In the midst of a full Edinburgh fringe run of a new show, called Wench, I am awash with fond memories of a lifetime spent attempting sluttery. No shame in that. It’s 2022. No one was harmed in the making of that fun.
Actually, saying “no shame” isn’t entirely true. I very much can wait for my parents and in-laws to read this article or see the new show, but them aside, no shame. Also, when I say “fond memories”, I also mean “embarrassing memories”.
I grew up in the countryside and was a teen in the late 90s, so there wasn’t much else to do but get off with people. I was lucky in that I fancied 75% of the boys at my school, maybe more. I wasn’t fussy. You may have been a classy, demure teenager, but I was a pragmatist, a hedge-better. And it was often hedges in which I canoodled. Or we would sneak inside a surprisingly comfy newspaper recycling bin for a smooch, romantic moonlight trickling in through the hole at the top. I grew up in a very Conservative area so, ironically, I did some of my earliest fumblings on a nest of very rightwing think-pieces.
Chances are, if a boy fancied me, that would be enough of an aphrodisiac for me to fall at least halfway in love. Blooming heck. I had emotional and romantic aspirations but, let’s face it, I also just wanted some action. But it didn’t always go to plan.
I remember ruining my chances with a boy who was a few leagues higher up the pecking order than me. Spin the bottle had gone in my favour and matched us up, but, as I lunged at him, he was forced to duck out of the way at the last minute. I had smashed a bag of cheese and onion crisps on my way to the park, and my breath had nearly burned a hole in his handsome young face.
I recall saying, “I just want everyone to fancy me”, and starting a heated philosophical debate by asking my few female friends: “Is it OK to want to be a slag?” This was pre-fourth wave feminism, amid the mess 90s girl groups were making of our self-esteem. We were all about drinking as much as the lads and doing whatever it took to get thin, while prioritising male pleasure at all times.
I drew the line when a boy called Terry asked for a kiss and offered me 50p when I said no – although I did briefly consider it. I’m confused because I remember feeling so empowered walking away from that boy. But, equally, if he’d had a fiver on him, I’d potentially be married to him by now.
My heart was less on my sleeve and more lolling around the floor like a child’s grubby mitten. No wonder it was always getting injured. It was worth it, though, because it was also an adventure. I had a conversation with a mum-friend recently about our hopes for our sons, educationally. I realised my only firm desire was that mine go to a secondary school that’s co-educational because, otherwise, where will he learn to flirt? It’s all well and good bringing up a generation of coders, but if they are also “incels”, then surely all our futures look bleak.
Thank God I didn’t already fancy women as well as a teen or I would never have had time for anything else, and those GCSEs have been handy. That said, every crush and every heartbreak was an education. I’ve never understood anyone who hopes their lovers are untouched and new to being head-over-heels. It’s the fun-building and scar-piling that make us more interesting people with whom, if we wish it, to settle down. If they have no mistakes to learn from, how will they ever know not to have the sort of breath that could make a passing bee keel over?
Jessica Fostekew is a comedian, actor and writer. Her show Wench is at Monkey Barrel Comedy, Edinburgh, until 28 August