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In my early 20s, like many, I explored my sexuality with others.

For the purposes of an exercise, a mentor asked me to write down the names of all of the sexual partners I’ve had. I sat down, thought back on the last several years and wrote down 10 names. A few days later I remembered another partner I had and it shocked me that I had forgotten. I’m not one to forget such things. I sat down again and started another list. I came to 10 names and then felt satisfied and left it behind me. It wasn’t until some time later that I realized this didn’t add up. What was going on? Why am I negating lovers I’ve had? Then I remembered another! I was really shocked and disoriented. I sat down again, this time with both of the lists I’d written. I felt dizzy and nauseated. After some time of working myself through this very uncomfortable process, I had a list of 13 names. I felt ashamed, embarrassed and knew immediately that I couldn’t tell anyone. This is what shame looks like. Then I thought about my future. I surely couldn’t add more to the list but I wasn’t done having sexual partners either!

I had a panic attack on the way to this session and had to pull over. Talking with this mentor, I uncovered an unconscious belief that I had around how many partners I could have before I was “a slut.” My current self finds this laughable, but at the time this was one of the most dreaded and shameful insults I could imagine. Somewhere, somehow, I formed the idea that over 10 partners was too many and after that I was trash. Not just my behavior, but me. I was trash. Again, this is what shame looks like. This number judgment was never a conscious thought. It amazed me that this unconscious belief controlled me so much that I could write an inaccurate list of 10 partners and walk away satisfied with that.

I thought about what it was to have “a number.” I concluded, for myself, that the only reason to know your number of partners was for judgment. Judgment of myself and for others to judge me. From that day forward I vowed to never count my lovers. It’s more important to me to connect with another when it feels healthy and right to do so and to not connect when it does not. This lesson was a cornerstone to my becoming sovereign in my sexuality. I now know to go inward to make decisions for myself and ignore what anyone else may think or feel about it.

My internal guidance is more important to me than any arbitrary number.

I will never know how many lovers I’ve had. Although I do know, deep within my bones, that I’ve had exactly the amount of lovers I’ve wanted to have.

No more and no less.

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