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.