I was a step away from one of the biggest cliches in America - the Englishman in New York. In fact, I was an English boy in western Massachusetts, attending an alternative university, the alternative being that there was no judgement or grading of academic work - one's entire college career was considered to be an organic, creative process.

I entered this encouraging environment a fully fledged 19-year-old virgin. It was not something I particularly cared to advertise and it caused me much consternation. But there was a good explanation for it, namely that I drank so much that losing my virginity would have meant losing precious drinking time.

The summer before, a young woman of exceptionally exotic taste had invited me to her home in Boston, told me everything that she was intending to do with me, and that she was hoping I might get around to doing to her, and then gave me a few drinks. The next thing I knew, her skinhead husband was waking me up from the kitchen floor - rather gently, considering - while her two-year-old son was scrambling around my back.

Such frustrating experiences had become so commonplace that I'd more or less given up on the whole thing. Until I remembered all I'd heard about American college campuses.

I arrived and drank my way through the first week or so and then met a group of frighteningly glamorous young New Yorkers who seemed preposterously old for 21. Among them was a woman named Kate who was not entirely beautiful and weighed about twice as much as I did, but she had flair and glamour and moved with beautiful people and, far more importantly, seemed to find me vaguely attractive. I recall careering around the country roads of western Massachusetts with this motley crew of a dozen or so students in a van, rolling around in the back with a case of beer.

We ended up en masse at one of those student parties from which no good can possibly come. Suddenly, I was dancing with Kate, which struck me as odd because I do not dance. Her hands were roaming further than seemed entirely necessary and her tongue (horrifyingly) grazed my ear. I followed her to the dormitory.

Back in her room, I thought: "This is it then. This is what everyone's talking about." I wasn't thinking about anything other than the experience itself and, once in the midst of it, I suddenly realised that this really, really wasn't all that it had been cracked up to be.

I was not alone in my thoughts. My performance had all the hallmarks of the male first-timer, including the massive race for the finish. My companion, who had been so eager hours (and, indeed, moments) before, was suddenly angry.

But the single most interesting thing I learned about sex occurred in her room that evening, when she told me that I "really had to put more work into it". Ever since, I've learned that in America sex tends to mean work, while in the UK it usually means play. Horror, dissatisfaction and a hard slog was my first experience of the beast with two backs. And, rather appropriately, it had occurred at a place of "alternative" higher learning.