Kerry Cohen can barely remember all of the 40-odd men she's slept with (her list includes "that guy with the dog" and "the one who kept talking during sex as though we were just hanging out"). In Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, out in June, Cohen recounts her harrowing litany of hookups through clear, poignant, spare-no-details prose. Now a 37-year-old psychotherapist, she tells MC exactly what she was looking for.
Q: Why was sex such a powerful addiction for you?
A: I felt unloved. I wanted attention to prove I was worth something. The media show us that as girls and women, our bodies and our ability to pull men in are what make us worthwhile. Plus, it's an easy path; you don't have to even be that attractive to get male attention. It was default behavior, and to not resist it would have taken a lot more effort. What I wanted was that immediate, gratifying rush of "He likes me. I mean something to this person." But I found out pretty quickly after every experience that it was just the opposite, that he didn't care one bit. In the end, I got more reinforcement for my sense that I wasn't worth anything.
Q: So why go back for more?
A: The same reason heroin addicts go back for a high, even though they always wind up crashing in the end. I went back again and again for those few moments when I felt ecstatically loved. Afterward, I wasn't consciously processing, "Oh, that made me feel like shit."
Q: Were you ever worried about being called a slut?
A: I was. But I also thought I was different from those girls because I was trying to have a relationship.
Q: You were dealing with this in the '80s. Is it any easier for girls today?
A: It's a common misconception that things are different now because sexuality and concepts like "friends with benefits" are all over the media, but the value judgments about the behavior haven't changed.
Q: You've been faithfully married for seven years now and have two kids. How'd you exorcise your inner Loose Girl?
A: I am still that girl — I still carry those struggles, but it doesn't control me anymore. One of the ways I had sensed things would be different with my husband is that I didn't meet him and immediately feel that rush that I needed something from him. We established a friendship, and I was able to just be around him and enjoy who he was. And that allowed him to find out who I was. But it's not like now I'm healed. All of our struggles are lifelong, and you just find better ways of dealing with them. Now when I feel unloved,I cry, tell a friend or my husband, and wait for it to pass.