How many people is normal for an average person to have had sex with? My friends’ numbers all seem a lot higher than mine and I’m self conscious about it. Is there a measure of what’s normal?

I’m 35/F.

The thing about “normal” when it comes to sex, dear reader, is that it’s an arbitrary concept.  So many of us are concerned with what’s "normal," yet so few of us are able to further unpack what we even mean when pressed. I’m pointedly avoiding quoting research statistics on sexual partner numbers because those polls typically define sex narrowly – e.g. as penetration with a penis present – and therefore inauthentically.

In my experience, “normal” is often introduced into the conversation when someone is either feeling shame OR trying to elicit feelings of shame from another person. Accomplished vulnerability researcher Dr. Brene Brown further defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame is the most powerful, master emotion. It’s the fear that we’re not good enough. Shame is an epidemic.

If you’re a human being with a pulse, it’s likely you’ve suffered from periods of sexual shame over your lifetime. This shame could be tied to a particular desire, our sexual performance, how our bodies look, feel and sound during our sexual response cycle, and much more. Shame can follow us our entire lives, or it can lay dormant until we haphazardly stumble on a trigger we didn’t know was there.

Whenever I’m struggling with shame, I conjure up Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous words: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then I make a conscious decision in that moment to take my power back.

We can internalize shame from subtle societal messaging, or we can receive overt shaming from friends, partners, family members, and other individuals in our close inner circle. Unfortunately human beings often weaponize shame as a knee-jerk reaction to their own insecurities. Our species loves implementing a good hierarchy, and the practice of throwing others under the bus in order to elevate ourselves is alive and well, particularly when it comes to sex and intimacy. Whenever I’m struggling with shame, I conjure up Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous words: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Then I make a conscious decision in that moment to take my power back.

Another thing to remember is that a high body count doesn’t always signify promiscuity.

I actually identify as a slut-sexual; I find potential partners with high body counts particularly attractive, as they can have deeper connections with their own bodies and are often adept at communicating their sexual likes and dislikes to their partners. I also believe that the more folks you have sex with, the better a lover (read: emotionally and physically intuitive) you have the potential to be. Sluts are just plain sexy.

To the sophisticated partner, however, a high number could imply a troubled childhood, escapism or even depression. I take pains to never remark positively OR negatively to another person’s body count for the same reasons I refuse to provide commentary on another person’s weight loss. You never know what provoked the decrease in body size; it could be intentional diet and exercise, sure, but it’s just as likely to be the consequence of an illness. Curbing assumptions and maintaining neutrality while universally accepting ALL bodies is the way to go.

I’d encourage you to not only kick shame to the curb and embrace your authentic body count number, dear reader, but to disclose your number readily! Share that shit far and wide, and encourage those around you - particularly other women - to do to the same. It’s natural to be curious about other folks’ body counts, but the trick is to take care to not interpret their experiences as meaning something either “better” or “worse” about your own. By talking openly and unapologetically about the variations in human sexual experience, we contribute to a culture that’s increasingly forced to acknowledge the pervasive myth of “normal”.



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