Thirty lovers. It's a nice round number. A nice round number that the French know what to do with but one which still sends many of the English into befuddling apoplexy.
Let's compare these two scenarios. In France, Le Figaro has just given a glowing review to Carla Bruni's new album, having had a sneak preview of the record due out in July on which she sings that she is "... still a child /Despite my 40 years/Despite my 30 lovers/A child...".
She might be the President's First Lady, but he is her 30th fella and, by Jove, she still feels as fresh as a daisy. The French seem perfectly happy with this. A life full of love is a great thing.
Then look at this scenario: earlier this year our own parliamentarian, Nick Clegg, told a men's magazine that he had slept with "no more than 30 women" (which, to be fair to him, could also have meant "somewhere between one and five" or "a little over two"), the excitement was feverish. People were shocked by his high number of conquests, even though it wasn't quite on a level with Bill Wyman's claim of 1,00 notches on the bedpost. Had the Lib Dems found the magic weapon with which to swell their ranks - provided they could persuade all 30 of those women to vote for them? No but really, 30 lovers! How terribly, well, rude!
So what did old Cleggover do? He went and got all embarrassed about it. How tragically British. If only he'd realised that the best way to deal with his 30 lovers was to serenade them in song, not get het up and deny their existence. But that's the problem with us - past lovers are not something to be looked back on, lest we turn into a pillar of salt. Especially for women, there is some moral achievement in keeping the notches on the bedpost down. It's as if sexuality inhabited some kind of permanent wartime, where one must guard one's rations wisely and be careful to make them last. Yes, people can get hurt by sleeping around, and if you're in a monogamous relationship, lying and cheating will always hurt somebody, including yourself. But life is long and not everybody is married. If everybody is happy, why limit yourself?
My friend Paul, a music reviewer, said he used to feel it was somehow morally important to be stingy with five-star album reviews and only dole out a couple of them a year. Until one day he realised, ecstatically, that there was a never-ending stash of stars in his virtual cupboard, like a fantasy jar of self-replenishing sweets. So he started giving out five stars to any album that made him feel wonderful, and there were plenty of them, and the Lord was gracious and everybody would have prizes one day.
Well, that's how I feel about sex. It won't run out, and much as things can get boring – like when Fleur Adcock says in a poem that it makes her feel "like the lady in Leeds who has seen The Sound of Music 86 times" – well, this is the benefit of doing it with different people. It never gets boring.
Of course, some would say that it never gets very good either, since you don't know each other's funny little ways yet, and rehearsal time is limited. Still, at least you don't have to face them over that awful thing called breakfast.Reuse content