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What’s your ‘magic number’?

I have a list of all the people I’ve fucked. I know, that sounds intensely weird, and also a little bit creepy. I compiled it many years ago after a long, hazy night in a bar in Amsterdam, during which a good friend and I tried to work out what our ‘magic numbers’ were. I wasn’t particularly bothered about the total, but the exercise gave me pause for thought, and subsequent enraged weeping, when I realised that I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.

I thought I’d got it right at first. I counted people off on my fingers, smiling with glee when I got to a particularly good one, hissing when I reached the name of a person who’d fucked me over, and reminiscing over some of the filthier moments of my life. He did the same, regaling me with some sexy anecdotes as we sipped pints and hoped no one would notice that we were flagrantly ignoring the weird ‘you can smoke weed but not cigarettes’ rule that had just come into force.

Eventually, we both settled on our final numbers, and we clinked glasses – delighted at our powers of recollection.

An hour or so later, a cold dread crept over me: I’d missed one out. Not just any one either – a pretty significant guy, with whom I’d had some fairly intense experiences. Back to the mental drawing board, and the back of a napkin to make notes. And eventually the final list which, while possibly a bit strange, was a godsend when it came to writing my book: it meant I got the chapters in the right order and didn’t have to go back to cram in a quick fuck that I’d somehow forgotten.

Why does it matter how many people you’ve slept with?

Here’s the deal – it wasn’t the number that bothered me in that bar in Amsterdam. I wasn’t delighted with my mistake, reveling in the chance to announce that I’d slept with more people than I’d first thought: I was devastated. And the devastation wasn’t because I felt ‘slutty’ or odd either. It was because – and forgive me if this makes me sound like a sentimental twat – I want to be able to remember all the people I’ve fucked. Their names, their voices, their faces. What noises they made when I brought them to climax. The way they kissed – whether it was gentle, rough, sloppy, or perfunctory. I want to be able to picture the positions in which they shagged me, and the way they smiled afterwards, and the note on which we parted – happy, sad, indifferent or angry.

The number itself doesn’t matter – it’s the experience I want to remember.

Today I spotted an article on FHM in which they interviewed a whole bunch of people about their ‘magic numbers’ and the responses really surprised me. Call me massively naïve, and tell me I’m living in some sort of quinoa-munching lefty Twitter bubble, but I genuinely thought we’d done away with the idea that your ‘magic number’ matters.

(Apologies for the sarcastic scare quotes, but calling it a ‘magic number’ with a straight face makes me imagine that there are sex levels which you unlock with your wizardry. When you reach one of the arbitrary goals Hagrid appears and takes you to Shagwarts)

Anyway. Of particular interest was this:

20+ was the magic number most of you said would turn you off a girl, but “It doesn’t make a difference” was the most common response when asked if a guy’s should be higher than a girls.

Hooray for the latter section, but boo to the former. What follows is necessarily going to be quite heteronormative – I’ve only really heard the significance of these totals discussed as a means of perpetrating stereotypes about straight couples: that there’s a ‘right’ number to list, and that the guy’s should usually be higher than the girl’s.

What counts as ‘a lot’?

My number’s a fair bit higher than 20, and I know a hell of a lot of other people for whom that’s the case too. Naturally most of the squeamishness around women having had a lot of partners (who decides what ‘a lot’ is anyway?) comes down to your common-or-garden slut-shaming. But I also think when it’s at that personal level – discussing previous partners that someone you’re fucking has had, there’s a sense that if they’ve had too many then you’re not significant any more.

After all, what’s so special about her fucking you if she’s fucked nineteen other guys? You thought you were awesome and impressive but it turns out you could have been any regular bloke and she’d still have hopped on your dick.

Naturally this is arse. Firstly, those nineteen other blokes may well have been totally awesome. It’s not like there are only a few decent guys in the world and everyone else is a loser. Secondly, I think this attitude relies on the idea that sex in and of itself conveys significance in a relationship. That you’re important to this other person because she’s fucking you, and therefore those other guys are significant because she’s fucked them too.

In reality, there are loads of reasons why you might fuck someone, including (but not limited to):

  • you loved them
  • you fancied them at a party
  • they happened to be present at an orgy you were attending
  • sex work is your job
  • you didn’t really fancy them but you were horny and desperate for a shag, and they seemed quite up for it

How few is ‘too few’?

Conversely, there are also plenty of issues with people who haven’t had many partners. I’ve known guys who have bumped up their number in the hopes that I’ll think them more impressive. Again, I think sometimes our desire to feel ‘special’ can influence this. You don’t want someone who’ll have sex with anyone, because you’re more important than just any-old-one, but you don’t want someone who’s inexperienced either, because the assumption is that they haven’t fucked because they haven’t been able to.

And how awful is that? I mean, there’s no point having an awesome car if people don’t admire it in the street, right? There’s no point enjoying something that no one else wants, yeah?

