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The online diary of an ethical pervert.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Counting problems

I am having a terrible problem working out how many people I've had sex with. Not because I cannot count, but because I don't know how to count them, or what counts. This all came about from a conversation with Captain who claims to genuinely not know how many people he's had sex with whereas I was fairly sure it was fourteen, with him as number fourteen. There has recently been a further development in the Doll Project, which will be an evening that I will spend in the suit, whilst many people take it in turns to fuck me. The number is already fourteen. Everything else notwithstanding, being fucked by more people than you have ever fucked in your life in the space of a few hours is fairly daunting.

Then I thought about it. Was it really fourteen? The more I thought about it, the less sure I was. I suppose it comes down to the rather basic question "what is sex?" which can sometimes be difficult enough in vanilla circles and gets even harder when you throw BDSM into the mix. Starting with the vanilla, because that is certainly how I started out, spending what should have been formative sexual years trying to decipher out what on earth people were so worked up about. Sexual activities, kissing aside (which still remains one of my serious turn-ons), were generally a bit dull and mildly uncomfortable. There was a lot of fumbling. An awful lot of fumbling. More fumbling than anything else to be honest - they didn't know what they were doing and I didn't really care except that perhaps they could be a bit quicker about it. I was very shy around the actual act of penetration. I didn't feel especially sexy. I had any number of body issues as a teenager and was never especially comfortable in my own skin on my own. I certainly didn't consider the act of sex sexy: penises were downright weird and boys appeared to treat them as if they had some sort of mind of their own which was distracting, to say the least. I spent a few brief months considering whether I was gay and having done the basic experimentation decided not. I found both men and women attractive. I liked kissing them. I just was left cold by anything else.

Having decided that fumbling about, whether with fingers, oral sex or variations on frottage probably didn't pass muster I basically discounted everything I did before I was eighteen as "not sex". Then came the "definitely sex". Penises and penetration were involved. One boy whose name I cannot remember and who was collected strictly for the purposes of losing my virginity (he had a car and his own room) and then never seen again.
I had a couple of flings at University, including the one who introduced me to BDSM by pressing my face against the tiles of the shower whilst fucking me "because he could". Two long-term partners, strictly monogamous, account for the next eight years. Then we get into the territory covered by this blog, from which I can draw a clear five including Captain. So that's a firm and in some cases very well-documented ten. I feel almost virginal.

But what about all those shades of grey? Should I count people who I have played with but who, strictly speaking have not actually fucked me, although they certainly put objects in my cunt; does oral sex count; does strap on sex count? Putting sexual politics aside for a moment (I'm sticking to personal thoughts on the topic, whilst acknowledging that hetero-normative definitions of sex are very problematic), there are times when I have considered myself to be fucked, but would not have said I had sex with that person. Fucking machines, hitachi and strap-ons certainly fall into that category. Wikipedia has a handy list of all sorts of sex that isn't intercourse. What particularly interests me is that I have played with people who have barely touched any of my traditionally defined erogenous zones but who have given me more sexual pleasure than the entirety of my teenage activities, including times when I have absolutely, certainly had sex.

This leads me on to think whether "having sex" is even a meaningful category for me anymore, given that it doesn't seem to describe the effect that it appears to. I know that I don't consider sex to be a vital component of sexual enjoyment: in all probability I'd rather have really good play and then go home and masturbate than have sex. There are some times when only being fucked will do (admittedly, that's usually as part of a play session), but I think that's more because I crave the closeness and the sexual gratification of someone else alongside the sensation of fullness, which could be effected through any number of not-really-sex methods.

Of course, lists are only really good for comparing with other lists. They aren't especially useful for anything beyond that. It's terrible to reduce such powerful and intimate feelings to numbers. And, hopeless, kinky romantic that I am, I demand that there is more to sex than just jiggling my bits inside someone else's pieces. I'd like to think that my inability to give a figure relates to my better understanding and appreciation for BDSM, rather than just being unclear or forgetful. That the experience isn't measurable by the number of people involved but what was felt, by who and how. Which I guess is why I blog rather than carving notches into my bedposts.


