Monday, April 23, 2012

What's Your Number?

[TW for discussion of sex and sexual acts, consent, and some references to misogyny and rape-culture-y stuff]

The stats, according to the CDC*:

*2006-2008 for individuals aged 15-44 years. "Sexual partners" included anyone with whom respondents had vaginal, oral, or anal sex.

If you're a more visual person, I've turned the second table into a graph, with percent of population on the y-axis and number of sexual partners on the x-axis:

The points at which the two lines are furthest apart are at 1 sexual partner and at 15 or more sexual partners. At zero sexual partners, the two are so close that the difference is not statistically significant. The difference is quite small at 7-14 partners (only 2.1%), but I would still consider that statistically significant, especially since 7-14 is such a huge range.

I disagree with the methods the CDC uses for a number of reasons:

1. Their study is so heteronormative, it hurts. I actually really liked how inclusive their definition of "partners" is: anyone with whom respondents had vaginal, oral, or anal sex. But then they had to go an add that "opposite sex" bullshit. Same-sex (and non-m/f) couples/groups can still have "sex."
Which brings me to my next gripe...
2. Use of "opposite" sex. There are more than two sexes and more than two genders, and even "male" and "female" or "man" and "woman" are not "opposite." "Other" would be more correct. (More correct than "opposite," although see #1.)
3. Their definition of what is "sex". I am fundamentally and fervently opposed to the patently absurd (and quite frankly, offensive) notion that penetration (by a phallus, as implied by the heteronormative nature of the study) equals sex. I'm in agreement with author Jessica Valenti's definition of sex: it's sex if you have an orgasm. Different strokes for different folks: people get off in different ways. And an orifice getting action is not necessarily sex. (Otherwise we'd have some seriously criminal dentists, orthodontists, ob/gyns, and other doctors...) And I find that Valenti's definition gives far more accurate portrayals of actual sexual encounters. (Or sexcapades, as I like to call them.)
And, um, hello? What about kink?
Kink doesn't necessarily involve sex, but when it does, there's a huge gray area there.
4. This is really nitpicky, but: What about group sex? Just for argument's sake, what about sex involving 3+ individuals where all individuals don't necessarily interact directly? To go with a simple example, there's PLENTY of porn where two (or more) men fuck one woman, but do not have any sexual contact with each other. Would they count as sexual partners? 
5. What about non-consensual sexual acts? Can you really call it a "sexual partner" if it's against an individual's will and/or without their consent?

Obviously, there's a lot of gray area. But that's human sexuality for you. And to some extent, oversimplification in this study was necessary to get it done. (Heh.)
But that's my point: not everyone's so clear-cut.
Also, they oversimplified in ways they shouldn't have.

As far as I'm concerned, "number" is absolutely trivial. It's unimportant bullshit.

As a general rule, I'm more concerned that any two (or more) sexual partners are adults, recently tested for STDs/STIs with clean results, that they are clear that we WILL be safe in any sex with have, and that all parties (past and present) are (or were, at the time) consenting.
It matters not how many people or how often or what type of sex; what DOES matter is that it's safe and between consenting adults and everyone's on the same page (meaning no one's being mislead emotionally; don't be shitty).