No. Eurrgh. Let’s do the sex reasons again, except here are a few reasons why someone’s number might be low:

  • They haven’t fancied that many people
  • They aren’t keen on having sex unless they know someone really well
  • They have (or had) certain religious or personal beliefs about sex and promiscuity
  • They’ve been ill or unable to have sex for a while
  • They’ve been in long-term monogamous relationships
  • They genuinely don’t have many offers, and that’s still no reason not to fancy them because why would you pick your partner based on what people other than you think is hot?

I could go on. The point I’m making is that whatever our reasons are for caring about the number, they’re mostly weird – and probably a bit judgmental. While I’m totally up for knowing a guy’s number, it’s mainly out of a general curiosity and desire to know more about him – for the same reason I’d ask whether he’s ever fucked a melon, exactly how long his average wank lasts, and any number of odd sexual questions.

So, what’s my magic number?

If I get to the end of this blog post and don’t tell you how many people I’ve fucked you’re going to be very disappointed, aren’t you? Well, prepare for a spectacular let-down, because having banged on for ages about the fact that it doesn’t matter, if I then do a big reveal I’m inviting you to pay it the kind of attention I’ve just argued it doesn’t need.

What I will give you, though, is a number that I think is more significant – the number that I think knocks my ‘shag tally’ into total irrelevance. If I wanted to judge how significant I was to a particular guy, compared against an arbitrary number of exes, I wouldn’t ask how many people he’d fucked but how many people had broken his heart. How many people had given him cause to make a grand romantic gesture, or weep desperately as he yearned for them to love him back. Not who’d been on his cock but who’d been in his heart.

The rows of lovers on my list look exactly the same – no one’s marked in red or given marks out of ten, or annotated with diagrams of their favourite sex moves like I’m some kind of bedroom birdwatcher. When you assign each person an integer based on whether or not they fucked you, it levels the playing field for all your lovers, so that everyone both is and isn’t significant. They advance the number without ever having a name, and the casual ones – the quickie nights and disappointing mornings blend so easily into the moments that really stand out. Those people whose names, faces, noises and even smells will never be forgotten. Names which, even when scrawled hastily on a bar mat in Amsterdam, still turn me inside-out with lust, and love, and an aching, reminiscent need.

I’m not going to tell you how many people I’ve fucked, but my magic number? It’s four.


  • Lichuan says:

    Hi sexy and smart GOTN. Will you consider me as a loser or just not believe me if I tell you I’m 27 years old and still a virgin?

    As of my magic number, it’s 8.

    • Girl on the net says:

      I believe you, and I don’t consider you a ‘loser’ at all – there’s nothing wrong with being a virgin at 27, and the idea that someone might be a ‘lesser’ person because they happen not to have had sex? Well, that’s pretty harsh and judgmental. I hope no one gives you shit for it, because there’s absolutely no reason to.

      • Claire says:

        Indeed. My eldest is at Uni, still a virgin and intends to stay that way currently. At college she was the only one in her peer group to not “hook up” with anyone.

        Absolutely nothing wrong with being a virgin if its your choice and youre happy with it.

  • Adult Empire says:

    Nice write up I must say. To me, it is not weird at all to try and remember with how many people you have slept. The reason ( not at all a sentimental twat) that you want to remember the experience is important to you and that is all that matters. You did what you felt was right and gave you pleasure as like someone who love to watch adult dvds at and do it with sex toys. Nothing matters as long as you are happy.

  • Rich says:

    Mines way too low, a mere one. Its not that which annoys me, but how when i read advice on trying to up it, everyone seems to be ‘you’ll find someone who loves you eventually’- when, right now i don’t want that. Just because i dont seem to attract anyone, doesn’t mean i dont wanna sleep ’round.

  • ValeryNorth says:

    In terms of sex, my number is any positive integer less than or equal to 4, depending on how exactly “sex” is defined.

    In terms of the ‘magic’ number, it’s two.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Good point re: how sex is defined. I once had a friend who defined sex as doing ‘bed-stuff, but not necessarily in a bed, for more than three minutes’ and I quite liked the vague-ness of it, as well as the fact that she deliberately specified ‘not necessarily in a bed’ =) I think with the ‘magic number’ convo, it tends towards the assumption that sex = piv penetration, because like most things along these lines, it’s often rigidly heteronormative. I probably couldn’t give an exact definition as to what counts as ‘sex’ for me, but there are a few people on my list for whom others might not categorise what we did as ‘sex’, but I certainly would. I guess maybe my definition would be whether or not it felt like shagging – not in a physical sense, but in an emotional/mental one.

      That’s a bit waffly. Which I guess kind of proves the point that sex is hard to define =)

      • Hypersquare says:

        This. I’ve always had a problem with the ‘magic number’ because people have different ideas of what to count. Or rather, they usually mean a penis inserted into a vagina – or anus (but not a mouth). Last time someone asked me, this was the definition they gave. I said it was rather unfair that none of my female partners ‘counted’ as no penis present. So he said, oh… well, count oral then. So I said, logic dictates we also count oral for heterosexual coupling. And, yes, in both directions. And what about when disability prevented insertion of any kind, and we found various alternative ways to get off? And the partner who preferred to pleasure themself in my presence but without inter-touching – that seemed a pretty intimate relationship to me? And… etc.

