Lust Life: Number Game

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He’s been with only three women before me. Three monogamous, long-term relationships. No casual sex, no one-night-stands, no romantic flings. In between relationships, he was celibate. Where do I fit in this picture? We met only a couple of weeks ago, our disparate lives converging in the magic of a Cape Cod beach. Now, back in New York, we’ve embarked on something strange and profound.

When he told me about his past “record,” I laughed, not out of incredulousness at the number—only three at his age (a few years older than me). Only three and yet he’s an attractive man living in a city swarming with beautiful single women, a city where it’s almost expected to have a long list of sex partners. No, I didn’t laugh for those reasons. I laughed at the fact that we were together, naked in my bed, and it couldn’t have felt more natural.

He asked me how many people I had slept with. I told him the last time I counted, it was around 30 and that was six or seven years ago. I stopped counting because there were too many partners, and in some situations (orgies in particular), genitals have the tendency to become detached from faces and names. Besides I was not living my life to impress people with numbers. I had no need to keep a book of conquests to refer to in moments of despair. “I’m sorry I don’t know what number you are,” I said. Yet here I am, clearly number four. I’m not three-and-a-half, not maybe four/possibly five, nor somewhere in the twenties. There is no question that I am his solo numéro cuatro.

Despite all this talk of numbers, we don’t care that I’m a four and he’s a double or triple digit. The subject only came up out of curiosity. What does it matter, as long we continue to intoxicate each other? And why should it matter to anyone else starting a new relationship?

We live in a culture obsessed with numbers. How old are you? How much money do you make? What is your rent, if you don’t mind me asking? Did you know that there are 182 Starbucks in Manhattan and that McDonald’s has served billions? What about the 3,699 American soldiers killed in Iraq? It is my assumption that a person who is un-fazed by the last figure may be the type to kick and scream at the mention of 32 casualties of sex.

A forum on the dating site takes up the issue and the responses reveal a general weirdness around a high number of partners. Someone wrote, “If my number was double digits then we might have an issue” and another guy said his girlfriend believed “too few would mean something wrong, and too many would mean, well, something wrong too.”

However, nobody cares to explain why it is an issue or how it could be wrong. Nobody has ever had a problem with my experience, but I understand why it might intimidate someone. I guess I could be mistaken as a dirty, diseased, unemotional, detached, commitment-phobic sexpert of a slut.

If numbers are so important, have you ever counted how many times you’ve had sex? So how many orgasms have you had in your life? I’m serious—give me numbers. What? You don’t know? Well then, have you ever considered that a person who has had three sexually fulfilling long-term relationships and a person who has had fulfilling sex with 56 different partners, might actually have had the same amount of sex?

What an interesting study that would be! But the only studies I found focused on the number of sexual partners. A Durex study reports that the average number around the world is 10.5, which comes close to the U.S. average of 10.3. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that 29 percent of men and 9 percent of women have had at least 15 opposite sex partners. Incidentally, that result matches the statistics reported on where researchers dug a little deeper and discovered that 21 percent of the men and 15 percent of the women who participated had lied and/or provided an inaccurate partner count, proving only that some people are so hung up on numbers that they can’t even be honest about them.

But like I said, I’m not concerned with numbers. What concerns me is how two people can connect beyond the figures. No statistic in the world can measure the infinite space of possibility that exists between two open minds. What really matters is that we chose each other. Nobody else in his life has been No. 4. And nobody else in mine can claim 67…or 102.3…or whatever number he is. When I’m truly in the moment, the only number I can attach to him is 1.

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