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What’s Your Number

It comes up, every now and then. People ask: what’s your number? How many people have you had sex with?

I usually roll my eyes. Are we in high school? In college? Do we want to treat people we’ve been with as people, or notches on a headboard. Really? I’m supposed to count?

I deflect because I honestly don’t know. I don’t want to be misinterpreted: it isn’t that there have been so many I just lost track. I remember every name, every face. Somewhere more than a dozen, probably fewer than three dozen. I don’t know, because what the hell does one mean by “sex”?

When I asked the Techie if he understood why hiding his partners from each other was a serious problem, he tried to turn it around. “You haven’t told me when you were with other people either.”

“I haven’t been. You. Spouse. That girl at the party–you were three feet away taking pictures; I hardly needed to fill you in. That’s it.”

“That’s it. What about the Fireman?”

“We don’t fuck. Well, once, over a year ago. Not relevant in terms of risk*.”

We don’t fuck.

I said it without even thinking. Everyone knows what it means. PIV penetration, right? So we don’t fuck.

When he’s in town for a party, we almost always play. He keeps his clothes on. I don’t. He punches, kicks, chokes, pulls hair. I press my body against his, claw him, scream and grab and pull. He makes me come, not every time but usually. We end breathless and sweaty in a chair, kissing hard, biting harder. But still I said, without a moment’s hesitation: we don’t fuck.

In terms of risk, it isn’t relevant. I do talk about it (because why would I not want to gush about awesomeness to someone I’m involved with?). But if it were a woman, would I call it sex? Probably. Why not with a man? Where do I draw the line, and why? Is it a set of specific actions, a sense of intimacy, an intent or an outcome?

I don’t really want to care. It’s just a word, a set of words and half of them euphemisms already. Why bother wondering whether this night with this person qualifies? It won’t change what we’ve done or how we feel at all. I’m usually precise with language, though. I’m unnerved when linguistic ambiguity clouds a situation that isn’t ambiguous at all. I don’t want to care, but I do.

So where does one draw the line, and why?

* My standard behavior is to get the STI panel recommended by my doctor every six months, or in between if a risk situation arises. I tell new partners about anyone I’ve been with since a few months prior to the most recent one, if they bother to ask.

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