I was recently chatting to some guy I vaguely knew through mutual friends and social media – one of those very casual, getting-to-know-each-other, testing-the-waters kind of talks. “How are you finding your course?” “Are you up to anything fun this week?” Stuff like that. Then, out of nowhere, he asks how many people I’ve slept with. The conversation literally went something like:
Him: “What are you doing today?
Me: Nothing too interesting, you up to anything fun?
Him: Yeah nothing too fun. Btw, how many people have you slept with?”
It’s actually laughable reading back.
I questioned why he needed to know – or felt that he needed to know. His response? “Just curious.”
Quite angry, confused, and mainly just shocked, I wondered how anyone could feel entitled to ask someone they don’t actually know, mid-conversation about something totally unrelated, such a personal question. But me coming to my own defence so quickly got me thinking about the topic of a “body count” (absolutely vile term, btw). The infamous number that hangs over our heads, worn as a badge of pride by some and stowed away in shame by others. What’s with the controversy?
So many people (myself included) constantly preach that the number of people you’ve slept with doesn’t matter (safe and consensual, of course), and that it should be made a more open and shameless discussion point. But then, when asked about it, I go into ultimate defence mode and feel that inevitable shame. It sometimes feels as though I’m some sort of walking paradox – preaching one thing but practising another.
Lots of the time, our surroundings are what make us think the way we think, especially when it comes to sensitive or “taboo” topics, like sex. School is a prime example of a place where status means everything. The hierarchies are unavoidable, and the divide between the genders plays a huge part in the way people judge you. I know for a fact that in the school I went to, the guys were rushing to lose it and praised once they had, whereas the girls didn’t speak a word about sex for fear of being called a slut, whore or worse. And growing up in that sort of environment definitely planted a seed of shame within me, which hasn’t just disappeared over time.
And it’s not just prevalent amongst schools either – or in ordinary life, it affects celebrities too. They’re supposedly meant to be living the high life, but stories of sex surrounding women are still seen as scandalous. Take Miley Cyrus, for example. She recently tweeted her thoughts on slut-shaming, and honestly, I couldn’t voice it better:
“Men (especially successful ones) are RARELY slut shamed. They move on from one beautiful young woman to the next MOST times without consequence. They are usually referenced as “legends” “heart throbs” “G” “Ladies Man” etc… where women are called sluts/whores!”
She followed with a statement so powerful, so real and so relatable:
“I am trying to just THRIVE/survive in a “mans” world”.
So, here’s what I think.
I think that there should definitely be no shame when it comes to talking about sex (again, safe and consensual, of course). Granted, I don’t think it is fair that anyone random should then have the right to ask about your sex life, as if they’re entitled to. They’re not. Just because something is for you, that doesn’t mean it is for anyone else.
I think that I’ve always had this innate, internalized shame hanging over my head, perpetuated by the media, through subcultures in school and in many ways that I didn’t even realise – and still don’t always recognise. I think I’ve come to the realisation that me not wanting to share details of anything sex-related doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m ashamed, but more so that I quite literally don’t want to.
Yes, I’m aware of all the stigmas and the stupid stereotypes – I’ve learned to not care about them. It is essentially the case that I just don’t want to share that kind of stuff with anyone random.
In other words, my business is my business, and I don’t owe that to anyone.
– Leyla Mohammed