What do “sex lists” — keeping count of the number of people you’ve had sex with — tell us about our attitudes toward slut shaming and stud celebrating?

I recently spoke to Gareth May of The Debrief about some data (“data”) released by extra-marital dating site IllicitEncouters.com. IE’s online survey revealed that the “ideal” number of past lovers for a future (heterosexual) partner is ten, with “between 8 and 12” being the most popular answer chosen by 38% of women and 37% of men.

Gareth prefaced his questions with the following:

A new study has revealed that the ideal number of sexual partners (for Brits) to have is ten when it comes to judgment from potential suitors. The most popular answer chosen by 38% of women and 37% of men was between 8 and 12 – suggesting that more than 10 sexual partners is considered promiscuous, while having fewer than 10 suggests inexperience.

An intersting series of propositions, for sure. Gareth wrote up a great piece re sex lists and slut shaming that you can read in full over at The Debrief here (2/22/16).

…and below are the questions Gareth then asked me specifically, with my responses following in full.


GM/The Debrief: Is the fact that (heterosexual) men and women shared similar figures re their average number of sex partners emblematic of a shift in the way we see women as sexual beings?

DrCT: The fact that (heterosexual) men and women report similar average number of sex partners could certainly be emblematic of a shift in the way wider society regards women as sexual beings, sure. It could be that these figures have always (or long since) been similar – regardless of actual count, which may have gone up or down over the years, it could be that heterosexual women and men were never too far apart. But wider social pressures and ingrained regressive practices related to slut shaming and “stud celebrating” may have caused people to misreport or misrepresent their counts in some way. But the fact that (heterosexual) women and men seem to be reporting similar, possibly more forthright numbers is a sign something is shifting in our gendered culture.


GM/The Debrief: Is the shame once commonly attached to a multi-partner woman shifting? If so, why?

DrCT: These numbers may indicate that a shift is happening in women’s sexual activity – be it in how much sex is actually happening and/or in how much sex that’s actually happening is being disclosed. In other words, a woman who may not have previously “confessed” or “admitted” to having sex with 10 men (perhaps reporting only 5 or 7 or something) may now feel more confident being open about her sex life. Or, women may simply just be having more sex with more guys. Either way, this shows a shift in women’s reported behavior. This may be due to a decrease in slut shaming – or it may just be that women are caring less about antiquated notions regarding sexual propriety.


GM/The Debrief: Finally, why do we care about how many people potential partners have slept with?

DrCT: Honestly, I have no idea. Such “cares” are tied to nothing more than an arbitrary series of designations determined by sexist notions regarding gender and sex behavior. Certainly we have better things to worry about? Truly though, our preoccupation with these issues, in whatever form, is at least partially tied to wider social norms and ideologies. Social pressures are some of the strongest forces out there, and what social norms say (in whatever context or society they’re being applied) can impact people significantly. It’s a good sign when we see evidence of efforts to unpack these sorts of intensely problematic, antiquated beliefs though.

stud celebrating

(pictured: list keepin’ lady via The Debrief)

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