The Numbers Game

The other night Rory and I talked about bad sex. We were lying in his bed, cuddling with my head on his bony shoulder, just killing time until I went out to the bar for foosball and he got some homework done (you know, college student things because he’s still in college). I don’t recall exactly how it came up but he told me about the girl he slept with a few times after his ex-girlfriend cheated on him.

“It was so bad, awful,” he groaned. “I just kept waiting for her to do something.”

“Oh god, you got a dead fish.”

“A what?”

“Haha, a dead fish, as in she just lay there cold and lifeless.”

“Yes, exactly,” he said, shaking his hands towards the sky.

“I thought you said she was a virgin though. So, I mean, you can’t really blame her. The first time is awkward.”

“I get that. But this was every time.”

“Wait. How many times did you sleep with her?”

“I dunno. Three or Four.”

I instantly burst out laughing, burying my face into his armpit.

“It was that bad and you kept going back for more!?”

“Well, I mean…yeah,” Rory said, beginning to laugh as well. “I didn’t want to be the asshole who took her virginity and ditched her.”

“So gentlemanly,” I said. And I wasn’t entirely sarcastic. After a three year relationship, which spanned most of his college experience, Rory had only been with five girls. I genuinely found something chivalrous about his repeatedly banging this poor girl, just so she wouldn’t feel bad or used. But the thought of him listlessly thrusting at a fleshy board of a girl continued to throw me into a tizzy of laughter.

Rory rolled over as I giggled, straddling himself over my hips. He kissed at my neck and my cheek.

“What about you?”

“What about me? Oh, you wanna know my bad sex stories?”

I had plenty to regal him with. For every toe curling, throat scratching orgasm, there was a bored session of repetitive puny thrusts, bland dirty talk, and foreplay that left me drier that the cotton mouth of a Colorado resident. And me being me, I didn’t mind telling Rory about a few instances. I could have taken up hours, but as I had places to be I was going to stick with the impotent weightlifter, who I had to suck off for hours to get a moderate response, and I had to do most of the work on top.

Of course, Rory’s reaction to hearing about the muscled demi-god, after also knowing that my ex Graham was big on the gym routine and protein powders, just looks at me and says, “Do you even like scrawny guys?”

“I like this scrawny guy,” I said, rubbing his legs while he still sat on top of me.

“Nice.” I could hear the implied…”recovery.” But I wasn’t lying. I like Rory’s lithe frame. I liked that fact that he was sitting on top of me and I didn’t feel crushed. We could be intimate and everything felt balanced because he was a smaller guy. While I had been with “bigger” and “muscular” guys, I’m not the kind of girl who has a type. To me, everything has value and the potential for attraction. Yet, I could see the slight dejection in Rory. So, I threw in another horror story for good measure.

I distracted him with Link, a guy from freshman year, whose dorm mate was dating my dorm mate and so we were sort of haphazardly thrown together. He had shaggy brown hair, big ol’ guy eyes, and lips to make Angie Jolie jealous. Though he was beautiful in a peculiarly disproportional way, Link had mental problems. And this isn’t some semantics issue that he was obsessive, which he was, or overly attached, which he was, Link was literally crazy. The guy had been committed into an institution after his French girlfriend had left him and he tried to kill himself. When we eventually ended things, he shaved his head and became a Buddhist. I like to think that was progress for him. Now, if I met a guy like Link, I would already have the restraining order in process. Back then, at 18, I found it all incredibly melancholy and romantic. As someone who struggled and still struggles with mental issues, I imagined we could console each other in our madness and find a serenity together. I also imagined that two crazy people would make for hot sex….I was wrong.

The only thing that made sex with Link memorable was that it was the first time I truly had bad sex. My literal first time was a disaster, but being so short, I can’t really qualify it as bad. Zane had been fabulous. And Shawn, while an asshole and inadequate in moves, did had a massive penis that if nothing else could reach the right spots even if Shawn didn’t know how to hit them. But Link, the poor guy, had nothing to commend himself.

