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Ask Izzy: It's time to stop asking people about their sexual "body count"

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Anna Shvets / Pexels
Anna Shvets / Pexels

Ask Izzy is an advice column about relationships, mental health, and sexuality. Written by Isabel Mata — a Seattle-based lifestyle writer, podcast host, and mental health advocate — Ask Izzy offers tangible expert advice so all readers can have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. Submit your question today by filling out this survey

I had a conversation recently with a family friend about dating etiquette. She was wondering why she keeps getting asked what her "body count" is and if she needs to actually disclose this information to her dates. For those unfamiliar with it, this term is often used in relation to how many people you have been sexually intimate with. This made me wonder, why do we care so much about how many people our potential partners have slept with? And is it time to finally let it go and stop asking? My answer is yes.

As society evolves and embraces more progressive attitudes toward sex and sexuality, it becomes increasingly apparent that asking about someone's "body count" is an outdated and harmful practice. Not only does this invade a person's privacy but it also perpetuates harmful notions of sexual purity and worth based on past experiences. While the question sometimes starts as pure curiosity, to see if someone is sexually compatible, it more so fosters a culture of judgment and comparison, in which people are unfairly evaluated and stigmatized based on their sexual history, rather than their character and values.

When you ask someone their "body count," you are essentially reducing someone's intimate relationships to mere numbers and disregarding the emotional complexities involved. It also reinforces harmful gender stereotypes, often leading to double standards, wherein men are praised for high numbers while women are shamed for the same. This disparity not only reinforces inequality but also undermines the autonomy and agency of people regarding their sexual choices. At the end of the day, it shouldn't matter whether you have slept with three people or thirty — the choice is yours and yours alone to make.

In embracing a more respectful and inclusive approach to dating and relationships, it's time to shift away from focusing on "body count" and instead prioritize mutual respect, communication, and understanding. If you really want to know how many people someone has slept with, pause and reflect on what you are hoping to gain by asking. More often than not, it stems from a place of insecurity, rather than curiosity. If you are asking because you want to have safe sex, then there are other ways to talk about it instead of asking directly about someone's sexual history. Instead, you can approach the topic in a respectful and considerate manner.

Here are some ways to broach the subject:

• Initiate a conversation about sexual health: You can start by discussing the importance of sexual health and how it plays a role in your life. It helps to share your own views and experiences before encouraging your date to do the same.

• Ask about a partner's recent sexual health check-ups: If you are worried about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), you can inquire about when someone last got tested and ask whether they have any recent results they'd be willing to share.

• Discuss safe sex practices: Before being intimate, it's important to talk about what form of protection you will be using. It doesn't hurt to ask about your date's preferences and practices regarding condoms, birth control, and other forms of protection. This conversation can naturally lead to discussions about sexual history and current habits.

• Share your own boundaries and expectations: This may be the most important bit of advice I have to offer. When having a conversation with a potential partner about your own experiences, be honest about your concerns about sexual health and safety. Don't be shy in letting your date know the level of sexual exclusivity you prefer in a relationship. This can encourage them to share their own boundaries and expectations as well.

Remember that discussing sexual health is a normal and responsible part of dating and forming intimate relationships, as long as it is approached respectfully. By employing empathy and honesty, you can help ensure a safer and more fulfilling experience for both you and your potential partner.

Rather than fixating on numbers, we should strive to foster open and honest conversations about sexual health, boundaries, and expectations, creating a culture of acceptance and empowerment in which people feel safe to express themselves without fear of judgment or scrutiny. By letting go of outdated metrics of worth, we can cultivate more meaningful connections based on mutual trust, respect, and understanding.