“I heard some guy fisted her from behind while she was leaning over the kitchen counter,” said Andrew.
“Yeah, okay but —”
We were sitting in a courtyard filled with food trucks by the ruin bars of Budapest. I was in the middle of a year-long solo trip across the world. Andrew, from Australia, was also traveling through Europe for a few months on his own.
As I listened to him speak about this other woman, I thought about all the men I’d slept with on my trip so far. It had been three months and I could count seven including him…
In Malta, there was the sweet blond Argentinian in the hostel showers. In Pisa, the romantic Italian construction worker who loved the opera. There was the muscly German I met on the beach in San Sebastian. We couldn’t communicate but we knew we needed to touch each other’s bodies.
Then in Barcelona, there was the older Belgian guy — we had sex upstairs at a rave in a castle. Then there was my long-time Swiss friend, in the other room of his friend’s apartment in Berlin.
And just the day before I’d met Andrew in Budapest, there was the sexy Portuguese business school student. We did it in his hostel bed while his friend was sleeping above us. (He told me he wouldn’t mind.)
But I didn’t tell Andrew any of this that day in the courtyard. Instead, I hmmed and munched away at my veggie burger.
She could have easily been me.
I told myself, I wouldn’t have done what that girl in the hostel had done. And it was true, I wouldn’t have done exactly what she did: get fisted in the middle of a kitchen. I mean, I’d never been fisted in general, so why would I do it in a kitchen?
But looking back on that conversation now, I know disassociating myself from that woman was arbitrary. She could have just as easily been me.
I should have had her back. I should have defended her.
In the end, we were all having sex in that hostel. Andrew, me, it seemed like everyone at that hostel was getting it on. That’s just what happens when a bunch of young hot travelers stay together in dorms and drink a lot of alcohol.
So who was anyone to judge her?
I should have said all of that to Andrew that day. But instead, I gave into my fear that he would judge me at that moment and I stayed silent.
Many of us, particularly those from the millennial generation or older, have grown up with really freaking confusing messages about what we’re supposed to think about sex.
On one hand, we like sex. It’s kind of cool to “get laid.” We live in a hookup culture.
On the other hand, we believe that people who have a lot of it with many different people are morally deficient. We think that kinky people who do stuff like fist each other or spit in each other’s mouths have a few screws loose.
We talk about them behind their backs. We slut-shame.
Women especially are chastised for being too prude and simultaneously for going too far.
Not ten years ago my friends and I would worry that our “number” was too high. That with every new person we slept with, our value as humans would decrease.
There was even the 2011 film, “What’s Your Number,” which was based on the all-too-close-to-home idea that a woman who slept with more than 20 men, would never find a husband. Which is just wrong for too many reasons to go into here.
And I’ll admit sex is not always rainbows and ponies.
It can be sloppy, regretful, thoughtless. It can end with you contracting chlamydia or HIV. It can be a bid for power, or status, a chance to get ahead, or simply out of an awkward situation. All too often, it is forced on others whether consciously or not.
It can happen for one of many wrong reasons.
But in its essence, in its purest form, it’s none of those things. When it’s done consensually and safer, it’s healthy and it’s beautiful.
And we too often forget to tell this story.
So that’s why I’m telling that story right here. I had sex with 16 men in one year abroad. And it was goddamn beautiful.
Even though these encounters were short, a few days at most, they were potent, powerful, devoid of pretense.
We were both doing whatever we wanted at the moment completely independent of what might happen in the future. Because there was no future.
We were just enjoying the pleasure our own bodies can afford us. And in getting to know each other, both between the sheets and out of them, we touched each other’s lives in ways neither of us will forget.
How dare anyone judge me for that? How dare anyone judge that woman in the hostel, either?
Sex is a gift, a means of escape, a meditation, a practice in getting out of our own heads and letting go.
Osho says everything that is beautiful is really sex. A bird’s song, a flower in a bush, a juicy fruit. The most beautiful, bustling, colorful things in this world are about reproduction, aka sex.
So why is sex between humans so often seen as ugly?
In the end, we as a society are not ashamed of having sex because it’s dirty. It’s dirty because we are ashamed of it.
So let’s stop being ashamed. Let’s stop worrying about our numbers. Let’s celebrate sex as it deserves to be celebrated. I had sex with 16 men in a year traveling the world and it was beautiful, goddamn it. What’s your number?