Editor’s Note: Thirst Trap is a weekly column on dating and relationships in college.
I love a good invasive question. Sure, tell me about your day, but describe in depth your relationship with your father while you’re at it. I’ll give you a mundane tidbit over lunch and then also detail personal trauma like it’s the soup of the day. “Open book” would be an understatement. There’s no binding on the book; I’m loose-leaf paper at this point.
Ask me anything, just don’t ask about my body count.
It’s not that a body count, or the number of people a consenting adult decides to have sex with, is icky or TMI, it’s that the concept of body count itself is a little problematic. Sorry, I like ruining things.
On a surface level, the term is just gross. “Body count” usually refers to the total number of people killed in a particular event.
When someone asks about another person’s body count, they are almost definitely not referring to the number of kills, but the question might spark a desire to increase that number by one.
I love a good analogy as much as the next dork who wants to be a writer, but comparing sex and violence, especially violence that results in death, is not cute. It makes something healthy and natural sound deadly and grotesque. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I actually don’t want to think of my sex partners as dead bodies; just a little “you are a human being and I respect you” thing.
A man might think a “high” body count earns him a silk robe fit for Hugh Heffner (women don’t get robes, they get slut-shamed), but it just kind of makes you sound like a serial killer. And not to kink shame, but I really hope you’re not into serial killers.
Personal qualms about necrophilia aside, the question of body count often catalyzes a conversation about what “qualifies” as sex.
Body count is the number of people you have had sex with, but often people don’t include encounters sans penetrative sex in this census. A heterosexual person might have a pretty clear, pretty penis-powered idea of what constitutes as sex, but penis-in-vagina sex is not a comprehensive or inclusive definition of sex. Heteronormativity just in: We put too much stock in the cock.
For queer people, sex might look different than penis-in-vagina sex, and that’s okay. The presence of a penis is not the legitimizer of sexual contact. There is no such thing as “full sex” or “proper sex” or “real sex.” The sex you are having, regardless of the parts and the acts involved, is just as “full” and “proper” and “real” as any other consensual sex. Count accordingly.
So, body count has gross associations with death and also can exclude queer people. If that’s not enough to inspire a different get-to-know-you question, consider this: Body count doesn’t matter. You’re not really learning anything new.
At least when you ask someone’s favorite color, you can better pick out a pair of socks for their last-minute birthday gift. What are going to do with a body count? Get them a pair of socks for every partner? No. You’re going to react, and I can’t imagine that reaction being unproblematic.
When a man runs out of fingers counting up sexual partners, he’s high-fived. When a woman does the same, she’s shamed. We use body count as an unfair and unequal assessment of character. We’d be better off judging each other based on zodiac signs.
So rarely does a single number work as an accurate composite for an entire person; not weight, not grades, and certainly not body count.
Find more interesting, less problematic questions to get conversation flowing. Ask me about my career goals and how they are influenced by capitalism. Ask me about my favorite meme and the way humor changes from generation to generation. Ask me about history and what lies I learned in school. Ask me what different emojis mean to me and how digital communication has affected my relationships. Ask me about my first love, or better yet, ask me about my friends; you won’t be able to shut me up.
I love to talk, and I love to talk about just about anything. Just don’t ask me about my body count.
Reach columnist Hannah Krieg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Hannah_krieg
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