Catherine Townsend: Sleeping around

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The Independent Online

"So, Cat, how often do you masturbate?" Robert asked. "I used to be a twice-a-day guy but since I broke up with my girlfriend a month ago I've lost the urge. Is that normal?" This was a bit weird, since Robert is our local fifty-something handyman and he'd only come by to fix the shower. Still, I understand that by writing a dating column I open myself up to some strange lines of questioning. Just the other night at a party in the West End, a guy I met in passing attempted to discuss the intricacies of his techniques. All I wanted was to grab a crab canapé.

Still, I'm usually fascinated by other people's experiences, and Robert's comment made me realise that while I've been listening with rapt attention to everyone else's fantasies, I've largely neglected my own. I'm not sure if it's down to time constraints or lack of privacy, but my sexual self-exploration lately has largely been confined to two minutes of furtive fumbling under the duvet in the dark. Which is a shame. Masturbation gave me my first ever orgasm, and has helped me discover what turns me on. How can I expect a partner to know what I want if I'm not sure myself?

So my friend Victoria and I dropped into a trendy Hoxton sex boutique. "Your sex toy collection should be like your wardrobe - you always have your classic staples like the Rabbit, but it's good to update things once in a while," she said, before pulling out a vibrator shaped like a small rubber duck. "Look, this one is so cute - and it's waterproof!"

On Saturday night, while my flatmate was out with her parents, I decided to seduce myself. Before he left, Robert had mentioned that I needed to test the water pressure, giving me the perfect excuse to grab the rubber duck and head to the shower, with visions of George Clooney's character in Syriana dancing in my head as the steam started rising.

In my fantasy, George and I were stuck in an elevator with my new crush, Grant, and the extreme heat meant we might have only an hour to live - so we all had to get naked immediately. But, just as George started to unbutton my trousers, my flatmate's mum burst through the door in desperate need of the loo. I screamed, grabbed the shower curtain (ripping it down) and almost fell on top of her, which, needless to say, was a definite mood killer.

I called Grant, who's still in South Africa, to tell him what happened. He laughed, before asking, "Were you thinking of me?" "Of course," I said sweetly. After we hung up, George, Grant, my toys and I went on several more adventures together, discovering spots I never knew existed. It was the perfect excuse to be racy in the name of research.

The next morning, I texted Robert. "Don't worry about being 'normal', just do what feels right for you and give yourself time," I wrote. "By the way, do you install door locks?"