“I heard a man fist her from behind while she was leaning over the kitchen counter,” Andrew explained.
“All right, but —”
“And she’s slept with almost every guy who works at the hostel. It’s revolting.”
We were sitting in a courtyard filled with food trucks near Budapest’s ruin bars. I was in the midst of a year-long solo journey around the world. Andrew, from Australia, was also traveling through Europe on his own for a few months.
As I listened to him talk about this other woman, I reflected on all the men I’d slept with on my journey thus far. It had been three months, and I had counted seven people, including him…
There was the sweet blond Argentinian in the hostel showers in Malta. The romantic Italian construction worker who loved the opera in Pisa. There was the muscly German I met on San Sebastian’s beach. We couldn’t communicate, but we knew we had to touch each other.
Then there was the older Belgian guy in Barcelona, with whom I had sex upstairs at a rave in a castle. Then there was my long-time Swiss friend, who was in the other room of his friend’s Berlin apartment.
And there was the sexy Portuguese business school student the day before I met Andrew in Budapest. We did it while his friend slept above us in his hostel bed. (He said he wouldn’t mind.)
But I didn’t mention any of this to Andrew that day in the courtyard. Instead, I hmmed and nibbled on my veggie burger.
She could easily have been me.
I promised myself that I would never do what that girl in the hostel had done. And it was true that I would not have done what she did: get fisted in the middle of a kitchen. I mean, I’d never fisted anyone before, so why would I do it in a kitchen?
But, looking back on that conversation, I realize that distancing myself from that woman was arbitrary. She could just as easily have been me.
I should’ve gotten her back. I should have stood up for her.
At the end of the night, we were all having sex in that hostel. Andrew, me, it seemed like everyone in that hostel was having a good time. That’s what happens when a group of young, hot travelers bunk together in dorms and consume copious amounts of alcohol.
So who was to pass judgment on her?
All of that should have been said to Andrew that day. Instead, I succumbed to my fear that he would judge me at that precise moment and remained silent.
Many of us, particularly those in the millennial generation or older, have been bombarded with contradictory messages about how we should think about sex.
On the one hand, we enjoy sex. It’s pretty cool to “get laid.” We live in a hookup society.
We believe, on the other hand, that people who have a lot of it with a variety of people are morally deficient. We believe that kinky people who fist each other or spit in each other’s mouths have a few loose screws.
We talk behind their backs about them. We’re slut-shaming.
Women, in particular, are chastised for being too prudish while also going too far.
My friends and I used to be concerned that our “number” was too high. That our worth as humans would diminish with each new person we slept with.
There was even a 2011 film called “What’s Your Number?” based on the all-too-real idea that a woman who slept with more than 20 men would never find a husband. Which is simply incorrect for far too many reasons to list here.
And I’ll be the first to admit that sex isn’t always rainbows and ponies.
It can be sloppy, regrettable, and careless. It could result in you contracting chlamydia or HIV. It could be a bid for power or status, a chance to advance, or simply a desire to get ahead.
It can happen for a variety of reasons.
But, in its essence, it is none of those things. It’s healthy and beautiful when done consensually and safely.
And all too often, we fail to tell this story.
So that’s why I’m telling you this story right now. In one year abroad, I had sex with 16 men. And it was goddamn gorgeous.
Even though these encounters were brief, only a few days, they were potent, powerful, and devoid of pretense.
We were both doing whatever we wanted at the time, completely unconcerned about what might happen later. Because there was no prospect of a future.
We were simply enjoying the pleasures that our own bodies can provide. And in getting to know each other, both between the sheets and outside of them, we left an imprint on each other’s lives that neither of us will soon forget.
Who are they to judge me for that? How could anyone judge that woman in the hostel?
Sex is a gift, an escape, a meditation, and a practice in getting out of our 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?