Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Magic Number

I wrote the post below for the feminist blog The Anti Room, who kindly gave me a platform for my inane and smutty chatter. I'm reposting it here for your delight and entertainment, and to save me having to write anything else for a couple of days because I am very lazy. Aren't you lucky?

I waded diddies-deep into one of those conversations about sex at a party on Saturday night. You know the kind, the two-drinks-too-many kind that leaves lasting friendships in its wake. Because they know too much. By the time I rocked up they’d already gotten through the bravado part of the conversation (concerning the more exotic aspects of their erotic histories) and were down to that unlovely question, the one with no right answer and an infinite number of wrong ones. How many people have you slept with?

I don’t know. I have an idea, and I could count them out on my fingers, but I have no head for figures and no desire to go streeling through their names as a party trick. I answered with an assured smile and an approximation, and then proceeded to make excuses for myself because I wasn’t sure whether my play was higher or lower than expected, and what they’d read from it.

I also confessed to them that I did keep a list at one stage.

It sounds vulgar, I know, but it was closer to lovehearts on a copybook cover than notches on a bedpost. I wrote their names in a little hand-bound notebook with a banana-leaf cover, and I gave each of them a page to himself. I never added any other detail, though I briefly considered developing some kind of code to qualify my relations with them. A little loveheart for the ones I thought I loved (most if not all of them, woe is me!) with a line through it where they hadn’t loved me back (sigh).

I spent most of my twenties wearing a thick pair of beer goggles and my heart on my sleeve, living in an apartment in the city centre and working in administration, like a heroine in a romantic novel written on someone’s lunch break. Having spent my teens cocooned in long-term relationships with unremarkable boys in a small country town, the world became my lobster when I moved back to Dublin. I don’t want to take the seafood analogy too far, but I made a right pig of myself.

I threw my banana-leaf bound book away when my fondness for office efficiency and Excel spreadsheets had me considering opening one in which to catalogue my lovers. I liked the idea of being able to rank them chronologically or alphabetically. I liked the linguistic frivolity of keeping them in a “spreadsheet”. I couldn’t think of a good name for the file, though, or of an appropriate place to save it, and these practicalities made it seem distasteful. Probably because it was. I reconsidered my book in the same light and binned it.

I used to dread that a lover would one day ask the question. I worried that the number of men I’d slept with would make him think that I was a SLUT. Or that he’d expect me to have kinky tricks up my sleeve. Or that he’d think I had a vagina like a wizard’s sleeve. I worried that the number of men I’d slept with would make a new lover feel insecure. I worried that the number of men I’d slept with would tell a new lover that I was insecure.

So I talked about it with friends. But not before I googled “average number of sexual partners” because if you want to know something and are too embarrassed to ask, The Internet is your friend. Or not. “Less than you think” said The Internet. OMFG! I thought AM BIG SLUT AFTER ALL! and then I set about qualifying my query by googling “average number of sexual partners for Irish woman in late twenties who works in administration and lives in an apartment in the city and so on and so forth” until I arrived at what seemed like a more realistic figure and felt better about myself. Then I talked about it with friends, thought a little more about what they’d had to say and how it changed my perception of them (or not) and wrote a giddy article for a magazine about it.

Which is why you shouldn’t talk to me about these things at parties.

A year or so later, I was lucky enough to meet a man so good and honest that I stopped worrying about what he or anyone else might think about how many people I’d slept with. And, Reader, I married him. What has surprised me since is that far from sweeping my sexual history under the carpet now that I’m a Married Woman, I’ve found that the grounding my relationship with him gives me has allowed me to talk about sex with a frankness, lust and humour that I wouldn’t have thought possible back when I was gallivanting around the city, euphemistically enjoying myself.

As for my totty tally, I’ve abandoned all notions of keeping a list. Assigning each of my past lovers a number doesn’t give any idea of their value. It assumes that they’re all of equal worth to me – they’re not. But they deserve to be acknowledged (though not by name) for how they’ve each contributed in some small way to making me who I am.


Anonymous said...

That's a sweet article. And even sweeter because it's true. A number is just a number. A loving husband (and ginger kitty) is much more important.
I've read your blog for a while now. Keep up the fantastic writing.

Rosie said...

thank you very much.

National Disgrace said...

I have a hardback notebbok in one of my boxes labeled 'only to be opened when I'm dead' and I rooted it out especially for you. I was horrifed to find a list (mainly from my college days in Dundalk RTC) that not only had names, abrievieated specifics about the degrading acts (HJ, BJ, Mooch) but also a complicated rating system that involved my state of drunkeness, the location of said acts and the faculty of the girl(s).. It's no wonder I'm now in my flat on my own searching facebook for these people

National Disgrace said...

You did do engineering between 1993-94 right?

Rosie said...

i thought you'd quit facebook?

i am utterly charmed at the idea of your notebook. did "faculty" describe their area of study or their aptitude for mooching?

and i was 12 in '93, old man.

National Disgrace said...

I have abandoned Facebook, just using some artistic licence there.. also, I was fast tracked to college at quite a young age (in case you think I'm some old and stuff) Also, I;ve no idea what some of those abbreviations mean - Hat Job? What's that??

Jane said...

OK, we're all thinking it: WHAT WAS THE NUMBER? C'mooooooonnnnnnn.

Rosie said...

i spent too long trying to think of a funny definition for "hat job" and now it's too late. fair play for staying away from Facebook though. what have you been doing with your time instead? (polite nudge: do some fucking blogging, those autumn tv schedules aren't going to satirise themselves)

the whole point is that it doesn't matter, Jane! assume that it's the same as you and judge me accordingly.