Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

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The Independent Online

Lately, the dream is always the same: I'm a judge on Pop Idol - only instead of wannabe pop stars, I'm auditioning potential shag buddies. I'm playing the Simon Cowell role, scrutinising nervous-looking naked men and saying things like, "It's all wrong, too much back hair," or, "You claim to have eight inches - are you sure you're not using the metric system?"

Each time I wake up in a cold sweat - finding the perfect partner for a sexual set-up that is high on nakedness and low on emotional expectations is a daunting prospect. Women often have a harder time detaching sex from love because we're programmed to pair-bond. Ultimately I do want a committed relationship but until then I'm looking for the sexual equivalent of Switzerland: someone who is safe, fun and not too emotionally draining.

I've ruled out sleeping with exes, because the risk of a one-sided relationship or overdosing on nostalgia is too great. Hooking up with friends can ruin the friendship, and I don't sleep with married men because, well, karma's a bitch (and so is a wife!)

After my last break-up, I had the perfect set-up with Keith, a TV writer who I met through mutual friends. One night after a drinks party, just90 minutes after I asked: "Do you want to take me home tonight?" we were soaping each other up in his shower, and didn't get out of bed for eight hours.

For a few weeks, our tacit Tantric agreement carried on happily: I called him whenever I felt horny. We had no common interests outside of bed, except for playing X-Box and ordering takeaways in the buff. It was great until he started working irregular hours. Then I met someone who I wanted to date for real, so Keith and I drifted apart.

I missed him. Having a steady diet of sexual activity can actually take the pressure off dating, and makes me less likely to leap into bed with the wrong guy. "It's like a job that you know isn't permanent - it's a place to get a steady salary until you find something better," says my friend Victoria.

My more promiscuous male friends encourage me to try the internet, where a hook-up can be delivered faster than a pizza on sites like Craiglists's "Casual Encounters". Scrolling through I find descriptions like "trusty motor needs a good run-out" and "fat hairy smelly misogynist seeks sexy intelligent waif" - I'm looking to get laid, not end up in a seedy motel with a guy who looks like the villain from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Erica Jong's "zipless fuck" may be the anonymous ideal, but I need to have chemistry (or at least a decent digital photo), otherwise, I'd rather stay in with my vibrator.

Besides, I've always believed that spontaneity is the key to passion. Exchanging countless e-mails about what we are going to do to each other is like seeing the same trailer for a film over and over: the main event almost never lives up to the hype.

Maybe my dream is a sign that I'm just going to have to stop obsessing and wait for the right guy. I just hope he's not wearing high-waisted trousers.