How many people have you slept with? How many people have you really slept with?
When in doubt, beef up your sex life. Or so seems to be the rule at Penn. A friend once bragged to me that he’d had sex with a pair of roommates, and only one of them knew about the other. He glanced at me after, expecting to either be lauded or topped by my own scandalous feat. I was appropriately intimidated and spent the next five minutes racking my brain for something just as promiscuous. How could I sensationalize a very vanilla sexual history? There’s nothing porn–worthy about a bed, missionary position, and monogamy.
I briefly faltered, wondering which was worse: Lying to upgrade my sex life or telling the truth and coming off inexperienced and boring? As it turns out, those roommates were the only people my friend had slept with, bringing him to a total of two times ever having sex. When I found out the truth, I felt a wave of relief, a surge of embarrassment for him for lying, and most importantly, anger at myself for thinking that numbers even mattered in the first place.
Yet, by leaving out details, he had left me feeling sexually inadequate.
I’m not the only one. Lately, every icebreaking game of 'Never Have I Ever' that I sit through turns into a bragging session for the most risqué party goers, while others wait it out, silent and embarrassed. Every Sunday morning, I overhear students nonchalantly summarizing the weekend’s escapades, likely sprucing up the details.
A few weeks ago, my brunch pal giggled over bacon about the drunken sex she’d had the previous night, even boasting that he’d walked her home after. Later that day, she confided to another friend that they hadn't actually had sex. As it turns out, her partner also was “sooo drunk” and suffered a debilitating case of whiskey dick. The 4am walk home was not so much an attempt at chivalry as it was an effort to end the night as quickly as possible. I understood why my friend lied at brunch, but I wish she hadn’t felt the need to.
That same weekend, I texted my guy friend asking how his night was. “She slept over ;)” he responded, about a girl he’d been wooing for weeks. I congratulated him without much thought. Recently, he clarified that she had in fact just slept over—as in she fell asleep in his bed after a very PG evening. I don’t know who felt more awkward about my assumption.
No matter how low–key you say sex is for you, it’s still a big deal for some people. Spicing up your sex life doesn’t seem different from overplaying any other detail of your honestly mundane weekend. But this kind of bragging contributes to a harmful culture of sexual insecurity. Maybe you haven’t done it with more people than you can count. Maybe you haven’t done it in a plane, train or car. Maybe you haven’t done it sober. Maybe you haven’t done it at all. Maybe—no, definitely—you shouldn’t be ashamed of that.
It’s easy to bend the truth a little in our sex–obsessed, college lives. This is Penn—I don’t need to tell you that we’re competitive. But when we toss around numbers and places and crazy things we’ve tried (or say we've tried), just to one–up each other, we leave out the gritty details and haunting emotions. We brag about the good times and hide away the bad—pregnancy scares and STDs, broken hearts and broken virginities. By playing up our sex lives, we downplay the act of sex itself.
Our lives can feel like an incessant competition. Who did better on the final? Who’s taking more classes? Who drank more last weekend? Who has more likes on their profile picture? Who got a real–life job?
Of course, many of these supposed competitions have dubious value. But of all things, sex shouldn't be a competition. There are no deadlines for having it, no resumé to list past sexual experiences and (hopefully) no jobs earned. There is no way to measure who’s “winning” at sex. Maybe it’s the guy who has drunkenly stroked, banged and scored every weekend night since NSO. Or maybe it’s the girl who’s waiting for the right partner, happily living life without a bad night on record.
Sex is a big deal. Even when we acknowledge the potentially terrifying consequences of a broken condom or an untreated infection, we often disregard the pure vulnerability of being ass–naked in front of another person. Whether it’s your first time or your five–hundredth, that’s scary.
So let’s treat sex with the reverence it deserves. It should be safe, healthy and consensual. It shouldn’t be an expectation. It doesn’t need to be public and it doesn’t need to be bragged about. This is not your LinkedIn profile; this is your life.
If you really have had sex under the Button, in the stacks or on a frat house pool table, props to you. Please divulge how you ended up in that situation. But to the rest of you, stop bragging.
Read Street's love survey from 2013.
Illustration by Amy Chen