Catherine Townsend: Sleeping around

I'll take one night in heaven

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Don't tell my mum, but I often have sex on the first date. So do most of my girlfriends.

Which is why I was so surprised to see the results of a recent University of Sheffield study that said nine out of 10 women believe that casual sex is immoral. Apparently, single women rarely have sex for physical pleasure, but rather as a result of their quest to meet a long-term partner.

I don't understand why the two have to be mutually exclusive. With a few exceptions, most of my most serious relationships have started out as one-night stands where the chemistry between us was too great to ignore.

Some people are horrified by women admitting to the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. But I don't understand why they have to be so judgemental. When I was younger, picking up a man in a bar for a one-night stand was like sucking down half a box of Krispy Kreme doughnuts at 4am - satisfying at the time, but liable to leave me with a slightly sick and guilty feeling afterwards.

These days, I relish every second of my encounters: the good, the bad and the bizarre. I hope to eventually fall in love, and maybe even settle into a monogamous relationship.

But until then, my trysts have given me some amazing adventures. I had my first multiple orgasm during a one-night stand with a scuba-diving instructor, because I had no expectations and was able to focus on my own pleasure and not obsess over his.

Women who engage in casual couplings are often accused of "acting like men". But if men can get their chests waxed and be "in touch with their feminine sides", I see nothing wrong with aspiring to emulate them in some respects. After all, my male pals can shag on the first date without regret - hell, they are lauded for it. So why shouldn't I?

It hadn't always been picture-perfect: I confess that I've had the odd drunken hook-up that left me wanting to gnaw my arm off at the elbow the morning after. But through it all, I've never worried about men judging me, because if they did, I wouldn't want to date them.

In fact, my male friends tell me that when first-date sex doesn't result in a follow-up phone call, it's usually down to premature intimacy - not premature nakedness.

"I recently went on a first date and slept with her that night, which was great because I really fancied her," my friend Michael screamed over beers at a rock gig the other night. "But then she started talking about moving in together within a week. I freaked out and stopped taking her calls."

His response may sound harsh, but I've recently had the same thing happen to me. At the end of my date with Joe the lawyer, we stumbled into bed. In the morning I woke up to find him stroking my hair, staring down at me and saying that he had been watching me sleep for the past hour! "Do you want to meet my parents this weekend, darling?" he asked as I ran out of the door in a blind panic.

It would be fantastic if any of my casual partners turns out to be the love of my life. But if not, I'll still respect them all in the morning.

c.townsend@independent.co.uk

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