M said...

Hello again,

What a nicely written post; combining both a sexually interesting account with underlying analytical issues. One is quite jealous of the writing style.

The philosopher in me would bring up the old sorities paradox originating in Plato, and the contemporary debate concerning semantic vagueness. At what point do we draw the line between the edge of a cloud and the sky (the problem of the many). Vagueness, and the indeterminacy of some semantic categories is one of the hardest and most of difficult philosophical issues. But in all honesty, it doesn't matter so much.

(puts on social scientist hat)

In more pragmatic and less lofty terms, I think that the heteronormative 'male gaze' is very much present here. I don't know many women, and I've never had the cojones to dare ask such an intimate question of a woman; but I think the notion of 'counting' or putting notches on the bed post is a largely male imposed notion.

For a hetero man it would seem all too simple. It seems so crude, 'one' would count for one woman's penetrated orifice. Regional variations apply to issues like 'whether oral or anal counts'. Some men have extremely abhorrent attitudes to 'counting' such as 'eating isn't cheating' or 'anal doesn't count as real sex' (in the case of idealising the virginal hymen).

I think I might bring up a particular case. I was once having an intimate talk while sharing a bath with my then-girlfriend. My ex was on the scene and had been in a 24/7 relationship as a sub. It was abusive and I suspect unrepresentative of BDSM relationships as a whole.

It once came up about 'how many people have you been with'?

A particular issue came up, namely, how her incident with a gangbang 'didn't count' because she may have been drugged/raped during this incident.

An incident like that she remembers so poorly because her dom at the time put her on horrible narcotics and her capacity to consent was hindered. She was also so much in a daze she wasn't able to tell one action from another. Her abusive dom 'lent' her to friends and it upsets me so much to even try to conceive of the emotional turmoil it caused her.

Sexual behaviour has so many expressions. There are also instances which are unclear whether to classify as sexual, such as abuse. One time I was with some friends and we were messing about and one time they pinned me down and put a power sander (without sandpaper) against my intimate area and a forced orgasm happened.. I don't count that as a sexy moment, just an embarrassing homo erotic moment with the guys.

When I was little, I kissed my cousin on the lips, full tongue. She was my first cousin. I was trying to impersonate some scene from dirty dancing and I didn't know any better.

In my books, that doesn't count as a 'first kiss'; partly for embarrassment, and also partly from lack of sexual context. I was just a playful child.

The beauty of sexuality is its plasticity. Perhaps the one most liberating thing my former lover taught me was not to concentrate on orgasm as a crucial part of sexual expression. Once I learned that I became a much better and much more expressive sexual being.

I agree that this is a murky problem, I suspect that I've made things less clear than more.

Always a pleasure to read your posts.

zoecb said...

I have that problem! It's especially problematic when trying to count female partners alongside male partners. I tend to end up with halves somehow.

Jon said...

The Kinsey Institute posted their findings from a study on this subject yesterday:

In summary, there is no one universally accepted meaning for "had sex", which appears to be the way you see it here too.

electronic doll said...


Thanks for that. There's a couple of things worth adding to.

First, I've been very fortunate in that I have never experienced any form of non-consensual abuse, much less anything like your friend has gone through. I'd agree that this form of behaviour should not be classified as sex. After all, rape is assault and a crime. There is a terrible tendency to conflate the two, which causes furher damage.

Second, the issue of "what counts as sex" when used to determine boundaries of acceptable behaviour within relationships. The situations you described appear to be incidents whereby a partner has decided to cheat, then defended themselves after the fact with rules in order to say "it wasn't sex, so it wasn't cheating" I've been in relationships where there were defined sexual encounters I could have with other people - specifically not vaginal sex. So it was certainly sex, but also certainly not cheating. I suspect that in your examples the other partner was not made aware of this situation quite so clearly?