What is a Sex Partner?

I have a list of all my sex partners. It is organized by name (except for the one person whose name I don’t remember) and the month/year of our first time having sex. This isn’t a “notches on the bedpost” type of thing for me, at least not anymore, maybe it once was when I was younger and less confident in myself. Even though I have moved beyond my immature initial reasoning for the list I still keep it as a way to kind of honor my partners. They were important to me, even though it was just for a night. Sometimes the sex was good, sometimes it was mediocre, but they were all moments of connection with another human being in an intimate way.

Since my first real sexual encounter with a male I have been trying to re-evaluate how I define “sex partner”. Up until now it was easy (though may not have been truly accurate) because it was just penis-in-vagina penetration. That definition is lacking though, and not really reflective of the intimacy that I’ve had with partner’s in the past. As someone who lost their virginity (another kind of stupid concept) fairly late at the age of 23, I feel like it does a disservice to some of my early partners who were necessary in my emotional development. Just because there was not vaginal penetration it does not mean that they were not someone I was intimate with, or even loved at times.

Further, how do I count interactions with males in the past, and any that may happen in the future? I can’t really see anal penetration as a reasonable measure, but if I count oral for one gender do I count it for another? What about encounters that involve sexual stimulation but don’t feel sexual? Encounters that are intimate or fun, but not sexual? Does the presence of a labia or nipple or penis or anus necessarily equate sex? Is it just the presence or is some sort of stimulation necessary? What type of simulation?

So, when I think about it, I’m not sure how many sex partners I have had. I think my original list isn’t an adequate reflection of how I view sex now. The list is too conservative in some ways because it too narrowly defines sex in most cases by limiting it to a penetrative act, regardless of the intimacy involved. The list is also too liberal in some ways because it includes people who I may have penetrated but didn’t really “have sex” with. My current list reduces humans to an act, it removes the humanity and connection from the experience.

I’m not sure how many sexual partners I have had, but I think it is worth trying to figure out. I need a new list, not to replace the old one, but to chart how my views on sexuality and intimacy have evolved over the last decade. Maybe I’ll need to do it again in 2025 to add or remove a few more people. My views continue to evolve as I evaluate all my premises. These evaluations almost always make the world seem less black-and-white, which is frustrating at times but in the end the world becomes more nuanced and beautiful.

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