What's So Spooky About Body Counts?
It’s the spooky season of 2022, the world is still balls deep in a global pandemic, people are still being ghosted left & right, and we’re still being haunted by the burdensome body count. Most people agree that it shouldn’t matter, but for some, at least in internet spaces, body count does hold a little weight. Some have even run for the hills upon hearing that their partner’s number is too high. But what exactly is “too high” of a body count and what is so scary about body counts anyway?
Body count used to refer to how many people you killed in battle, but a more modern version refers to the number of sexual partners you’ve had in your lifetime. More specifically, body count refers to the number of people you’ve had penetrative sex with. For whatever reason, oral and nonpenetrative sex don’t count, which is problematic for reasons we’ll touch on later. But the bottom line is that body count has deviated far from its original meaning to now represent a made-up metric that seems to police (mostly femme-presenting) people’s freedom of sexual expression.
In the real world, it seems that most people view a high number of sexual partners as either an indicator of more experience, a simple fact they’d rather not know, or completely irrelevant either way. However, in the ever-expanding world of social media, a high body count is grounds for public judgement and ridicule, especially if you’re femme-presenting. Recent social media trends on the topic have given way to more and more discussion about the importance of body count, including what it says about a person and what number is too high.
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#BodyCount on Tiktok currently sits at 590+ million views, with many influencers posting their versions of the #bodycountchallenge. The challenge requires influencers to film themselves asking random participants “What’s your body count?” and record their answers. One influencer’s video showed 2 femme participants, one with a body count of 85 and the other’s at 0. As one might expect, the comment section was full of people slut-shaming “85” and questioning her morals while praising “0” as a queen.
Another social media challenge shows influencers asking random people “What could you buy with your body count,” a question seemingly aimed at determining if a person’s body count is too high or just right. Similarly on Twitter, debates abound on whether or not body count is still relevant, with many debaters agreeing that it is. However, when I asked people in real life what they really think of body count, their answers didn’t exactly line up with social media trends. I asked my followers on Instagram (@sexpottherapist) their thoughts on the topic and 91% said that they body count does not matter, for reasons such as:
- “...if anything, I preferred them to have more than me. At least they know what they enjoy.”
- “I want a partner who knows how to please themselves and me. Why would I care how they got there?”
- “I don’t even ask. It could trigger insecurities I have.”
- “I don’t slut, kink, sex or body shame
- “I like to know simply because i am nosey, not because it’s indicative of anything”
Of the 9% who said that body count does matter, their reasoning included things such as:
- “Hell yes, it’s a sign of self respect”
- “I’m only concerned if they REFUSE to share it with me”
- “It didn’t until I felt a disconnect during sex [with] my partner…in this case, it feels like the amount has taken away from the novelty of being intimate with a new person”
So what’s tea after all? If most people irl don’t actually care about body count, then where does this seemingly widespread fear of it come from and what’s keeping that fear alive on the internet?
Expert Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, an Associate Professor and sexuality researcher at the University of Melbourne in Australia, offers the idea that maybe the obsession stems from genuine curiosity. "At the most basic level, humans are curious about other humans: we're interested in their private lives and deepest (and sometimes darkest) secrets," states Rosewarne. Coupled with society’s track record on suppressing sexual expression since at least the 50s & 60s, it makes sense that the obsession comes from pure nosiness.
However, it also seems that people on the internet care more about a person’s body count when that person is femme-presenting. You know that double standard, the one that dictates that if a masc-presenting person has multiple sexual partners, they’re celebrated, but if a femme-presenting person does it, they’re a slut? Yeah, that one is definitely at play here. Regardless of gender expression, it seems that the biggest group being targeted and questioned about body count is those who present as femme. Most articles online about the topic seem to focus mainly on the body counts of femme-presenting folx, asserting that high body count must be indicative of little self respect, low self esteem, or “daddy issues.” The problem with this idea is that it assumes that a high body count is directly tied to low morals, morals that seem to be defined by Western ideals and parameters of acceptable sexual expression.
In reality, a high body count may actually be indicative of a sexually liberated person, which (if that person is femme-presenting) can be especially scary to anyone benefitting from the patriarchy. Therein lies one of the biggest issues with society’s obsession the body count: it robs people of sexual freedom and expression and diminishes the idea of “self-respect” to a physical act. Western religion and morals would have us all regard sexual expression as a mark on the soul. But when we consider that not everyone subscribes to the same religious morals and ideas, it’s kinda hard to make that myth stretch.
Another issue with the body count is that it is determined solely by the amount of people you’ve had penetrative sex with. In case you didn’t know, penetration is not the only way to enjoy sex. Whether it’s due to sexual orientation, ability of functioning or even just personal preference, there are people who literally never have penetrative sex, nor do they plan to – that doesn’t make the sex they’re having any less valid, and certainly not any less enjoyable. With that, it seems that the myth of the body count erases entire populations of sexually active people, especially those who are not straight, who may experience pain during penetration and those who just don’t enjoy penetration. In that light, the body count myth seems to center phallic-centric sex, straight people and by extension (no pun intended), patriarchal ideals. And we could sit here for hours discussing why that’s problematic, but I'll save you the trouble.
The bottom line is that body count has haunted us as a society for far too long and it’s time to LET IT GO. Nowhere is it written down what an acceptable body count is, nor should you feel you have to aspire to a certain number or stay below one. Despite whatever values and morals you hold dear (religious or otherwise), having sex does not make you less of person, it doesn’t negate your self-respect and it doesn’t make you any less deserving of love, kindness and respect. As long as you’re practicing the safest sex possible, getting and giving informed consent and not hurting anyone, body count really doesn’t matter. And on top of all that, it’s none of anyone’s damn business, and you can tell them we said so.
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