A year out of college, at 24, I bought a one-way ticket to Rome that changed my life.

Throughout most of my undergrad, I studied and worked so hard that I vacillated between having no life or drinking excessively to make up for having no life. Needless to say, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for guys. I was too busy looking ahead to the future and plotting my next career conquest. Sure, I had my drunken hookups and my casual relationships, but I was always just a little unavailable. Men were an afterthought.

I was no sexual goddess in college—not even a little bit. I wasn't really pursued or chased. I had never given in to pleasure, wary that I couldn't come back from it. I didn't think of myself as sexy or even that sexually appealing. I firmly believed I was smart and witty, and therefore attractive, but sexy? Eh. That was for women who knew things like how to curl their hair and how to make eyeliner not look terrible. I was not, at least in my own opinion, a woman who turned heads.

Buying a one-way ticket to Rome without a plan was risky, but I was positively intoxicated by the idea. I had a bed and breakfast booked for one week, but then a big question mark for the rest of my time there. Where would I go? Who would I meet? What would I do with my time? I was going to Italy. Alone. For an indeterminate amount of time. What the fucking fuck was I doing?

***

The businessmen:

During my second week in Rome, I went on a date with two Italian businessmen named Mauro and Giuseppe. It was meant to be a date with only Mauro, but Giuseppe came along thinking I would bring a friend (I only had one friend at the time, but she was busy and much older than me, so this is how I ended up on a double date with two beautiful men all to myself). The three of us dined at a little restaurant tucked away just off Piazza Navona, where a string of white lights twinkled above the tables on cobblestone streets. They sat across from me on one side of a table, and we shared a bottle of red wine. 

As the date progressed, Mauro lost interest in me, while Giuseppe’s interest increased. But before I could process what had happened, I was in a taxi with Giuseppe, his hands all over my body and face, his lips pressed against mine. When we arrived at my apartment, he nearly broke the television after pushing me up against it in a fit of passion. As we made our way out to the balcony, taking in breathtaking views of Roman rooftops, Giuseppe embraced me again and I thought: This is it. I am a fucking woman.

This is it. I am a fucking woman.

The boy band:

While walking with my friend across Campo de' Fiori, an incomprehensibly attractive group of men stopped to ask who I was. The four Italians, who looked like boy band members with unique individual style, then began flirting with me relentlessly. It was like my ultimate fantasy come true. They stared at me as if I was the most delicious thing they’d ever seen, and I licked my lips at them because they were the most delicious things I’d ever seen. As we flirted, conversation eventually came to a lull, and one of them said, “So, Jamie, which one of us do you want tonight?”

“Excuse me?” I choked out.

“Yes, which one of us do you want? We all want you, so you get to pick," another said in stilted English.

I looked at all their beautiful faces and felt, for the first time in my life, that this was my Sophie’s choice.

The Brazilian:

I met Carlos the Brazilian Teenager at a club. He was with Russian Guy Who Slept With My French Friend That Night. At 19 years old, Carlos was not my usual target demographic, but he was all about me. When we stepped outside my apartment to smoke, my French friend and the Russian locked us out, and proceeded to have sex in my bed. Not to be discouraged, Carlos invited me to the apartment he shared with his father (and assured me his dad would not be present); so we drove there, making out at every red light on the way.

Despite his questionable-at-best English, Carlos made me feel beautiful and wanted. After spending the night entangled together, he brought me home, and picked up his Russian friend. My French friend and I then laid in bed, eating McDonald’s, while sharing sordid details about our dalliances.

The med student:

Davide the Italian Med Student placed one hand on my bare shoulder. I shivered and whispered, “Let’s get out of here,” before leading him to my apartment.

***

When I returned to California after three months in Rome, I was happier, more sophisticated and well-loved. The Roman men had sparked a revolution in me; I experienced a pleasure I had never known before, and tapped into a source of power I didn't realize I have. I still shiver when I think of them, when I remember their forthright advances, and how sex is a way of being in Italy.

I look back at the fall of 2009 as the time I became a woman—an empowered woman with desires and needs and the means to satisfy them. After Rome, I was never the same. I was changed. I was better. I was power-fucking-ful.