"You’ll sleep with pretty much anyone," Jennifer, one of my best friends, tells me. We’re sitting in our living room with a group of people including two men I’ve never met, and somehow my sex life has become the topic of conversation.
It’s a thinly veiled insult that she knows will hit home.
But she’s drunk, and her normally positive attitude has disappeared in favour of the truth: she secretly thinks I’m a slut.
I’ve been getting grief for my sexual appetite for most of my adult life, long before feminist role models ruled that women shouldn’t be judged for getting laid on a regular basis.
At college, over a decade ago, I saw myself as an advocate for women being able to "fuck like men" and I was vocal about it. On one occasion, a friend baked gingerbread cookies with individual messages for all of our classmates; mine read: "I’ll fuck whoever I want, whenever I want to."
And have I ever.
I've had some great experiences – an impromptu threesome, getting freaky with my Australian estate agent on his desk and a night of mind-blowing fun with a football coach who wanted me to put a finger up his bum.
I’ve also done it all over; in a public park while it was raining, in a steaming hot tub, and a particularly memorable shag with my then-boyfriend up against the wall in his office.
Unfortunately, just like Jennifer, while most people are happy to laugh along to the details of my adventures, most also judge me for it, either in secret or openly – men especially.
They’ll rarely call me names, but instead make sweeping statements such as "women who sleep around aren’t marriage material" or assume that because I like sex, I’m an easy lay.
Neither is true.
I’ve also bruised many a male ego, with boyfriends or lovers getting upset after finding out my number is higher than theirs.
In recent years, there’s been a growing acceptance of women with active sex lives. This is partly thanks to female pleasure becoming a key feature in popular culture, from TV shows like Sex & The City, Girls and most recently, Sex Education, to writers tackling previously taboo topics like the fetish scene, polyamorous relationships and orgasms.
Dating apps have also played a part in the liberation of women – particularly among millennials – by allowing us to connect with people in an easier way and eliminate the infamous "third date rule".
Yet, somehow, despite all this progress, whenever I tell someone that I’ve slept with more than 100 men, their jaw drops. It’s automatically presumed that I’m some sort of nympho or use sex as a coping mechanism, because it’s incomprehensible that I’m single and just enjoying myself.
Female friends in similar situations say the same, and most of them lie or won’t disclose their number for fear of what others might think, including the men they date.
They’re afraid these men will say they’re not "proper" women or break up with them because of it. I can relate. I’m not ashamed of my sexual past, but I sometimes (although less often as the years go on) doubt myself and wonder whether it would be better to just stay quiet.
It’s an issue when I date, too, especially given my profession. Men will read my articles and find out that I specialise in sex and relationship topics, and suddenly think they can get me into bed or that I’m probably having sex all day, every day (I wish that were the case).
Meanwhile, some male friends call me a "legend" but it’s not necessarily a compliment. They consider me to be one of the boys, yet simultaneously make crude jokes about how I should shag another one of our friends to "cheer him up".
To them, I’m a slut in sheep’s clothing.
As a society, we’re more open to discussing sex in 2019 and advocating for a woman’s right to do what she wants with her body, but is this change in attitude real? Or are we simply claiming to be more accepting while quietly passing judgement?
Despite the headway we’ve made on gender equality, there’s still this ideal of women having to act a certain way to be worthy of love; we’re required to be demure, ladylike, pure. It’s a common misconception that just because a woman has a lot of sex, she doesn’t value herself or the people she sleeps with.
It’s utter bullshit.
When I was younger, I occasionally made bad choices in partners. I slept with people who didn’t treat me with respect. I occasionally thought of myself as a slut, too. But here’s the beauty of experience: you learn a thing or two along the way (and I’m not just talking about my extraordinary sexual skills).
I’ve gotten to know my body, and gained an understanding of what I like in bed and how to ask for what I want. I’ve also realised where my limits lie – both emotionally and physically. These days, I demand respect from the men I date and sleep with. For instance, I don’t have sex with men who only want my body – the ones who don’t think of me as a person, but merely an opportunity to fuck.
This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy no-strings sex but intelligence and humour are important traits to me. I need us to connect on this level, too. Personally, I like to talk before and after the sex (and sometimes during).
Over the years, I've also learned how to spot the assholes – the ones who want sex on their schedule, get in touch whenever they please and ignore me the rest of the time. That’s not to say I always get it right, but nobody’s perfect.
Most importantly, my sexual journey has taught me about self-love. Sex, and however little or much you have of it, isn’t tied to personal worth. Now, I demand more for myself.
Whether you’re a man, a woman, genderqueer, a virgin or have slept with hundreds of people, know that your sexual experience doesn’t determine whether you deserve love. Because of course you do.
Society is slowly catching up, but if you find yourself in a situation where you’re being judged for living your life, your way, remember that you are not obligated to explain your choices to anyone.
Treat these condescending, misogynistic opinions like used condoms and chuck them in the bin, where they belong.