Despite his extraordinary emotions and mental state, the rest of Link was fairly average. A moderate sized penis, perfectly acceptable kissing, decent foreplay, but once it came to the deed, all that average just made me miserable. I can remember lying in my cramped dorm room bed, my bra still on, and naked Link between my legs, sweating everywhere. He dripped on me during thrusts. It wasn’t even rigorous sex. It was standard, slow and dull, missionary but Link just kept sweating.

“Does that feel good?” he asked repeatedly. And this wasn’t a heat in the moment question, when one partner asks like a tease because it’s clear as fuck that the other partner is feeling nerves shoot apart like revolutionary fireworks. This was Link in desperation from his need to please, his bottomless insecurity, and his fear of abandonment. So, each time, I nodded and forced out some more subtle moans. But really, I don’t remember feeling much of anything. The sweat lubricated to the point I couldn’t tell the difference between him slipping in or out. And when he finally came, Link dropped on top of me to cuddle and it was all I could do not to retch from the cold sweat that he rubbed over me.

“But really,” I explained to Rory, laughing a bit at the memory that had made me so miserable then. “It wasn’t entirely his fault. I was like your virgin girl, still unsure of how to get what I wanted from sex, how to use my body for my own pleasure. Sometimes you just have to fumble a lot to get better. I mean, I couldn’t expect him to blow my mind if I didn’t even know how someone could do it yet. After all, Link was only my third or fourth guy.” I was shrugging, but I heard it as soon I said and from Rory’s face I could tell he noticed. I knew the question was coming even before he uttered the first syllable.

“How many guys have you slept with?”

I hated that question. Mostly because I used to ask it all the time and would answer myself completely unabashed until I realized that higher my number got, the more insecure some men got (usually because their number was much lower but, also, surprisingly even from guys with higher numbers). Not all mind you, but enough, like my last two boyfriends, that I didn’t care for the vengeful sort of jealousy that could poison a relationship. It’s not that I’ve ever been ashamed of my sex life, if I was, I certainly wouldn’t be posting about it here. But other people, well, my number seems to them to reflect something about my character, when it all it should reflect is the very technical fact of how many people I’ve had sex with. It shouldn’t label me a slut, or promiscuous, or dirty, or easy. I’m none of those things. But words are not the only things with connotations, I’ve learned quite well that numbers do as well, though usually only for women.

Still, I wasn’t going to lie to Rory. Lying is something I don’t do, much to my detriment. As Erica Jong says in Parachutes and Kisses, “more relationships founder on the shoals of honesty than sink in the depths of mendacity.”  Absolutely true as she might be, I’ve yet to be able to strip guilt from my skin to bathe in lies long enough to sustain a relationship, though good a liar I could be. So, I offered a compromise, the one I give any time I know people won’t like my answer.

“Do you really want to know?”

I watched Rory hesitate.

“Can you at least count them on both hands?”

I shook my head no.

Normally, it’s an amazing thing to watch someone think. I love the expressions, knowing there’s a dialogue going that I can’t hear, knowing that thousands of cells are snapping into action. But not in that moment, never in moments like that where the person is suddenly thinking about how they feel about me. I thought I might be sick that way that I wanted to when Link smeared his sweat all over me.

“Are you okay with this? Is it going to bother you how many people I’ve slept with?”

“No,” Rory finally said. “It’s not like you can take it back. Nothing can change it.”

I felt relieved, but at the same time bothered more. I was glad my past wouldn’t change my present, but in a slanted way, Rory had indicated that there was still something wrong with my choices, that I had done things that I should want to undo. And maybe he didn’t mean that at all, maybe he was just referring to the futility of being upset by the unalterable. Maybe.

Either way, even if I could take any of it back, if I could find myself at any age and tell her not to sleep with that boy or this guy, I wouldn’t do it, not even for Link. Are there things I wish I could change, do I have regrets? Of course, I fucking do. But time is slippery, and our lives only exist in this moment. Yesterday does not exist any more than tomorrow. We only have this instant and this breath. The sum of everything we are and do thrives only on memory. I’ve had men lie to me, hurt me physically and mentally, I’ve had them leave me and I’ve left them. I’ve had men who were phenomenal in bed and some who thought my hip was my clitoris. But these memories, of them and of every adventure, are all that I am. For me, this is not a numbers game. This is my life.


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