Personally, I’ve always refused to count how many people I’ve had sex with. I could work it out if I needed to but it’s a number that I refuse to be defined by. In my experience, some attempt to pigeon-hole people according to how much sex they’ve had is generally the reason for the question and I’ve read plenty of articles in women’s magazines to back that up. (I recall one in Glamour featuring women holding up score cards in the street and another inviting men to judge women according to how many lovers they’d had.)
What I’m more interested in is what people actually mean when they ask the golden question. Indeed, when I’ve asked someone to clarify it, they often reveal that they’re only referring to people who I did “It” with. When I probe them further (no pun intended), they often reveal that they mean conventional vaginal intercourse. Generally speaking, if you say you get it on with the other sex, it is assumed that only so-called “going all the way” counts. Andy from South London (a respondent in Kira Cochrane’s vox pop at the bottom of her article) echoes this trend by saying he’s not sure if a couple of his lovers “count” because there wasn’t “full penetration.”
Of course, how far it goes in makes all the difference.