Too Many Sexual Partners Challenged

Despite sex-positivity becoming more popular, the stigma of too many sexual partners still exists in the United States.  It doesn’t help that the stigma is so subjective. After all, “too many” can mean either three or 30 depending on whom you ask.  Regardless of how arbitrary the stigma is, it still causes shame, anxiety, and sadness for several people. Therefore, here are some ways to challenge the stigma of too many sexual partners.

 

Sexual Scripts and Their Origins

        One important way to challenge the stigma of too many sexual partners is to first understand sexual scripts. Sexual scripts are often unconscious and come from a variety of places. In Too Many Sexual Partners, you were guided through an activity to help you identify some of your core messages.  As you reflect on those messages, ask yourself, “Where did I learn this?” To make this process easier, grab a sheet of paper and create a row for each of the following categories: parents, peers, school, your religion, culture, and media.  Afterwards, write out the messages that you’ve learned from each category regarding having too many sexual partners. Here’s how it can look.

Parents:

Having sex in a long-term relationship is sort of okay, but I’m not respecting myself if I have casual sex.

Peers:

There’s no problem with having multiple sexual partners.  However, I probably shouldn’t brag about it.

School:

Abstinence only is the way to go.  Having sex with lots of people is how you get pregnant and get tons of diseases.

My Religion:

Sex is sacred.  Therefore, I should stay a virgin until marriage. I definitely shouldn’t have multiple sexual partners.

Culture:

There’s somewhat of a double-standard in my culture.  Men prove their worth by having a lot of sex, but women prove their worth by not having any.

Media:

It’s confusing.  Everyone is having sex and it isn’t a big deal, but I also hear certain shows slut-shame a person.

To be clear, these five categories aren’t exhaustive: sexual messages come from several other places.  However, the above categories tend to be concrete, common sources of one’s sexual scripts. Regardless, doing this activity often highlights how external one’s views on sex can be.  This doesn’t have to be something horrible, however. Instead, this gives you the power and clarity to choose the sexual messages that are right for you. Think about it this way: you may have hated the clothes that your parents bought for you when you were a kid.  However, now that you are older, you can choose which clothes best fit you.


Identify Your Goals for Sex

The previous section discussed your beliefs on how sex should look (e.g., who initiates, when it should happen, etc.).  However, it would also be beneficial to identify your personal goals for sex. Doing so may seem bizarre or overly self-evident, but the reasons why a person chooses to have sex often influences how they feel about their number of sexual partners.  For instance, some people choose to have sex not only for pleasure, but to also increase intimacy within the relationship. Therefore, a person may simply have had multiple sexual partners because they have had multiple relationships. Conversely, a person may believe that a main goal of sex is for procreation.  If so, that person may feel shame over having more than two sexual partners. Take some time and identify why you choose to have sex. This may seem overly obvious, so one thing that you can do is pretend that you are speaking with an alien. They have no idea why people have sex, and are coming to you for your personal reasons.  Here are some prompts to help you out.

  • I have sex in order to…
  • One goal that I possess when having sex is…
  • Ultimately, I would be happy if _____ would happen when I have sex.

By taking time to reflect on why you have sex, you are more equipped to evaluate your current sexual experiences.  Essentially, how well do your sexual encounters align with your sexual motivations? For example, if emotional intimacy is a reason why a person has sex, yet they only receive that intimacy 25% of the time, they may want to re-evaluate their reasons for having sex or with whom they are having sex with.

 

Remove Yourself from the Situation

        One final way to challenge the notion of having too many sexual partners is to simply remove yourself from the situation.  Think of your actual number of sexual partners, and think about your core message regarding it. Afterwards, write it all down.  Here’s an example.

“I have 42 sexual partners, and because of that number, I don’t think that I’m respecting myself.”

Now, read what you wrote out loud, with the assumption that it’s your best friend who’s saying it.  How would you truthfully respond?  There’s a high chance that you would be supportive, that you wouldn’t be so critical of your friend having 42 sexual partners.  Unfortunately, people tend to be harsher critics to themselves than to others. This harsh treatment tends to do more harm than good.  After all, if your friend is being safe and consensual, would you shame them for their sexual activity? If not, why do that to yourself?

 

Important Caveats

This article has focused on the stigma of having multiple sexual partners, and because of that, is fairly sex-positive.  However, that are times where having multiple sexual partners can be a symptom of sexual compulsivity or sexual trauma. Regarding the former, sexual compulsivity occurs when a person’s sexual behavior harms themselves and/or others.  Persistent infidelity, disregard for one’s sexual health, and engaging in illegal activities are all examples of sexual compulsivity. As for sexual trauma, some survivors may develop poor sexual boundaries due to their experience. It may be difficult for the person to turn down sexual offers, even when they personally do not want to have sex.  Often, it’s hard to know what healthy boundaries are when someone has violated your personal and physical autonomy. Conversely, some survivors may also initiate sex, not because they truly want to, but because they feel as though they should.  This often occurs due to the sexualization of the survivor; they may believe that their only value is that of a sexual object.

 

Many people experience the stigma of having multiple sexual partners.  Though this shame is difficult to experience, you can also alleviate it by doing certain interventions.  However, if you believe that you may have sexual compulsivity or sexual trauma, or you simply want to explore more of your messages around sex, individual therapy can be very beneficial.  You can schedule a session with a therapist at https://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/contact/ .