Do women still worry about their “number?”

What seems like a title for a romantic comedy where women are asked for their phone numbers (an equally annoying number ask, at least when unwanted), “What’s Your Number?” is based on a different premise–how many people you have slept with in your now 30-something unmarried state and if that number is going to impact your future relationship prospects.

Out next week, “What’s Your Number?” has all the makings of another rom com that repeats the tired clichés about women and sexuality that haunt us in the mainstream media.

A description of the movie via Yahoo,

“Ally Darling embarks on a quest to find the best “ex” of her life, by any means necessary, when she reads a magazine article warning that people who have had 20 or more relationships have missed their chance at true love.”

There is a good chance that the movie ends with her finding true love with number 21 and the whole number thing is bullshit. I guess we will have to wait and find out.

But the initial question stands, do women in our generation give a crap about their “number?”

This is the question that NY Post reporter Sheila McClear asked a few feminists including Jessica Valenti, Megan Carpentier and myself in response to the upcoming flick. And unsurprising to no one, all of us concluded that a “number” is antiquated, juvenile, outdated and something women rarely talk about and if they do it is to joke.

“I don’t know any grown people over the age of 30 who think that way [about numbers],” says Simone Grant, the pseudonym of a 41-year-old Manhattanite and active dater who writes a dating blog called Sex, Lies & Dating. “It’s just such a juvenile way of thinking about sexuality.”

“Twenty is not an outrageous number” given the character’s age, she adds.

Yet the producers of the movie were nervous that 20 might be too high and could potentially turn off the audience And they may be right, but that’s not really a good thing.

It’s true worrying about your number can be childish or outdated, but the reality is that it is a judgement we are faced with sometimes, whether from friends, the men we are dating, our mothers or even larger cultural forces. Sadly, many women do internalize the belief that their worth is connected to how much sex they have had–whether it be that your number isn’t quite high enough or it is “too” high for what is currently socially acceptable.

But the bottom line is if women are upset about how many people they have had sex with, it is either because the sex has been terrible or because of external social pressure and faux-moral judgement. Despite what the anti-sex set may believe, how much sex you have today, does not impact your ability to be in a successful relationship later. So any pressure to worry about your number is a sexist holdover that hinges on the belief that women should only have sex with “the one” so they can keep him and not because they actually enjoy sex themselves.

I’m sure the producers weren’t trying to sound like a bunch of bible thumpers but….

Join the Conversation

  • http://feministing.com/members/thewinterbird/ Sophie

    Such a cheesy book. I was so disappointed at myself for reading it.

    (If you actually want to see this movie, SPOILER ALERT. Though obviously the movie won’t be identical to the book.)

    As I remember it, the article she reads states that women her age have only had about 10 sexual partners in their life. She decides that number 20 will be ‘the one’, but panics after number 20 turns out to be a one night stand with her useless co-worker. Although the story is based on the idea that women can only be happy with a man (and are completely crazy) she does realize at the end that your ‘number’ doesn’t really matter, as long as you had fun. I hope the producers will manage to keep that message in, but I doubt it.

  • http://feministing.com/members/stephgresh/ Stephanie

    My boyfriend and I are getting ready to participate in a non-religious pre-marriage seminar, and one of the questions on a online relationship test we had to take was, “How many sexual partners have you had?”

    I was so shocked to see that question, because I’m not sure what bearing they are going to imply it has on my committed relationship. I’m 25 and have been sexually active since I was 18. I didn’t even keep track of my number, and here I was having to take a guess at it for the quiz. I guestimated, and told my boyfriend the number I put since we had never discussed the topic, because guess what, it shouldn’t really matter! I didn’t want him to be in shock if it came up at the seminar.

    I think sadly, society has a lot of opinions about how many sexual partners a woman should have in her lifetime, and from what I gather, it’s a very low number.

