09/17/2013 04:18 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

College Relationships and the Numbers Game

"What's your number?"

If you're a college student (or were at any recent time), it's likely that you're no stranger to this question. While asking the number of people you've slept with is a rather personal inquiry, we're all familiar with the many ways college students are sex and hookup-obsessed and thus, the question comes up often -- and is asked in situations ranging from pre-sex with someone new, to a friendly game of 10 Fingers with friends, to frat boys dishing about their sex lives over basketball.

And the answer, something you may be uncomfortable divulging for a variety of reasons (namely: it's most often none of anyone else's damn business), holds an unfair amount of weight.

By this point, gender biases in terms of promiscuity are something generally acknowledged and discussed: as a general rule of thumb, males are given much more slack when it comes to sleeping with higher numbers of women. While males whose numbers are over 10 -- or even 20 -- are likely to get a fist pound from their friends, the women who have slept with the same number of people are called sluts and talked about both behind their backs and on the Internet.

But the influence of our "number" is not only limited to our reputations, but influences the ways in which we form relationships. And while it's likely you will continue to sleep with new people and/or have relationships outside of college, this uniquely gossip-filled, judgmental and promiscuity-heavy environment magnifies these effects.

Males who have slept with a high number of people can actually be particularly attractive to young adult females. Not only is there no fear of lacking experience, but they also pose a challenge: almost all college girls have a fantasy of taming the 'man whore' stereotype, being the girl that was so perfect they just had to settle down with her. Conversely, prudish males are likely to not only fall victim to a poor reputation among their friends (after all, what will they ever have to contribute to the locker room?!?!), but also with girls. As college females have learned to protect themselves against being labeled a slut, they develop an averseness to sleeping with guys whose numbers clock in lower than theirs do; girls tend to shy away from sleeping with someone less experienced than they are.

On the other hand, females face the exact opposite consequences. Girls who have slept with high numbers of people are not only likely to acquire a poor reputation, but they are also less likely to be viewed as "girlfriend potential." In fact, as I type this, I am feeling an enormous pressure to clarify that I myself have not slept with a high number of people, because I am concerned that this blog post may give off the wrong impression. This unspoken and unfair reaction has the ability to subconsciously (and even consciously) influence the choices that college females make in terms of relationships -- why sleep with someone new, if you can sleep with an ex who won't raise your number? Though the pressure to keep your number down can have positive benefits of keeping promiscuity in check, the negative effects can damage they ways in which individuals form (or do not form) romantic relationships.

In short, this numbers game plays a major factor in the ways in which college students develop sexual relationships and maturity; instead of sexual choices being based on level of comfort and feelings for the individual, they become strategic moves based on the numbers game. And this applies to stereotypes painted of both genders: guys end up feeling like it's okay (or even necessary) to sleep with a ton of people because they won't be judged for it and, girls fear sleeping with someone new because it will up their number. While those outside of college life are often weirdly fascinated by the amount of sex college students are having (or not having), sexuality is at its essence strongly tied to privacy, individuality, and self-identity. The numbers game has the potential to not only damage an individual's self-worth, but their internal conscience and decision-maker as well; in relying on the influence of public opinion on sexual activity, that 'gut feeling' is invalidated.

I'm not suggesting that college students eliminate the discussion surrounding the number of people that you've had sex with -- this is something I not only recognize as integral to college gossip, but also helpful in generating dialogue around this important part of our lives. However, it is important to realize that there is no "norm" when it comes to this number -- there are people who have had sex with very low numbers of people that include one-night stands, and people who have had sex with high numbers of people that have all been meaningful relationships.

The number of people you choose to have sex with within college, or within your life, is an individual decision and should be based on your own comfort and emotions -- not on a fear of being judged by others, or a need to impress them.