        I think the idea that queer and disabled people have sex without people like him sticking it in melted his abled hetero male brain. (He never defined his terms so never got a number from me.)

  • Fifteen. Nine guys, six girls.

    I was in a monogamous relationship for 27 years, married my first boyfriend. But I’d always fantasised about open relationships…

    Once I got divorced, I unlocked the fantasy box, after talking to my new lover about sex as a playground. We discovered we had a mutual interest….and now I’m in a threeway relationship where we explore and play and meet new people.

    I’m living out one of my deepest fantasies, which I’ve had since I was a teenager, and I feel neither guilt nor shame…just happiness.

  • RB says:

    5 years ago, my first week in halls during my first ever week of uni, my flatmates and I got onto discussing ‘magic numbers’, and I remember feeling like a freak because in amongst the nines, eights and bigger numbers, I was at zero, and I fielded some odd looks because of it. I wish that in hindsight I’d had the nerve to tell them, ‘so what?’, because it eventually happened for me when I was ready and eager and not because I’d forced it for the sake of a tally, and that being a virgin at 18 was hardly cause for concern.

    The number’s gone up – significantly – since then, and I keep a list of names, same as GOTN for the same reason; to link them with memories, and experiences. ‘He did this’, ‘he was that’, ‘I loved him’, ‘he broke my fucking heart’…some of them are painful but necessary to remember. I’m glad other people do the same.

    My ‘magic’ number is 3. I can’t decide if I want it to go up or not.

  • Claire says:

    Interesting post.

    Its a largely subjective question as there are so many potential factors in play, each specific to the individual concerned. Age, societal upbringing, cultural expectations, gender expectations, religious upbringing, personal preferences, the generation gap – the list goes on and on.

    For me though, the answer is 1.

    Ive been with my wife (Mistress) since I was a teen. Married over 20 years, and the only partner Ive ever had (and likewise on her side). Fantasies aside, I couldnt see myself with anyone else and have already made the decision not to look elsewhere should anything happen. Part of that is trust, which I dont give easily, part age, part upbringing, and part kink preference. Mistress feels the same way incidentally.

    Theres a challenge that comes with staying with the same partner long term though, keeping things fresh and interesting – and our sex life in our mid 40’s is far more satisfying than it was in our 20’s. Now, if we had that youth now coupled with our experience….oof.

  • Lee says:

    I’ve been lucky in an odd way, that my tally and my magic number are the same. Two.

    Both inspired deep love, and I hold a special place in my heart for both, which I know will last my lifetime.

    Maybe I’ve just been unlucky not to have more experience, but still, those two loves meant more because of their rarity, because a guy like me is fortunate to find someone willing to see past the physical.

    For B & V. xx

  • Jo says:

    You are most definitely not weird for keeping a list of the people you’ve shagged. I have a list of all the people I’ve ever made out with! As I have no idea what some of their names are, sometimes there are descriptive entries, such as “girl with the eye patch / lesbian bar in Toledo” or “random dudes who crashed my house party freshman year.” I yearn for those days.

    Excellent point about asking your partner how many people have ripped his / her still-beating heart out… much more significant than the number of people (s)he’s banged. “Zero people have broken my heart” would make me much more nervous than “I’ve fucked x number of people.”

  • speedoflife says:

    I’ve always been one to ask about people’s bed notches. Not in a creepy out-of-the-blue way, but if we’re talking sex, kink and fetishes, I’d usually ask how many people they’ve fucked.

    It’s because it turns me on. In a weird way it probably turns me on even more than hearing about their kinks, even if they’re shared ones. I guess that I must think that having fucked a lot of people makes them a bit filthy – although clearly that’s not necessarily true – but the thought is hot

  • Thinks says:

    My tally’s four, spread out over many years, due largely to my own incompetence and lack of awareness. That rather makes me sad, as I love sex, and I’m at an age and situation now where opportunities are likely to be few.

    Yet every one on my tally has a special place and special memories for me; as, to be honest, do several others. Some may have ripped my heart out and left it bleeding on the floor, some may not. They all broke my heart to an extent, or I broke it myself, perhaps; but that doesn’t matter; they are all still special, too special for any tally to be significant. I think I’ll keep the magic number to myself, and hope they know who they are.

  • BrokenSub says:

    It’s articles like this that make you one of my favourite bloggers, GOTN.

    Finally, a sensible discussion about ‘magic numbers’. I suspect mine ( at the beautiful number of 69) is higher than many, but I regret none of them, and I too have a list.
    With regards to what constitutes sex, my list is only for PIV penetration, and alternatives with my girlfriends, although that does make things more difficult.
    Maybe sex is whatever we want it to be?

  • Love, love, loved this post.

    Ive had sex with guys I haven’t loved. I’ve had sex with guys I’ve grown to love. I’ve had sex with a guy I hated (but used to love).

    And sometimes sex is just about sex.

    My magic number is 4……possibly 5 the way things are going. :(

    • Girl on the net says:

      Thank you so much HGG – I’m glad you liked this one. And sorry that your last sentence ended on a sadface =( So much contained within that sadface.

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