Catherine Townsend: Sleeping around

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The Independent Online

Before boarding the flight - Miami to London - my focus was using frequent flier miles to bag an upgrade. Then I saw Nick, the tall, fit, Australian insurance investigator seated next to me, and decided that an upgrade wasn't what I wanted to bag that day. I've sampled the single-serving peanuts and vodka bottles, so why not single-serving sex?

I joined the Mile High Club several years ago, during a flight to Martinique with my French boyfriend. A recent survey found that 4 per cent of Londoners have flown the friendly skies in more ways than one, but I've never hooked up with a stranger - because I'm usually sandwiched between the fat guy and the screaming kid.

After Nick asked, "So do you come here often?" talk turned to work and families. Our flirtation was starting to feel like a relationship: after nine hours, I'd learnt more about his life than I'd managed to find out from my ex last boyfriend in six months.

Three mini-bottles of champagne later, I was trying to think of a good way to make the first move when we hit some serious turbulence. I'm a nervous flier, so I gripped the armrest as the plane lurched through the clouds. "This is going to sound so cheesy," I said, "but I'm really scared right now... Is it OK if I hold your hand?" "Go ahead," he said, squeezing reassuringly. "It's just a few bumps in the road, nothing to worry about."

About the time that people started crossing themselves I was petrified, vaguely nauseous and horny as hell. So I grabbed Nick and kissed him. We made out for a full 10 minutes, until the roller-coaster dips mellowed to a gentle rocking.

Fear can be a serious aphrodisiac. It has a physiological effect - thumping heart, quicker breathing and adrenalin rush - that mimics sexual arousal. That's why terrified people often experience a parallel increase in sexual intensity, and horror movies are such a popular first date.

Nick and I had bonded after the turbulence - and somewhere past Greenland, we decided it was now or never. So he put a blanket over my lap, I unfastened his trousers, he slipped his hand up my dress - but every time we tried to get a bit friskier, the flight attendants came by policing the cabin. It was a bit like being high-school rebels at 37,000ft.

Our options for going all the way were pretty limited, because a) the " fasten seatbelt" signs were on and b) the attendants hung out outside the toilets. So we held hands, and I drifted off to sleep.

By the time we'd crossed the Atlantic, Nick and I had eaten together, shared toothpaste, had a (sort of) near-death experience, discussed childhood fears and life after death. After all the intimacy, I was starting to feel like I needed some space.

After landing in London, he gave me his number. To be honest, I think we'd struggle to top the drama of our first date. And we'll always have Greenland.

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