I was at a stage in my life where sex had become more significant than it should be. I had spent a parched four years in a relationship in which it had been withdrawn, as a punishment or a protest I will never know. But it had left me withered and gasping. So, perhaps predictably, the next relationship had been a torrent of rutting. But a relationship based entirely on sex works no better than one in which there is no sex, and soon that ended too. So, there I was, desperate for sex, even more desperate at the thought of no sex, but with no partner in sight.
And it was at this point that I found myself, one of only a handful of women, locked up with approximately 300 men, in an army base in Iraq.
Let me explain; it was 2003, just after the regime change in Iraq and I had taken a job with a development organisation. The country was under the control of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the body made up of soldiers from all of the partners in the coalition that had toppled Saddam Hussein. Under the CPA, the country had been divided into a series of regions and there was a CPA headquarters in each one. For the most part, these headquarters were staffed by military personnel, and, by the very nature of the military, that meant the vast majority were male. And, just to be clear, I am heterosexual, and female.
So, there we were, in a conflict zone with the ever present aphrodisiac of danger – as if I needed an aphrodisiac. It was hot and there were palm trees all around the base. There was a bar there. For a variety of reasons – at best loneliness and fear, at worst, desperation, I’m pretty sure most of the men there would have contemplated sleeping with me. (In fact I found out later that several had, at length).
But if this all sounds like the start of a particularly fanciful porn film, in reality, the situation was more like a Woody Allen movie. Guilt abounded; sex did not. I was the guest of the military. I was representing my organisation and I was working in someone else’s country – a place where the relations between men and women were fraught to say the least, and where anyone associated with the West needed to be on their best behaviour. Or that’s how I felt anyway.
For the first few weeks I did a lot of running on the treadmills in the gym. I threw myself into the job I was there to do and I was friendly and polite to all the men in the base. But I watched, intrigued, as they all came sniffing around me. That base housed Ukranians; Americans; British; Australians and a smattering of men from the smaller countries in the coalition, so add in the cultural differences and the situation was like a social experiment. Some men were terribly gallant and helpful; one almost openly propositioned me; some spieled about my beauty; some treated me like one of the boys, but then dropped the odd double entendre to see how I’d react. I later found out that bets had been laid as to who would lay me first. So, over the first couple of weeks the pressure intensified.
I was approaching screaming pitch when one evening there was a knock at the door of my room. The base was housed in a former hotel, and I was one of the very few people with my own space – the squaddies were three or four to a room; the higher up ranks in twos or threes. I asked who it was and it turned out to be a sergeant who’d been helping me with my work, but hadn’t paid me any special attention. I opened the door and there began a very clever seduction.
Was I alright, he wanted to know, I had seemed a bit down that day.
I, of course, was not alright, but not wanting to spell it out I hedged my bets; we chatted.
Could he come in, he asked.
I was in my bed clothes and a dressing gown, so I said no; we chatted.
But, it would be better if he came in, just for a minute he said; and not wanting anyone else to see him standing in my doorway, I eventually agreed. We went out onto the balcony so he could have a cigarette. He seemed to know exactly the questions to ask, and exactly the right amount of friendly concern to exert – and before long I was confessing that what I really needed was a good seeing to. And then, in the same friendly, helpful manner, he offered to do just that.
I politely refused, citing all the reasons above. But the devil on my shoulder was already drawing up the list of arguments in favour of taking up his offer – I hadn’t asked for this, or encouraged it, so I couldn’t be held responsible; no one knew he was here; and really, what harm would it do? He was single, I was single.
He subtly ramped up the pressure. He told me, in detail, how he’d watched me from behind as I was running on the treadmill in the gym, and imagined me sitting astride him. He told me how much he liked cunnilingus.
I made him leave that night – but we did meet up the following day, and several more times before I left. I was pretty sure that he was never even on the list of contenders for the first lay bet – and it made me laugh that he’d been the one to win. And it made me realise something about seduction that probably completely eludes most men. Despite the fact I had been desperate for sex, I had hardly noticed him. He certainly hadn’t been featuring in my fantasies. But he had watched and read the signs, and then formulated the right approach. For that I had to take my hat off to him – and then the rest of my clothes.