Have Sex, Will Travle?
The history of a sexual adventuress
I’m in Knightsbridge, a central district of London, and outside the sun is shining through the leaves of the trees onto the wide pavement. On Sloane Street, shoppers stalk in and out of Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Shanghai Tang, but today, neither my companion nor I are interested in chasing the perfect pair of shoes or comparing blouses. Ignoring window displays, mannequins and clothing racks, we’ve slipped through gilded doorways to assess the location of the shop assistants, the position of the changing rooms and the thickness of the curtains.
Having chosen a store, we flick through rails of pretty dresses before realising that we don’t need to get the size right. The assistant shows us into the changing area and clicks off in her shiny heels to greet a customer. I catch sight of myself in the wide baroque mirror, hair glowing blonde, skin creamy under the lights. My heart is beating faster and my eyes are alive.
After a few moments, the heavy curtain shivers as Guiliana’s slender brown hand pats its folds apart. She slides in with me in a dizzy gust of perfume and laughter. I see her only for a moment, her soft brown eyes, tilted chin, and then my eyes flutter closed as her velvety mouth opens against mine. Women in changing rooms can take quite a while, twisting in front of the mirror, rustling quietly as they manoeuvre pleats and tug at zips. Giuliana takes sibilant breaths, gazing with sleepy eyes into the glossy mirror, as I kneel between her silky legs. Lust thunders through and the little room dissolves around me. Slowly, luxuriously, I seek out the old, thousand-times new sensation.
When I was twenty, I started dating the perfect man. Mark was twenty-four, a marble-muscled champion fencer with thick blonde hair, a Cambridge First, and the kind of facial structure that a different guy might have taken serious advantage of. This dreamy masculine god, this intelligent monogamist was utterly baffled as to how I had got through so many lovers, had found myself in French knickers French-kissing Iranians and Brazilians and Germans, men and women, had ended up naked in hotel rooms, in convertibles, on the night-train to Croatia with a man about to be married, in Paris with a kittenish girl who would later become my best friend. Couched against his broad chest, under the scrutiny of his baby-blues, I tried to explain what had made a skinny, bespectacled teenager shake out her hair and find herself a boyfriend and a girlfriend, how I’d later seduced a gay man of my acquaintance, why on a trip to Amsterdam I’d decided to take magic mushrooms and embark on a hallucinogenic night with a multi-pierced Swedish boy, whose only word of English was my name.
A few years ago, a study at the University of California sought to demonstrate that first love sets the pattern for all that comes after. Perhaps it’s ironic that when I first fell for someone, aged fourteen, it took me five years to get further than a kiss. Perhaps it isn’t ironic. Five years is a lot of unrequited build-up.
My initiation into the sexual stratosphere came by way of cigarette blowbacks administered with a butterfly touch of the lips, clandestine handholding in the school chapel, sleepovers spent stroking her hair. The roll of her thumb across my wrist would send my stomach into freefall; start a flush of blood to my head. Sitting in the cinema one evening, I smelt a familiar perfume, faint as a flower’s breath, and turned to see her fifteen feet up the aisle, unexpected, heartbreaking, her smile like a whisper in my ear. She was straight and she told me that she loved me. Her black hair fell in tangles and her skin smelled like the seashore.
How did I get from this skimpy flirtation to the long, druggy nights of dildos and porno, threesomes and S&M?
After two years of tantalisation, I was becoming frantically bored. A friend of my parents took me out for a drink one afternoon in the garden of a hotel. He was thirty, and engaged to be married; I was sixteen, with parents recently, messily divorced. I had read Germaine Greer on free love and Erica Jong on her quest for a zip-less fuck. I had devoured novels by Colette and Francoise Sagan about callously elegant women who sought never to become the poor, duped wife. With little sense of why it was forbidden, I had skimmed Lolita looking for the dirty bits, and settled down to identify with Humbert Humbert, whose resonant perorations had, after all, persuaded literary critics three times my age that “it was she who seduced me.” I knew that all men wanted from their lovers were humiliating blowjobs and uncomfortable screws, but I thought that I might be their match. I was therefore very surprised when, having led me out of sight onto the bank of the river, Steve went down on me.