  • http://feministing.com/members/bbrant/ Brooke

    Among the people I know, the only time the number comes up is if we got a negative look during an STD screening or we are bragging about how many partners we have had in a certain (short) period of time. Honestly not only is a woman worrying about her number of partners outdated, but I think the concept of a woman worrying about getting married in her early thirties or finding the “one” is extremely outdated. I guess it wouldn’t be very romantic, but I think women in their thirties are more concerned about buying a house and finally paying off their school debts then finding a man.

  • thomas-macaulay-millar

    “Number” is bullshit for so many reasons, not the least of which is that, like “virginity”, there’s no way to count that isn’t either subjective or useless. If only PIV counts, then gold star lesbians and gay men are at zero forever. Lots of people have noticed that it seems like an absurd loophole to not could receptive anal — but what about kinksters? A woman could be a top, have three regular submissives, cane their asses, lock them in chastity devices, fuck them with strap-ons and get her pussy eaten every night, but her number would be zero. Obviously that’s an absurd result, and it’s very difficult to formulate a definition that wouldn’t produce absurd results. One way would be to define sex by orgasm, but some folks are anorgasmic, and some people just have bad partners. One could define it by intent to produce orgasm, but that sweeps in phone sex and cybering — which folks might or might not agree with, they’re very grey areas.

    To me, though, the game’s not worth the candle. There’s no real reason to count, except for maybe public health reasons, and there, we’re just talking about population statistics.

    • http://feministing.com/members/nicolechat/ NC73

      Yeah – another valid point. I commented below that my “number” is 14, but that is entirely my definition of what I count as sleeping with someone. If I expanded the definition, I’d be up in the high 20’s by some counts; if I limited it, I could be down to no more than a few.

  • http://feministing.com/members/nicolechat/ NC73

    I had a conversation with two friends when I was about 23. One of them was dating a new guy, and had just found out he had had sex with something like eight or nine women. (These two girls were more or less my age, and I think the guy was too.) She was hugely intimidated by this and was trying to decide if his sluttiness was more than she could handle. The other friend was helping her try to balance her feelings, and although she clearly agreed that nine women was a crazily high number, she was encouraging the other girl to stick with the relationship and see where it went. They weren’t being judgmental or anything, it was just a sexual history that was on an entirely different level than they were used to and they couldn’t even relate to that sort of “number.” They asked me if I would date a guy who’d been with that many people.

    I couldn’t help but burst out laughing. “Well, I’ve slept with 14 guys, so I think I could handle it.” I’ve been exclusively dating the same guy for years, and was already dating him when I met these girls, so they’ve always known me to be in that monogamous state; I guess it totally didn’t occur to them that many people, including their friends who are currently entirely faithful to one person and thus nowhere near what they would consider to be “slutty,” could have relatively “high” numbers.

    What’s the point of my little story? Numbers ut I honestly think we all have moments of epiphany at some point, usually in our 20’s for most of us, when we realize how insignificant it is to care about numbers. Hopefully, that conversation was the epiphany for those two girls!

  • http://feministing.com/members/azure156/ Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

    This is a new one on me. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone discuss their sex life in terms of a number – even narcissistic types I knew who were always going on about how many people they believed had a crush on them were cagey about giving an actual number of partners.

    Then again, I think anyone in their thirties who is fixated on their “number” to this extant probably WILL have a very hard time forming a workable relationship. Not because they’ve slept with too many or too few people, but because they do seem to be thinking in more juvenile terms. Not to mention her trying to go back and hunt down the best “ex” of her life sounds vaguely disturbing to me.

  • http://cabaretic.blogspot.com nazza

    Number doesn’t matter, except when one equates number with self-esteem, as I did. Perhaps this is more common with men. In the beginning, I felt better about myself when I did have sex and weighed my self-worth on how many partners I accumulated. Now, it’s different. But at the time, it was very important and it often dictated the decisions I made.

  • http://feministing.com/members/brynna/ Brynna

    As a young woman, I often thought that I shouldn’t have sex. I was worried that I would have a large number of people I had slept with before I even left high school. But I overcame that, and it’s just logical. As long as you feel good about what you’re doing, you don’t need to justify a number to anyone.