A Numbers Game

Gabrielle Keegan shares an intimate portrait of a very personal choice facing Australia's youth. 

The store was at a level of near silence, broken only by dulled friendly chatter between a select few early morning shoppers and the humming of upbeat pop music playing distantly on the radio. It was a mild midweek morning and I anticipated that the speed of the day would not progress further than this gentle lull.

If I’d answered just one question differently, then this day would have passed by unnoticed; marked off my calendar and forgotten like so many others. As an idle conversation with my co-worker bounced from one topic to the next, she asked me if I’d ever had sex.

I said yes. Which would have been a perfectly acceptable way to handle the question had this statement not been a lie.

I was gently pressed for details. ‘Fine’ was my word of choice to illuminate the experience. ‘Yes,’ my response to the question of had it only happened once.

With each word she spoke I prayed that the interrogation would soon end and I wouldn’t be dealt a blow that would send my story tumbling to the ground. I was treading water and barely remaining afloat.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for my co-worker to gain wind of my frosty responses as she eased her way out of the conversation. I was unsure as to whether her retreat was due to gaining a sense of my lies or if she just thought the topic made me uncomfortable. My fingers were firmly crossed for the latter.

For the rest of the day my stomach churned. A sickening swirl of guilt and regret continued to rise until the emotions clustered in a lump in my throat. My eyes watered, recalling the way the words had leapt from my mouth and escaped from my lips, in a way that felt as though I had not given consent.

I was playing a numbers game. With virginity not holding the same value that it once did, I didn’t want to be considered behind my time. But too many sexual partners? Well, I didn’t want that either.

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