by Selina Renfrow
I used to keep a list. I even used to rank them. I never bragged but I didn’t lie. However, after awhile I ripped out the page from my notebook and tossed it in the garbage. Since then, I can’t tell you the exact number (just a rough estimation) of partners I’ve had, nor can I remember everyone’s name (sorry, you just weren’t that memorable).
I didn’t want it to be a “thing” either; something to be proud of or something to be ashamed of.
I’ve tried not to care. I started a list to keep track and to remember, ranking them was just fun. The only people whom I told that I ranked partners were the ones in the top-five. If you were at the bottom of the list, good chance it was a one-time thing. But that became silly and pointless. The people I slept with weren’t notches on my figurative bedpost, and ranking them was kind of mean. From then on I kept track mentally, purely for sexual health purposes. It’s recommended to get tested about three days after every new partner, just so you know what you may be getting and from whom.
Yet, in past two Reflector sex surveys, one of the first questions I’ve asked is “how many?” Real studies have asked this question, gathering information about sexually transmitted infections and how countries compared to each other. So, like it or not, I keep this number (or my guesstimate) in mind.
Depending on your perspective, Calgary is not a big city. Particularly when you run in the same circles or a specific community of like-minded people. Up until just over a year ago, my partners have ranged in age and backgrounds. I used to wonder what it would be like if multiple partners were in one room together, like at an event, and how I would feel about that.
Well, in the past year, I’ve experienced that a few times and I’m still trying to sort out how I feel about it. It’s a bit awkward. I try to shrug it off. But it sticks around.
This may be because the partners in question know each other. However, I’m not sure if they are aware of what they have in common. But even then, would they care if they knew? Probably not, so why should I?
I suppose I feel like it should matter, like someone should care. Or that someone is judging me. Only, no one is. I think.
I am dating someone now, and he’s more-or-less aware of my past. Having a sex column makes it pretty easy for people to find out information about me if they want to. While we’ve talked about our clean bills of sexual health early on, we haven’t talked about our sexual pasts directly. I imagine that if it was an issue, as in, if he had a problem with the number of past partners, that we wouldn’t be in a relationship. I can’t change the past.
Since he doesn’t have an issue (I called him to make sure of this, now we have talked about it directly) I guess it’s just me. While I may be overanalyzing here, I feel the need to examine this as the issue comes up in conversation as well as news articles.
Earlier this month, Slate.com featured an article titled The Shame Cycle – The New Backlash Against Casual Sex. Apparently in every generation there is a cycle of sexual liberation and then “sex-regret”.
I very well could be feeling some regret. While I love Madonna’s assertion “no regrets”, I honestly can’t say the same. I have some definite regrets. I regret my actions that led to casual sex. For many who engage in casual sex, drugs and alcohol tend to be involved. Sometimes I used protection, sometimes I didn’t. I regret how friendships have ended and how things have become awkward. Some past partners and third parties don’t think highly of me; I don’t like that. Mind you, that’s their problem, not mine and in the long run it doesn’t matter.
There’s some guilt here too. Guilt for not being safe, guilt for using people, guilt for selling myself short. It’s something I have to come to terms with on my own, I suppose, and move on.
So when I’m in a room with multiple partners, I’m not proud. But I’m not ashamed of my past partners and I don’t think less of them. My number may be higher than yours, or less, either way, the only thing that matters is if I’m safe and you’re safe.