I recently asked a group of my friends how many people they'd slept with.
"Probably around 15?" "Around 60?" "I've lost count."
It's not a question they could answer right off the bat, if at all. Many of these friends regard sex as the ultimate, sacred way to bond with someone, yet these same friends had no idea how many people they'd shared that sacred bond with.
I was faced with a similar counting dilemma back in my senior year of college when I was asked the same question. I had to stop and think. "Well there was Cathy, and Katie, and -- hold on. Liz." I started pulling out fingers (incidentally how I got myself into this trouble in the first place).
Ten. Ten was the answer. I was 20-years-old at the time but I felt uncomfortable with that answer. Not the number, but the fact that it took me so long to arrive at it. I wanted to be able to tell people right off the bat how many people I'd slept with. To know that intimate part of my life intimately.
I decided to write down the names of those I'd slept with. I knew each of them, and was able to recall my experience with them easily enough. And as I started thinking back to those I'd been romantically involved with, filtering through those I'd had intercourse with and those who'd come close but no cigar, I realized that I was starting to build a list of every person I'd ever kissed.
You see, I was a virgin till I was 19, and didn't start drinking till after that. So there were no blacked-out, fuzzy-memoried nights I needed to contend with when it came to building my sexual CV. I had remained friends with pretty much everyone I had ever hooked up with, so building that list was pretty much a matter of scrolling through my phonebook.
Given that I was distinguishing between people I had hooked up with vs. people I had slept with, it seemed to make the most sense to me to keep that list in an Excel spreadsheet, because I like to make sex as sexy as possible. Also, I really wanted to coin a new sex act called the spread-sheet.
And now I could tell people with confidence how many people I'd slept with. And kissed. And gone down on. And everything in between.
Soon I had sex again. And I wrote her name down. And now I could tell people without counting that I had slept with eleven. Eleven people. AH AH AH.
And so the list grew. And continues to grow.
Eventually the women I'd date would find out about the list.
"Do you feel that that's crass at all? Disrespectful to those you've slept with?" they'd ask.
"No. Do you?"
The truth was I felt exactly the opposite.
"If you got an STI (I said STI to let them know what an authority I was on all this) would you know who gave it to you?"
"I mean -- I could have some guesses."
"And would you know who to call to let them know that they may have come into contact with you after you were infected?"
"I'd have to think about it."
And I didn't want to think about it. God forbid there was an issue, I wanted to know exactly who infected me, how long I'd been infected, and who I needed to call about it. It's the very same reason the porn industry is so stringent in its testing and record keeping. Being sexually active with that knowledge of my own history seemed to be very respectful to my partners. Thankfully, the red phone has never rung and I've never had to use that list.
But there's another reason I keep that list -- and it's the same reason I started it. I want to know how many people I've slept with because I want to know the people I've slept with. Sex is still an intimate experience for me, even if at times the circumstances in which I'm having it are casual. I form a connection with those I sleep with, and there's a fundamental respect I have for all of them. I tend to remain friends with those I've hooked up with, or at the very least amicable. If I'm traveling through Chicago and I happen to sleep with someone, we may not be grabbing beers every weekend back here in SF, but I'd like to be able to know who that person is five years later. And maybe we're just Facebook friends who chat every so often. Or maybe the next time she finds herself out in San Francisco, we'll have a means to connect and grab those beers.
Keeping a list is a way for me to stay connected to myself and those who have had an impact on me, which I assure you all of these women have.
Some people will argue that if these women really mattered, a list wouldn't be necessary. Most of these people couldn't tell you the phone number of the person they're dating, or the birth dates of some of their closest friends, because ya know, they have a list that stores that information.
Of course, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some component of a "numbers game" to all this. There's a lot of data to be had in that spreadsheet, and while I'm a reasonably tech savvy guy, when it comes to running Excel, that's when I find the time to call my 87-year-old grandmother.
I remember when my math-oriented friend stumbled upon the sheet, and organized it to expel all sorts of metrics. He gleefully showed me graphs that pointed every which direction. He flung about multi-colored piecharts like we were at a Neverland dinner.
"Looks like September was a great month for anilingus!"
More recently, the spreadsheet idea has actually grown on my friends and the women I date. "I wish I knew how many people I've slept with." Several women have actually started their own as a result, many surprised at just how many people they have actually slept with.
"You're number fifty!" I'm told with exuberance.
"That's great! You've slept with fifty people!"
"No, I've slept with fifty-two. I'm just saying, you're number fifty!"
Information isn't always easy to take. But it holds meaning.
I'm glad I started the list when I did, because there have been many drunken, blacked-out nights since. Sometimes an entry just says "Megan, drunk after sloshball kiss at the bar" and an accompanying date, because that's all I have to go on. But those sloppy, drunken kisses are just as much a part of me and the choices I make as is the choice to date a woman for six months.
And I'm confident with that information.
Follow Eric Barry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ericbarry