Indirect Sex Partners = Disguised Slut Shaming


A pharmacy in London launched a calculator that uses the six degrees of separation concept to determine your number of indirect sex partners. The idea is that every time you sleep with one person you sleep with all of their previous sex partners. I get the idea but the execution is a low-grade scare tactic rooted in false assumptions about sexual risk.

What does indirectly sleeping with people even mean? Indirectly sleeping with 3 million people versus 1 million people does not mean you have an inherently higher risk of contracting an STI/STD.

Risk of contraction is not about a number pinned to your slutty lapel. Risk of contraction is about specific behaviors. Did you use a condom every time? Was lube involved? Were there visible sores? Were you having oral, vaginal or anal sex? Did your partners use protection? These are questions that can help determine your risk, not the number of sexual partners.

I know, we like nominal figures to figure out where we lay on the sexual totem pole. A number is comforting, easy to understand but ultimately misleading. Think about BMIs or simply weight. The numbers say something but they don’t paint the whole picture.

The heart of the calculator is in the right place but the underlying assumption is that fear will motivate people to use condoms and get tested. The fear of slut shaming is an easily accessible tool. I looked around at comments from people who calculated their indirect sexual partners and one concept popped up repeatedly: EEEWW! DIRTY!!

We make the immediate mental leap from indirect sex partners to direct and feel this sense of shame. 14 million people? I fucked 14 million people! Quelle horror!

Calm down. You did not really sleep with 14 million people just like you don’t really know Brad Pitt through six degrees of separation.

This isn’t to say that having sex with lots of people doesn’t make you more likely to contract an STD/STI. It does. But there is more to the picture than that. Type of sex, partners’ sexual histories, partners’ sexual health, your health, and levels of protection used are several very important mitigating factors.

The lesson? Unless you are committed to someone, use protection or engage in lower-risk sexual contact. Class dismissed.

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