Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Numbers Game: philosophy on promiscuity

There's Cher of "Clueless" fame who defends her virginity by saying, "You know how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet!" There's my college friend who once said, "I'd pretty much sleep with anyone I'd share a cab with." (And let me tell you, this girl has been in a lot of cabs.) And then there's the rest of us who have probably had more partners than Laura Ingalls, fewer than Drew Barrymore and have a pretty healthy perspective of our promiscuity (or lack of) to go along with it.

Pretty healthy until someone asks for the actual number, that is.

What is it about facing the number that stops us cold in our tracks? I think it has something to do with the fact that the men who ask this fateful question clearly don't want the true answer. Not one bit.

So we stress and ponder and try to decide if our number should be higher or lower or altogether undisclosed. To help you along in your decision, I've collected the various options and some lessons I've learned along the way:

Option 1: Before you give an answer, determine his definition and general philosophy on promiscuity.

I was once part of a conversation at a party where a guy said he would never date a girl with a past. Many drinks and elevated levels of comfort later, my girlfriend revealed she estimates she's slept with 60 men, but who can really count. By the end of the night he was so taken with her personality and charm, he took her business card and sent flowers to her office the next day. So what did he actually mean by past? It seems he really only cared about her recent past, and not those crazy days in college (or after college, or last year, or last month now that I think about it). Or maybe when it comes down to it he didn't actually care at all but thought he's supposed to.

(Ooh, wait. Come to think of it, that wasn't really my girlfriend at all. It was me. Must've slightly blocked that story from conscious memory.)

Lesson Learned: The definitions of past and promiscuity are arbitrary, numbers don't really matter, and honesty could possibly be the best policy.

Option 2: Before you give an answer, estimate the number of people he's been with and then bid lower.

The formula for calculating the number of partners your beau has had rivals the criteria for calibrating the Hubble telescope. Try it now . . . factor in 1 for each year he had a long-term relationship (even if it's multiple years with the same woman, as there is probably some Ross-esque "But we were on a break!" sex in there somewhere). For every year he didn't have a girlfriend let's count 8, 16 if he was in a fraternity, 24 if he was an avid spring breaker, and 32 if he ever spent summers in a rented beach house with buddies. Maybe subtract 5 for dry spells (we all have 'em) and 5 more for any time he spent being treated for VD (hopefully none, but you can't be too careful these days -- read: always use a condom-one can't have an article about promiscuity without reminding everyone about safe sex, after all). This is his number. Now divide by 2 and you have your number. Lickety-split.

Lesson Learned: You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that this is utterly ridiculous -- you can't ever guess how many people a guy's been with, and that means he can't ever guess about you either. Unless you want him to lie to you, you probably shouldn't lie to him.

Option 3: No need to think about your answer. No matter what, the answer is three -- it's low enough to be respectable and high enough that he won't ask himself "Where the heck did she learn THAT?" during the throes of passion.

I do have a friend who, whenever asked how many men she's slept with, regularly answers three. Sometimes with even a little bit of drama involved (picture her with a contemplative look on her face, counting her fingers and saying "Well, if you count, um . . . yeah, I guess so. I guess it's three). Then she immediately deems her beau an idiot for believing such an obvious lie and loses all respect for him. With every new relationship, this snowballs to a faster and more efficient respect-loss: each time someone asks, the number has inevitably gone up and he's just that much more of a nitwit for believing her.

(Uh, oh. That one was me, too. Seems as though my regression therapy isn't working very well.)

Lesson Learned: What's the use of lying if it's just going to make you lose respect for your current beau? This is very dysfunctional. You will never have a good long-term relationship. Ever.

Option 4: Think of your true current number and halve it (or use a slightly higher denominator if the number is really, really, really high). This will shut him up with an answer and make you feel a bit respectable.

Very few men I know want to be with a woman with absolutely no experience at all, so this method is perfect for those of you who want to flaunt your experience, but not all of it. And it works, too. (At least until the time that you give him a number you feel is low enough, and he's STILL shocked by how high it is. . . Not that I'm still scarred or anything.)

Lesson Learned: You just can't win.

Before you throw up your hands in defeat and ask what's a girl to do, I do have a solution . . .

(Please try to take this advice seriously even after I have given you lots of evidence exhibiting that I am highly dysfunctional myself.)

Unless you're HIV positive or something of some such importance, withholding information is not lying. So your best bet is to come up with a mutual understanding that doesn't involve telling anything.

My personal philosophy is that your history -- all of it -- is what has made you the person you are today. Obviously your current beau likes who you are, and owes that to the experiences that have shaped you. If makes you uncomfortable to tell the truth about your past partners, and makes you more uncomfortable to lie (which, I think we've established, isn't really such a good idea anyhow), remind him that all of your past experiences have collectively resulted in your being together now. You both owe a certain amount of respect to your past, as colorful (or black and white) as it may be. Putting a number on it is meaningless.

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