How many people have you had sex with? Whatever you think your number is, it's way higher when you count indirect partners.
Yes, indirect partners. As your high school sex ed teacher may (or may not) have drilled into you, when you have sex without a condom you are exposing yourself to all the other partners your lover has had sex with—ever! This unsavory reality explains why sexually transmitted infections can tear through communities if people don't get tested regularly. Many people harbor STIs without showing any symptoms—and then unknowingly infect others.
Yet it's easy to ignore indirect sexual partners because we haven't actually been intimate with them or confronted their naked genitals. It's also easy to underestimate their vastness. How many indirect partners could a person have? 10? 20? 50?
As a part of Britain's Sexual Health Week, LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor, a telemedicine service in England, published an online calculator that computes how many indirect partners a person has had based on the number and age of actual sexual partners he or she has had. They call their tool Sex Degrees of Separation.
"We take the number of partners you’ve had and what age they were when you last slept together, we multiply this by the number of partners they are statistically likely to have had, and by the partners of those partners, and the partners of those partners, and so on by six degrees," a rep for LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor told media outlets in Britain.
In the United States, the average number of sexual partners hovers between 6 and 10 depending on which study you look at, your gender, and your generation. When I punched in the number "6" to the calculator—in this case, as a woman having had sex with 6 men—the number of indirect partners skyrocketed to 2,875,210.
I'll give you a moment to let that figure sink in.
Ready? Now, when I plugged in the number "9"—this time as a man having had sex with 9 women—the number shot up to 2,671,105. This figure was less than with my last calculation (the data fueling the calculator changes based on the age and gender of your sexual partners), but it's still an awful lot.
I should note that the data fueling the calculator is based on British statistics.
The purpose of the online tool, according to LloydsPharmacy, is to alert the public to the dangers of unprotected sex and highlight how important condom use is. It's also really fun.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.