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To her chain-smoking flatmate, the morning after:
God the music in that place, they played that Black Eyed Peas song about six times an hour and you couldn’t get a drink for all the people grinding on each other, all the guys leering in their pink shirts and the girls thinking they were pole-dancers. I stayed outside smoking. Pat wanted to leave, Joe and Hen were getting McDonalds. I was so awake. I went upstairs and he was standing at the bar, we talked for what like five minutes? then I was like, Do you want to come back with me? and he got us a taxi. He had this big face, nice eyes, hair that greeny-brown kind of olive colour, you know, I really fancied his shoulders. We didn’t have sex, he couldn’t, you know, he was really sorry, but, he insisted on going down on me instead, I mean, he went down on me for like an hour, I mean, for ages. I didn’t know what to do. I put Pulp on and smoked his cigarettes one after the other, lying there with the ashtray on my stomach, like I was Scarface or something. I felt like a guy. Or like some guy who thinks he’s the guy in Scarface. When I came he kissed my knees, then he lay down beside me, kind of slumped, he reminded me of a walrus. He was big but not like, muscly big. I don’t remember his name, is that bad? Nikos or something. We lay there for a bit and I got really hot, I couldn’t even think about sleeping at all, he was sweating loads. I just thought, I don’t know, I thought the last thing I want is to wake up and have to chat to him in the morning, so I asked him to leave – I was like, if you don’t mind? I was nice about it. And he looked, like, fucking happy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man that happy, definitely not after having drunk sex. He was like, ecstatic, he jumped up, I got up to say goodbye and he picked me up and swung me. He kissed me like in a cartoon, you know? We said see you around and he left. It was perfect.
A year later, after their final-year exam, talking to her classmate about whether or not in the twenty-first century there is still a difference for men and women having casual sex:
Because it’s so easy now, there’s no reason not to. For men or women. I mean – not to be essentialist right? The stakes have changed, so the methods of control get subtler, but they’re still there. I reckon anyway. And the weird thing is, even as feminists, we’re still caught up in that patriarchal way of thinking. Because it’s like, not just your feelings but the actual facts that are affected by it. Do you know what I mean? It’s like centuries of male repression of female sexuality has bled into not just the way we perceive ourselves but actually what we are. It’s ontological. Sorry, I’ll shut up. No, I’ll give you an example. I went home with this guy once without saying five words to him, I never got his name. He was a pharmacist, or a Pharmacology PhD student, or I don’t know. To be honest, I might’ve made that up, I don’t remember. I barely fancied him. I was bored, more than anything. When we got back, he couldn’t get it up so he went down on me instead. For. Fucking. Ages. I sat up and watched, like – I’d never done that before, got off on watching. I smoked his cigarettes – I mean, I had my own but his were Marlboro Red so, y’know, if I was going to be all kingpin about it. I put the ashtray on my stomach, I mean, who did I think I was, Lil Wayne? I kind of enjoyed it. I enjoyed the ridiculousness of it. I enjoyed the total inversion of it, the like – I felt justified, like I was doing it for every girl and woman who’d ever had some bastard tell her to get on her knees, or something. I don’t know, I was drunk. It was funny. But the last thing I wanted to do was wake up with him in the morning and go through all that breakfast, coffee, number crap. So I asked him if he’d mind leaving? and he had, I mean, the biggest grin. He got dressed like he couldn’t believe it. When I walked him to the door, he picked me up and swung me. It was like we were both off the hook. It was the most romantic thing that had happened the whole night. See you around, or never, ha ha. Yeah I know. But what I mean is, can you imagine if the roles were reversed? If I was the man and he was a woman? That’s what I mean. As a woman you can be used, even if you didn’t want anything. Even if the woman is the one walking away grinning, somehow her grin is brittle – you can’t believe in it. If the man is an arsehole, then she’s going to feel it, whether or not she gives a fuck. Because as a woman you’re always fighting against objectification. But for a man, being objectified is a novelty, I mean – when we said goodbye he looked at me like we were in some Dickens novel and I’d just agreed to marry him.
