I just did a survey on the Huffington Post. Actually it was promoted by the Huffington Post, but it was on the Slate website. Are you male or female. Female. How old are you. 39. How many sexual partners have you had. 82.
That last answer makes it sound like I know exactly and the truth is I don’t, but putting 80, my rough guess seemed too round. I could have said 78. Or 76, but I went with 82.
I used to know the number. And the names. I wrote a list once when I was in my mid-twenties. I thought it was important to know, to remember. I remember only counting the men who had come. I hadn’t slept with a woman at that stage. I didn’t count if I had orgasmed. I didn’t much in my twenties, not with men. Oral sex only, or penetration only I didn’t count, only if the man fucked me and came. At that stage it was a list of 40 something. Now I don’t remember how many. Or the names.
A boyfriend asked me once to tell him how many. I told him not to ask questions he didn’t want to know the answer to. We each wrote our number on a piece of paper and folded it up and handed it to the other person. He was ten years older than me, so it didn’t surprise me that his number was in the sixties. Mine must have been around 40. He was aghast. I wanted to know who he thought he had been sleeping with. He didn’t understand. I asked him how old he was when he first started having sex. 17. How many years in total he had been in long term relationships. 11. So that meant he had 9 years of sexual activity to be fooling around in (it never occurred to me ask if he had cheated on a girlfriend, I still liked to think that didn’t happen), which meant an average of 7 partners per year. The same number I had, on average. I still don’t think he liked that. Maybe he had lied.
More than I have wanted to is the answer I give now if someone asks. And then the topic changes.
The truth is more than I always knew, more than I remembered.
In my mind my first time was this sort of amazing thing. It was only when I was 26 that I realised that my first-time had been rape. Not bad rape or ugly rape. Just not something I wanted to do. But I was drunk. It was my first time being drunk also. So young. And naive.
He was from the country. There were four of them were there at the house, with four of us girls. A weekend at the farm. Our parents knew boys were coming. From the country. Hockey players that Jane Wilson had met on camp. She was a good girl. A good hockey player. It was her parents’ farm. Her Aunts empty house. Stones green ginger wine and lemonade. A trampoline. Kissing in the shadows of trees. I hadn’t kissed like that before. Hadn’t had someone put their hands on my boobs. I didn’t even like to call them that. Or to even really acknowledge that they were there. I remember hoping he wasn’t going to suck on them like the boy at the party, Sally-Anne told us about. There didn’t seem to be anything right about that. Or about his hands wandering down my pants. I told him I didn’t think we should do that. But I was so shy. Could barely speak to boys. I don’t remember the rest, a fog of shadows under tall trees, bats or birds, and the cold air I wanted to escape with is all that I can recall. But I wouldn’t have wanted it, not like that, not with him. Would have told him not to. Would have said no.
The next day when there was blood in my pants I thought my period had come early. Suze said that was normal when we were just starting to have our period and gave me a tampon. I still preferred pads. The boy didn’t speak to me. Just hung at the back of the other boys. They seemed so many more than four. I didn’t really understand. But Suze said that boys were like that. And I didn’t remember. It’s crazy hey, just totally blocked from my mind. I still can’t figure out if it was the alcohol or just something I won’t ever let myself know.
I was walking along the Brisbane River, ten years later, waiting for the lights to change to stop the daytime traffic so I could cross the road when it came back to me, when I figured it out. I was dating the man who wanted to know how many men I had slept with and didn’t like the answer, who was tall and thin with a lions mane of red-hair that flicked with a rock and roll vibe. We had a lot of sex but, he never really made me come. He sweated a lot when he came. It dripped down his freckled white back. I don’t know why, but standing at the traffic lights that day I was thinking about Jeremy Jones. The man I always thought had been my first. I remember meeting him. Standing awkwardly alone in the dark of Rebecca Stewart’s party, I, the nerd girl, not knowing what to do, isolated in a garden that stretched like a paddock with invisible fences around flocks of cool kids. I looked over my shoulder as he walked towards me. I blushed when he spoke. Weaving through the hills in the passenger seat of his car, watching his hand shift gears. Lying naked in his bed, dim lights making the sheets glow golden, warm and cold at the touch of his hand. We don’t have to do this, he said. I was silent. He asked if this was my first time. I nuzzled into his shoulder and kissed it. He wrapped his arms around me. Thick, strong arms of a man, not the boy he was, and he kissed me, fully. And ten days later on the last night before I was to leave the state, when we were in my tiny chariot looking out over the lights of Adelaide, the stars of the sky, I gave myself to him. The bad boy, the high school drop-out, expelled twice from the fancy private schools, working his parents vineyard, and who the next day would give me a photograph to remember him by in black jeans and bare torso holding a hand-gun. He leaned across me to push back the seat, dropping the back of it to be flat, all the while looking into my eyes, kissing me, my neck, the corner of my jaw, up to my ear, down to my chest. Caressing me, hands wrapping around shoulders, trailing arms to fingers, cupping breasts, pulling at the shape of my waist. He found the centre of me. In through the space between my legs. In through the wetness to my core. Pushing at it, pulling at me. Taking me with him to the middle of my being.
When we were past loving each other he asked me if I was sure I hadn’t done that before. It always seemed such a curious question. Didn’t make sense. Of course I hadn’t. He told me that it had been beautiful and I blushed and said no, I was a virgin. He told me that he had been with a few virgins before and that it wasn’t like that… I told him it must have just been him, with me. And I believed it, until I was standing on that bridge in Brisbane and the wall around my memory fell open to show the secret that I was raped. I can’t tell you how old I was when my virginity was taken from me. I don’t even know which summer it was that we were at that stupid farm. Can’t even tell you the guys name.
I still like to pretend it’s not the truth.