potentially sexist and definitely arbitrary measure of someone’s worth or experience, some people may see a higher body count as a risk when it comes to sexually-transmitted infections. (That Superdrug survey pointed out that Louisiana had not only the highest average number of partners, but that STI rates were higher than the average, too.)
As always, get tested regularly and be open and honest with your partner about your expectations for condom use and health history. You shouldn’t lie about your body count and if you’re in a situation where you feel like you have to in order to keep being respected by your partner, that may speak volumes about your relationship.
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