Why Do We Make Sex Lists?

Investigating the cultural obsession with chronicling our sex lives.


I started a sex spreadsheet because my boyfriend had one, and was completely surprised that I didn't.

"It makes it so easy to remember everybody," he said. Carlos was a sex addict, and had 175 entries on his spreadsheet back in 2009, some of which were just listings like "Hooker in Reno" or "That girl", with little notes next to them like "Drunk" or "Hmm." He tried to put them in chronological order, though, and the whole spreadsheet was accessible through Google Docs so he could update it from anywhere.

Most of us don't have the problem of trying to catalog the several hundred sexual partners we've had by our thirties, but for me, even the dozens were starting to blend together. I went through kind of a busy period at the end of high school and had a lot of one-night stands. As I got older and farther away from those escapades, first the experiences, and then the names and faces, started to recede into the oblivion of my encroaching memory loss.

I felt bad about forgetting people: not that the sex had been great, necessarily—this was before I realized girls could ask for what they wanted and even, dare I say, get it—but it seemed a bit disrespectful to not at least try to remember the names of people who had physically entered my body. I'd write down the name of my surgeon if he was wrist-deep in my abdomen looking for a gallbladder. 

So I made a Google Doc too. It's pretty simple: name, short note. I have a sidebar column for anyone that wasn't actually penetrative sex: the ladies who were part of threesomes, the frantic memorable makeouts that deserved more than being forgotten entirely. The listings for the main penis-insertion section are roughly in chronological order, although some of them have years next to them, presumably because Past Me was worried that I would not realize in which year I had been sluttiest. The notes range from "once in back of van" to "uncut, likes sounding." Sometimes the stories are a bit longer: "Great smile, muscular, in Colorado--climbed over the roof to fuck me." The whole thing is automatically numbered, so I can keep track of how many partners I had in the past year or so, for the sake of medical paperwork. It's pretty simple.

When I delved into other people's lists, though, I started to get some fascinating responses. Right after I made mine, my  friend Megan said, "Really? You have a spreadsheet? Can I see it?" I shared it with her, and she was so pleased that she made her own. Hers had listings like "French guy 1" and "French guy 2", and notes on rhythm style and cock size. "I mostly just wanted to be able to tell people my number, but it got kind of fun to remember what they were like," she told me.

"It's more like a memorial, a plinth at a WWII cemetery - 'these are the ones who have trod here and fallen'."

Another friend, Jonathan, sent me an OpenOffice document. Thirty pages worth of detailed notations, each entry for each guy included a photo, some identificatory information (like their address, or in one case, a Social Security Number). The blocks of text included not just physical descriptions, but how they'd met, what the sex felt like, and a touching exegesis on Jonathan's emotional state pre- and post-union. It was a fascinating read, especially given the way it chronicled a downward shame spiral that culminated in a life-changing moment (where they vowed never to repeat said experience again). It was more like a novel than a bare-bones list of sexual partners, and each entry could have been a separate short story. 

My friend Erik sent me his PowerPoint. I have no idea if this was something he gives to sex partners, something he just keeps around for personal reference, or something that he rents out conference rooms with a slide projector for, but it was simple, with plenty of photos and clean lines--exactly what you hope a PowerPoint would be. Each slide was one lady, with a nice big photo, and short bullet-point notes on either her, their relationship, or the encounter. Why a PowerPoint? Because it was funnier than a simple document.

Every time I asked, I got some fascinating responses. Almost universally, people started the list because they were worried about forgetting a partner. This included even people who had very short lists, partners they could count on both hands. One guy who kept only a non-chronological list of first names, said, "It's more like a memorial, a plinth at a WWII cemetery - 'these are the ones who have trod here and fallen'."  


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