Owning your number
You go girl.
I sometimes wonder if the alleged feminine aversion to mathematics extends to all numbers?
It certainly appears many women have a disdain for certain digits, including their age, weight and phone number - particularly when I'm asking for it.
However, the figure that seems most fraught for a lot of women is the shining grand total of men they've slept with.
Ask a room full of gals for "their number" and you'll probably get a reply of "piss off" or a vague answer prefaced by the words "about" or "between", but nothing resembling exactitude.
I understand why women are leery of going public with the number of men they've shagged (as I understand their hesitancy about announcing their weight and age).
Women are too often judged and deemed undesirable on this basis but, I dare say, the first step to pushing back against a pious evaluation of your sex life is to own "your number".
I sometimes play a game where I imagine a thought bubble hovering above people containing this controversial figure.
It strikes me that if we all submitted to such a public sexual census (T-shirts bearing the figure would be cool) there'd be little shame attached to the number; it'd become just another fact about us, similar to how many sugars we like in our coffee.
Unfortunately, this is usually not the case: many people feel embarrassed admitting their number to their partners, others anxiety, as if having too many or too few sexual partners (whatever that means) tells you something about a person other than ... how many sexual partners they've had.
And trust me, the judgment we apply to promiscuity applies to both genders: I recently gave a talk to more than 70 women about what constitutes a "slut" and asked the crowd what they'd think if they met their perfect man and he revealed he'd slept with 200 women.
Many admitted this would be a deal-breaker and they'd at best consider him a player, at worst damaged goods with intimacy issues and STDs.
Their reaction raises the question - how can women ever hope to be free of the judgment associated with "their number" if they continue to assess men by theirs?
It's a position seldom raised in the dialogue about the slut-shaming of women, yet the truth is females are often as judgmental of men and I'll prove it in two sentences.
My number of sexual partners? I lost count at 200.
This no doubt confirms many readers' perceptions of this writer as a grub, others will wonder about my mental health, and still more will think I'm just a boasting sleaze.
Sound familiar, ladies?
In her fantastic 2008 book Princesses and Pornstars, Aussie writer Emily Maguire asks: "Why do rational adults suddenly turn into concerned old maiden aunts or lemon-mouthed kids when it comes to talking about a woman who's had lots of lovers?"
Maguire could just as easily have asked the question about men who've been sexually active.
The answer, she says, when it comes to females "is that many people believe a woman's sexuality is a limited resource", that it somehow wears out or becomes less valuable if shared by some nebulous, completely subjective number of men.
Guys? Well, once we pass a total number of sexual partners that is equally nebulous and subjective, we become "players", "creeps" or "sleazes".
"Your vagina is not like a car," writes Maguire, arguing it does not wear out with use, and likewise a man's penis has no odometer or best-by date.
So my point with all this is that, if we want to begin to halt the damage done to female sexual confidence by being labelled a "slut", women need not only to own "their number" but also get over the meaning they've attached to men's numbers as well.
Soooo, what's your number?
Jeez, don't I have some fans in Melbourne? Every single-speed bike-riding university lit student with a tumblr blog down there seems to think I'm an arsewipe, so it'll come as wonderful news to them all I'll be speaking at the iconic Sun bookshop in Yarraville on September 14 (This Wednesday!). It's a free event, but bookings are essential so call 03 9689 0661 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm also giving a talk on September 22 at Dymocks, 428 George Steeet, Sydney. For more info go here.