So the first date went well, and you’re thinking of going on a second, but there’s one niggling question on your mind. ‘How many people have they been with?’ Jessie Lewthwaite delves into why we really want to know. 

Gin-soaked months of dating apps in Auckland’s limited girl-for-girl scene somehow paid off for me. I’ve recently started a new relationship, and I distinctly remember asking my new girlfriend if she cared about ‘body count?’

I had to be sure she understood that ‘body count’ meant how many people she’d had sex with. She’s a Capricorn, so if there were bodies in the basement, it’s best I don’t know. 


In our favourite bar, we ended up doing some drunk napkin math that quickly devolved into rants about why numbers even matter. You see, with many queer women, the first question that springs to mind when this comes up is, “Well, what counts as sex?”

For women who have been with people of multiple genders, the line of what counts as sex can be a moving target. We can all agree that the idea that only penetrative sex counts is very heteronormative. Parts of the lesbian community would be more virginal than medieval nuns if that was the bar, and you can count me in for the Convent of the Sisters of Negroni.

So if the discussion with your new partner around this question devolves to “with AFAB people, head counts as sex, but with cis men, it doesn’t,” then I ask you, ‘Why the hell does any of this matter?’ We also should never be reducing our sexual partners’ identities to their genitals, otherwise, what is the point of all the parades I’ve been to?

Any time you put a number on it, it becomes comparable. Social standing and even personality traits are assigned to those numbers. Suddenly, arbitrarily, numbers are ‘too high’, or ‘too low’, and this is supposed to mean something about your partner. The number becomes like a sexual Myers Briggs test where straight, cis white men with a podcast will give you an entire list of your shortcomings based on this number. 

On the flip side, I’d be lying if I pretended a small amount of this toxic masculinity hasn’t infiltrated the WLW community. As a butch woman, my partners are always surprised my number isn’t in the thousands, which was the bar set by Shane from The L Word (who I have previously written about). Yet femme-presenting women are not afforded this opportunity because the patriarchy is stupid and makes no sense.

So I can hear you saying, “Okay then, how do I ask this question then?” 

Firstly, I would tell you that if you are the asker, first ask yourself why you want to know. I understand that some of us are very competitive, and in a small community like ours, maybe you have a Pokémon trainer ‘gotta catch ‘em all’ attitude that fuels you. However, before asking, make sure that no matter what number they say, you are going to be okay with it. 

If you can think of a number that could leave their mouth that would make you uncomfortable, then examine why that is before you make that your partner’s problem, because that is very much a you problem. This includes the extremely valid answer of ‘I don’t know.’ If I don’t know makes you squirm with an instant thought of “How can you not know?!” make yourself a soothing tea, have a sit-down, and congratulate yourself on having lived such an uncomplicated life.


JESSIE LEWTHWAITE is the Rainbow Inclusion Manager at AUT and the Technology Manager for Rainbow NZ Charitable Trust. She splits her time between her Human Rights master’s degree and playing video games.