Four years after, to her therapist, following a conversation with her new boyfriend in which she told him there’d been a time when she would’ve slept with anyone, just to see what it was like, thinking that this was a relevant and interesting fact about her past that he would understand and possibly relate to, that instead induced an insomniac fit of jerked limbs, jaw-grinding and immediately retracted phrases such as ‘It’s just kind of degrading’, ‘It makes me feel sick’ and ‘I didn’t think you were the kind of woman who did stuff like that’:
I mean, I guess I never thought about it. All I thought when I was younger was like, I want experience, I want to sleep with as many people as possible: bad people, good people, people I liked, people I didn’t know the names of, whatever. Is that a weird thing for a woman to think? I think I thought that if it was, all the more reason to think it. It felt defiant, independent. Like no one could touch me. I was a serious feminist. That’s what I wanted to be. But when I think about it now, it makes me feel sick. It seems so degrading. Like, there was a point when I genuinely did not give a fuck, I would’ve slept with anyone. And I thought it was defiant but, I don’t know, I needed it. It was – I depended on it. Like there would come a point in the night where I just had to, had to go home with someone. Or I’d be sick. That was it, when I was really bulimic. I was getting drunk every night and if I didn’t go home with someone, I’d get a pizza, chips, anything, stuff myself then vomit until I passed out. It’s easy to throw up when you’re drunk because you don’t feel how painful it is. The next day I’d sound like Joanna Lumley. So you know, when I told him that I used to sleep around, I told him about being bulimic at the same time. They’ve always gone together for me. In a way. Or – I just mean I wasn’t showing off. Anyway he was horrified. He couldn’t look at me. And now I keep thinking about it. Keep thinking and like, re-thinking it. Like how I thought it was one thing, but really, so obviously to me now, it was something else completely. Sex I mean. You know there was this time when I was so drunk and bored and desperate I walked up to the first man I saw standing alone in this bar, I didn’t even fancy him that much. He could’ve been anyone. I don’t remember his name. He was wearing a suit and he looked miserable. I said about five words to him then asked if he’d come back with me. He got us a taxi. We must have kissed in there, I don’t know. Maybe we didn’t even bother kissing. He couldn’t get an erection. He was drunk. I was drunk. He went down on me instead and I lay there thinking how subversive it was, like the kind of thing you hear the worst men talking about: ‘This chick, I made her suck my dick for hours yeah ha ha’. I mean, ha ha ha. Or like I was Tank Girl. That’s what I thought. I put some music on, lit a cigarette and watched him. I put the ashtray on my stomach, thinking that was funny. Afterwards I wanted him to leave and he was … amazed. He picked me up and swung me. I thought I was so fucking cool. Or, I thought how fucking cool I must seem to him. Like, I must be the best one night stand ever. That’s what I wanted – for him to think I was the best one night stand ever. So even when I thought I was being subversive, it was the same old shit. I was nineteen. He was older, much older. He could’ve given me something. He could’ve killed me. He was huge. He could’ve murdered me. He could’ve robbed me. I mean – that’s what I never thought about before. I thought when people told me to protect myself they were going on about some archaic patriarchy thing, like protect your dignity, female honour, virginity, bullshit crap like that. I never thought about, like, what if he stabs me, what if he rapes me, what if he robs me, what if he’s got a girlfriend and she kills me, or robs me, or happens to be my boss, or what if I go to a job interview and that’s him, sitting there behind the desk, or what if I meet his best friend and fall in love with him and it’s already ruined by some stupid anonymous night I didn’t even come. It’s like, I can’t understand why it didn’t scare me, like, even the times I ended up doing stuff I didn’t want to, I never felt upset, really, after. Even that time I told you about, you know, after that I just wanted to sleep with more people to, you know, get it out of me. Get past it. I can’t imagine wanting that now. All I can think is how Kieran looked at me like he could see every single one of them, like every man, still crawling all over me, like I stank of their sweat, their saliva, like he couldn’t touch me. I mean … he was really nice about it.
Five years after, to a female colleague, during a lunch break in which they have discussed to varying degrees David Cameron’s likeness to Caesar Flickerman from The Hunger Games, their boss’s casual racism, bus strikes, the Siberian dust-cloud, nail varnish and whether or not being nineteen again would be awful:
It’s like there’s a complete epistemological rupture for me between now and then. I cannot think my way back to how I was. This is why I was so pissed off with Kieran – you know he wouldn’t add me on Facebook because he said he didn’t want to see pictures of me, he said, ‘Chugging a keg of beer in my underwear’? I should’ve broken up with him right then. Because I don’t know – do you ever get this feeling? Sex to me now seems … so adolescent. Like I think, who the hell wants to do that? All that sweat and limbs and bodily functions. All that neediness, all that trying. All that pretence. All that misunderstanding and booze and mess. The whole clusterfuck of contraception. I mean – I took drugs that made me want to kill myself, that made me think no one would ever want me unless I starved myself and clawed my guts up every night, just so I could do that? I mean – really? You don’t think so? I don’t know. It’s OK, I guess. But there was – this is what I was like: once I took a man home, a complete stranger, who I barely fancied, barely spoke to, like, just went up to him and asked him. He came back with me but he couldn’t get it up so he went down on me instead, for ages. He insisted. I lay there smoking, watching him, thinking about scenes I’d seen on TV, how funny it was. I put music on. I put the ashtray on my stomach. I felt like Juliette Lewis in Natural Born Killers. Then afterwards I asked him to leave. He was amazed. He picked me up and swung me. That was the sweetest thing about it. How pleased we both were that we didn’t give a fuck about each other and didn’t have to pretend to. Now I’ve been thinking about this recently, how I’ve always thought it was a funny story, an anecdote of a drunk girl’s cynicism, or proof that women could enjoy anonymous, heartless sex, but I mean, I never thought how fucking weird it was, what a strange thing it was to do, I mean, thinking about it now, it seems like the same thing would’ve been to take my clothes off and go cartwheeling down Oxford Street on a Saturday, laughing my head off, feeling like Boudicea’s granddaughter, and not thinking for one second that I didn’t have to.