The news last week struck me like a blow: 29 percent of men
report having 15 or more female sexual partners in a lifetime,
while only nine percent of women report having had sex with
15 or more men. This is all my fault. Years ago, when I was
just out of high school, I identified this grievous inequity
and had a chance to correct it. Would it work or would my first
major political act since voting for the first time, turn out
to be, like voting, kind of a letdown?
Raised by vocal first-wave feminists in the '60s and '70s,
I was not only expected to change the world, I knew that I
would. By the 1980s, when I was in my late teens, however,
I realized I hadn't done it yet. It wasn't enough that I had
clomped around in lumpen Earth shoes before anyone else, choosing
comfort over fashion. And it wasn't enough that I climbed higher,
rode farther and swore more than anyone else, proving that
anything boys can do girls can do better.
I was still too young to be the first woman president, though
I was well on my way, having interned in my senior year of
high school for a female state senator. What to do in the meantime?
I had long since ditched the ugly shoes and was looking to
exercise the power of my womanhood in other ways. Since the
political was personal -- or was it the personal was political?
I was still a little fuzzy on my feminist rhetoric -- I decided
how I'd make my mark. Sexual politics.
It bothered me and my friend Amber that women slept around
less and leaned more toward monogamy than men. Men, it seemed
to us, with our vast year or two of experience between us,
were generally promiscuous and careless about sexual partners.
This struck us as unfair. Not unfair in a whiny, why-can't-men-be-faithful
way, but rather unfair in that it was an embarrassment to our
nascent feminist ideals.
We knew we were just as strong as men. Probably smarter. And
we knew we could do the same jobs. I knew this first-hand because
every day I witnessed my mother walking out the door to her
job in the competitive, male-dominated field of journalism,
her navy clothes crisp and asexual, a pseudo-tie wrapped around
Until I could dress and act like a man the way women in the
working world had to back then, I would fuck like one. My friend
and I set out to turn those shameful stereotypes on their heads.
We would sleep with lots of men and not only not fall in love,
but kick them right out of bed. No snuggling. None of that
sappy girl stuff.
Privately, I had a few concerns. For one thing, sex wasn't
always that fun for me on the first or second time with a guy.
I liked it better when we got to know each other and could
cuddle and get into a groove. Cuddle! God, Amber would kill
me for even thinking that word. Also, I was afraid of sexually
transmitted diseases. I thought that guys didn't care about
that stuff, so I tried to ignore my fears. And I bought some
Our game plan was to find a guy, fuck him -- the word "fuck" back
then was rare enough to still be powerful with its ugly final
consonant crack -- and get on the floor and fall into a sound
sleep. Our message: you might be good enough for sex, mister,
but I'd rather sleep on the floor than touch you any more than
I have to.
As far as political statements go, this one looked much better
on paper. In my first attempt at post-coital dismissal, I dramatically
up and left the guy's apartment. Can't get any cooler and more
detached than that, right? But somehow it looked like I was
storming off in a huff. Plus, the guy was married and had been
worried his wife would walk in on us. He was probably glad
to be rid of me.
Then Amber and I went to Italy where I developed a crush on
a cute French boy in our Italian class. Amber had met him once
and offered to introduce us. Instead, a few days later she
announced she'd had sex with him. Right afterwards, she said,
she'd gotten out of bed and fallen asleep on the floor. Wasn't
that great? Just like we planned it! "And oh," she said, as
an afterthought. "He's all yours."
Wait a minute, when did our experiment in callous promiscuity
expand to include being callous to each other? I was hurt and
upset, but immediately checked myself. By feeling betrayed,
wasn't I exhibiting typically female traits?
"Yes, of course," Amber said. "Guys pass women around. So
we can, too." In fact, as a gesture of her largesse, she'd
let me be the first one to sleep with the opaque German boy
she'd been sharing cigarettes with.
I didn't take her up on the offer and the grand political
experiment ended there. At least, it did for me. Amber kept
fighting the good fight: having sex, sleeping on the floor
and moving on.
I now know that it's not only okay to have love with intimacy,
I prefer it that way. I know, further, that men and women often
do have biologically different responses to sex. Finally, I
know and feel confident saying that it's damn hard to fall
asleep on the floor, sex or no sex.
Though I know all this, something small and defensive in me
reacts when I think about the 29 percent of men who have slept
with 15 or more women compared with only nine percent of women
who have slept with 15 or more men. It turns out that my inner
child is a feminist. Not just any feminist, but a first-wave
feminist who was taught and believed that men and women could
be -- and should be -- equal in every way. And that inner first-wave
feminist is a bit embarrassed to admit I'm not in the nine