By now, many of us have heard conversations around “body count” which refers to the number of sexual partners one has had. Discussing your sexual history can be a delicate subject, and recent data from Pew Research Center (2020) indicates that societal views on sex and relationships are evolving.
Interestingly, research from the same year revealed that, on average, American adults are engaging in sexual activity less frequently than before. One researcher has speculated that this decline may be linked to adults maturing at a slower pace and spending more time online.
Modern viewpoints on sexuality and sexual experiences have undergone significant transformations over the past several decades, diminishing the emphasis on one’s “body count.” However, you can still find heated debates on the topic on popular podcasts.
So, is your body count really that significant? And to what extent should you disclose this information in a romantic relationship?
Is It Necessary to Discuss My Sexual History, and am I Required to Share?
The question of whether to inquire about one’s body count is complex and varies from person to person. Ultimately, this is sensitive and private information, and no one is required to reveal details they’re not comfortable sharing, including their number of past sexual partners.
While some people don’t consider casual sexual encounters to be a significant factor in their perception of someone, others view it as crucial information that could influence their opinion. According to Pew Research, 65% of survey participants found casual sex to be acceptable.
Perceptions about the importance of one’s sexual history can also differ based on cultural and geographical factors. Some religious beliefs, for instance, place a higher importance on body count, which can further complicate personal views or willingness to disclose such information.
There are numerous reasons, irrespective of one’s background, why someone might hesitate to share their sexual history or feel stigmatized about it. Discussing your own or your partner’s body count can be laden with judgment, both culturally and personally. These judgments can target your partner (e.g., ‘Why have you been with so many people?’ or ‘Do you have an STI?’) or even yourself (e.g., ‘I won’t be able to satisfy my partner like their previous partners’ or ‘I won’t be special to them’).”
It’s crucial to be mindful of your own emotions when contemplating asking about your partner’s sexual past. It’s natural to wonder about your partner’s previous sexual experiences, but it’s important to approach the topic respectfully and with an open mind. Obsessing over your partner’s past can lead to unhealthy comparisons, jealousy, and strain on the relationship.
Stigma Around Sexual History Remains for Women and LGBTQ+ Individuals
In the United States, CDC data gathered between 2015 and 2019 indicates that the median number of sexual partners for men was 4.3, compared to 6.3 for women.
When it comes to attitudes about body count, gender biases and the “sexual double standard” play a significant role. These biases can be particularly pronounced in popular media, like male centric podcasts, where discriminatory standards for women’s sexual history compared to men’s are often perpetuated.
Moreover, the CDC’s data focused solely on opposite-sex partnerships, neglecting the cultural norms and expectations within the LGBTQIA+ community.
In a 2020 study titled “He is a Stud, She is a Slut! A Meta-Analysis on the Continued Existence of Sexual Double Standards,” research reveals that conversations about body count are not only gender biased but also include assumptions about the age at which someone became sexually active and their overall level of sexual activity.
How to Address Your Partner’s Concerns About Your Sexual Past?
With any difficult conversation can come a negative reaction, but having a judgmental and punitive reaction to body count is a harmful perspective that results in shame and shut down instead of closeness and connection. Having an open, respectful, curious, and intentional conversation about what the underlying concerns are beneath what the body count represents can hopefully help bring you and your partner closer together instead of farther apart.
Regardless of your background, if you’re going to have a conversation about your or your partner’s body count, it requires thoughtfulness and empathy. This sort of discussion tends to be delicate and charged with emotions. Should either of you begin to feel uneasy, feel free to pause or conclude the conversation. Revisiting the subject at a more suitable moment, when you both feel prepared, is always an option.
Regardless of whether or how the conversation happens, when it comes down to it, it’s important not to focus too heavily on your or your partner’s past sexual history. The number of people someone has slept with in the past before meeting you has nothing to do with their value as a person, and this message is important to share.