The number is a lot higher than you probably realize. (GIF: Yahoo Health)
Most people know the number of people they’ve had sex with. But do you know how many people you’ve had indirect sex with?
Few people do, and that’s something a new tool is hoping to change. LloydsPharmacy in the UK has created an online sex calculator to help people estimate how many people they’ve had indirect sexual contact with.
The tool, dubbed Sex Degrees of Separation, uses the theory of six degrees of separation to show that most people have been sexually exposed to millions of others beyond their direct sexual partners.
To use the tool, simply select whether you’ve had sex with men or women (or both), and then click on the number of sexual partners you’ve had within the age ranges listed. Hit calculate, and you’ll get your number of indirect sexual partners.
The results are eye-opening, to say the least.
According to data from the National Survey of Family Growth, most Americans age 15 to 44 have had three to six sexual partners in their lifetime. By the Sex Degrees of Separation’s calculation, that means most of us have had anywhere between 1.2 and 2.9 million indirect sexual partners.
“It’s shocking to see how quickly the numbers shoot up,” the tool states after giving the results. The pharmacy stresses that the calculator is not a diagnostic tool, but rather is designed to highlight how exposed a person can be to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how quickly that risk increases with each new partner.
“Hopefully sex is a wonderful, connecting moment for partners, but there are also risks involved,” women’s sexual health expert Brett Worly, MD, an OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Health. “It’s important to keep that in mind.”
Worly also points out that it’s possible for you or your partner to have an STI without knowing it. “Some of these infections can be scary and worrisome, and some can eventually lead to infertility and severe illness,” he says.
An estimated 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur each year in the U.S., according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most commonly reported infection is chlamydia, with 1.4 million cases reported in 2013 (the most recent year data is available), followed by gonorrhea (more than 330,000 cases in 2013). Syphilis cases are on the rise, with more than 17,000 reported in 2013 — an increase of 10 percent over 2012.
But the CDC stresses that many cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis go undiagnosed and unreported, meaning the actual numbers may be much higher.
While the numbers are scary, Worly says it’s important to keep a balanced view. “I hope that people don’t get incredibly frightened by this and never have sex again,” he says. “The idea is to go ahead and think before you act and make the best health and relationship decisions for you.”
That includes having a talk with your partner about his or her previous sexual partners (which Worly admits can be “uncomfortable”), as well as getting regularly tested for STDs.
How often should you get tested? If varies depending on the individual, Worly says: Some should be tested every six to 12 months; others should be tested even more or less often. In this case, it’s best to ask your doctor.