When I was 22, I got a job writing a sex column for an alternative newspaper. I was just out of college, auditioning for films and plays while supporting myself as a temp (I called myself a temptress—a temp and actress), and at night, I picked up commitment-phobic drummers and took them back to my apartment for disappointing hookups. I was busy, but lonely.
One day, I picked up a copy of the New York Press from a green box on a street corner and read it at my desk during lunch. It was filled with depressing, funny first-person columns: a neurotic married dad in therapy, a misanthropic single guy, a dominatrix. I felt a kinship with these sad sacks who had found a way to turn hardship into humor. I typed out a rant called "The Blow-Up Boyfriend" and sent it in. In it, I longed for a boyfriend whose shoulder I could cry on after difficult nights but whom I could deflate as soon as he got annoying.
A few weeks later, I had a job writing a biweekly column. My editor never directed me to write about sex, but he named my column "Female Trouble" and said, "I have a feeling this will be eminently illustratable."
Suddenly, I had an excuse to hook up with even more unsuitable guys! The more hostile and elusive, the better. I saw it as my mission to be bold, to chronicle all my disconnected, groping lays, to seek out experience for the sake of all the single women who didn't have columns.
While acting in an experimental play, I met a hot, older playwright who took me to his apartment and masturbated in front of me, crying out, "You found my weakness!" when he came. I met a heroin-snorting accordionist who couldn't come because of the drug; a cute hippie guy who taught me how to stimulate his prostate; a cynical comedian who made fun of me for trying to make out with him. At various guys' requests, I dressed up in cheerleader and nurse outfits for sex. I slept with two members of the same band in the same year just because I could. I wrote about all of them.
But I was really writing about myself, my odd combination of sexual bravado and cluelessness.
Unlike the uptown set "Sex and the City," which ran in the tony New York Observer, my column had little glamour and often-missing orgasms. Sometimes it was because the guy didn't care. Often it was because I didn't tell him what to do. Although I never made my frustration explicit, it came through between the lines. This wasn't sex for pleasure, it was sex for something else—but I wasn't yet sure what that was. Thrill? Rebellion? Love?
My physiological disappointment was often followed by emotional disappointment as my attempts to schedule a second date (that would result in better sex) proved fruitless. Sometimes the guys were so cringe-inducing in their rejection lines, it seemed they knew they were fodder. An actor left my apartment before breakfast, saying he had to go build shelves. A Broadway director took me to Philadelphia to meet his father; days later, he decided to reconcile with his ex-girlfriend. A French musician (who didn't want a relationship) said, "I'm like a cat. I have to enter and leave a room as I please." I guess the room was my vagina.
As I relayed all the humiliating details to my readers, they began to weigh in in the Letters section of the paper. One guy wrote that I should stop dating "egregious losers." Another pled for "more swallowin', less wallowin'." A woman, upset that I had pursued a jerk, intoned, "Amy, stop it right now! He comes off as a total asshole, yet you, throughout your tale, go right on believing in him!"
I had a Greek chorus of New York strangers telling me to pull my head out of my ass. They could see that I was dating men who would never love me and who weren't good in bed. And my own behavior was making things worse—not only the getting-naked-within-two-hours-of-meeting part but the part where I stroked the guy's forehead after sex and said, "Wouldn't it be funny if someday we got married?"
Yet something strange happened as I went down the rabbit hole. I became less judgmental about guys' fetishes—and my own—because I had been exposed to so many. I learned that not all submissive sex is depressing, that it can be hot to watch porn, that mutual masturbation can be more satisfying than the old in-and-out.
All that bad sex made me vocal about what I wanted. I realized that if I didn't tell a guy how to make me come, he might not know. If I was going to have casual sex, it might as well be pleasurable for me.
When I got a deal to write a novel about a sex columnist, I took it and left the paper. I wanted my life back, and I wanted a shot at real love.
A few years later, when I was 28, I met a handsome redheaded artist. I kept waiting for him to turn shady, but it never happened. He called when he said he would, he always wanted to see me, and he suggested we wait to have sex (we did—a month). In bed, he cared about my pleasure. And he wasn't intimidated by my column. We were married a year later and now have a 9-year-old daughter.
I cringe when I remember some of the guys I slept with while writing my column, and I know that there were times I used it as an excuse for self-destructive behavior. But I am grateful that I was given license to be all the things young women are told not to be— brash, aggressive, and loose.
And even though I was playing a role, the role helped me discover the real me. The real me was romantic and vulnerable and knew that the best sex came after emotional intimacy, not before.
When I look back on my sex-column days, I can't believe how reckless and ill-advised my choices were. And yet as a semi-respectable married mother, I miss that time like hell.
This article appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.