A month into our new romance, Steve decided that he would, after all, get married, and I travelled with him to Eastern Europe to attend the wedding. We shared a bunk on the train, and our fellow passengers assumed that I was the prospective bride. I didn’t then intend to become his schoolgirl mistress. I watched the marriage dry-eyed and returned to England, where I seduced a woman twelve years older than me while Steve was on his honeymoon.
Katie, who later became a police officer, was embarrassed to be dating someone so young, if enthusiastic. I was seventeen; she added a year to my age when discussing me with her friends. When Steve’s honeymoon was over, he got back in touch, saying that he was still in love with me. For a while I spent Friday nights with Steve and Saturdays with Katie, all that we didn’t have in common wiped out in the thrill of all that we could do together, sweet confirmation that the world was my dripping, salty oyster.
In the end, the affair made me feel poisonously guilty and Katie decided that I was too young for her. Instead, I took up with Mickey, a gay friend of mine who had once studied to become a priest. He liked me because he thought I looked like Barbie and because he still wanted Christian redemption. Our relationship lasted days and culminated in a drunken night spent three-in-a-bed with a boy he’d picked up in a bar.
I quickly found a new boyfriend, a poet with bee-stung lips who kept me awake till dawn discussing Romantic verse and Rock and Roll. He was a fan of Keats; I preferred Byron. He relinquished me his virginity on the night of a thunderstorm. I looked down into his pale face running with water and remembered that we were the same age, that he was yielding up to me something precious and fragile, something that I could barely now imagine.
Like someone with a taste for good whisky who one night finds themselves staring at the bottom of the bottle, who in the weeks that follow starts talking to strangers and dancing on tables and rolling home mid-morning, I discovered that somehow, suddenly, I was having impromptu sex all the time.
In a flat in Greece, I seduced a young Texan soldier on leave from Iraq, a boy who’d barely had a drink before he’d been issued a gun. In Athens, an architect painted me naked and gave me my first orgasm. I dated a polyamorous anthropologist on holiday from fieldwork in Russia who demanded that I become one of her stable lovers, to whom she resorted for bondage and lodging depending on which country she was in.
On a trip to Prague I became close to a pair of French boys, best friends, who bought me flowers and took me out to dinner as a duo. One night, Jean took me aside and requested clarification – which of them did I prefer? The suggestion was easier to make in French: “Est-ce-que je peux avoir les deux?” Jean disappeared to find Olivier and I heard them hissing together in deliberation, then running to catch up with me down the cobbled street. Jean tilted my chin and kissed me square on the mouth, before Olivier pulled me to face him. That night I slept on a narrow bed with a boy on either side. For the rest of the week we were inseparable, smoking each other’s cigarettes, exchanging obscure vocabulary, visiting castles in the rain and cafes in the sunshine. Olivier kept biting my neck but he was better looking than Jean.
By the time I got to university I felt that dangerous liaisons and amorous adventures had taught me about the world. Flirting had got me a backstage pass into any life I chose; pillow talk had revealed the secret desires of a host of desirable strangers. I’d forgotten, however, that sometimes, unexpectedly, one person can come to represent an entire beloved planet.
When I met Justine, I was terrified of touching her. I felt like a sailor who had known a flat earth until he sailed off the edge of the map. As the relationship progressed and I stopped wanting to go skinny-dipping, or to see if I could pick up a model, I came to feel that all my exploration amounted to many travellers tales, and that in fact steady, predictable monogamy would be the most exciting adventure.
Text: Laura A. Li
Photography: ND CHOW @ Angle Management
Styling: Hidero Nakagane @ S14
Hair: Tetsu @ Sekigawa Office
Make-up: UDA @ S14
Model: Mikaela C @ Switch Models
Photography Assistant: Taro Washiyo
Digital Work: Hisashi Terazawa @ Iino Graphic Images
Published in Issue 29 ADVENTURE