At Penn, some are looking for a relationship. Others are looking for a one-night stand or hook-up buddy. Either way, the question of how many hook-ups a potential partner has had can cause some anxiety. Some students say the answer to “What’s your number?” is not a deal-breaker.
A 20-year study of over 5,000 college students cited in The Huffington Post from July 2014 found that the average number of sexual partners for students age 18-24 is 3 to 4 partners. The study was conducted from 1990-2010.
“The only way a number should matter is to you personally,” College senior Caroline — who preferred her real name not be used — said. “I know some people with high numbers who are happy with it, I don’t think your number is a good indicator of anything about you.”
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Countless satirical articles, seen on Total Frat Move, Total Sorority Move and Buzzfeed, proclaim what the number of people you have had sex with says about you. But students interviewed for this article — from various graduating classes and of different social circles — all agreed on one thing: Numbers shouldn’t matter unless you want them to.
Caroline keeps a PowerPoint of her hook-ups. Anyone she has slept with or just kissed has earned his own slide with a photo and memories of where and how they met pre-hook-up.
“I think that it seems a little crude. For me I’m not ranking or comparing them personally, but your college years go by really fast,” Caroline said. “It’s nice to keep a record, and if I kept it in a written diary, no one will think twice about it,” she added, flipping through the slides of her PowerPoint.
Similarly, Julie, a College junior, keeps an Excel spreadsheet of her romantic encounters.
“I’m probably making too big of a deal out of the number thing by keeping it written down,” she said. “But it’s basically for my own amusement.”
All of the students interviewed agreed that there is a somewhat gendered double standard when it comes to numbers. Men are more thrown off by girls having high numbers, but both men and women prefer their partners to keep their numbers down, the College senior said. In her view, she added, girls talk more about the details of sexual encounters but are less likely to share without being prompted, while boys are more upfront, but less detailed.
“I don’t think the world is ready for women to be as public with sex as men,” she said.
Chris, a College senior who preferred his real name not be used, kept track of his number in high school and early in college, but stopped mid-college when he decided it no longer mattered.
“I used to have it written down in a notebook,” he said. “But I didn’t want anyone to find it, so I threw it away.”
Chris explained that he isn’t worried about the number of people that his partners are having sex with, but rather if they’re being safe about it, using protection and getting tested regularly.
“It all comes back to people thinking having sex with a lot of people is dirty, but as long as you’re being safe, and getting tested, I don’t think its a problem,” he added.
“I don’t care about anyone else’s number,” Julie said. “And if someone else judged me on my number, that would be a goodbye to him.” She added that she wouldn’t judge anyone for a high or low number.
The double standard seems to extend to people who haven’t hooked up with anyone in college.
“I have guy friends who are still virgins and they still find the need to lie about it,” Chris said. “With girls, it’s seen as more respectable. Guys, it’s like, ‘Oh, why can’t you get a girl?’”
“If I was with a guy who said it was his first time, it would make my heart sad,” Sam, a College freshman, said. No one in her friend group keeps track of their number, but she believes that people do judge others on their numbers.
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