Sex education

For two weeks, starting from the 17th of November, we will post four short stories – coming out respectively on Tuesday and on Thursday – taken from the collection of short stories Istantanee – Snapshots, written by Alessia Marinoni. They will be available both in their original version in Italian and in the translated version in English.

Or, a high school girl struggling with her first time

Like every morning, my alarm goes off at six o’clock. Today, in particular, I would have slept at least for another three hours. Last night I didn’t go to bed until late, I was chatting with Teo and I didn’t want to go to sleep (even though my eyelids were closing). We’ve been dating for three months now but it seems to me that we’ve never really had a real conversation. Sometimes, after school, we stop at the park together but then I can never think of any interesting topic to bring up during the conversation and we end up talking about school. Sara says I should be more relaxed when I’m with him because she can tell I’m always nervous. In the beginning I didn’t pay attention to that feeling of cramping in my stomach, I thought it was just that I was being emotional (or in love?) but now, I have to admit, I’m starting to think that Sara is right. I’ve never been a shy girl but with him I’m having a hard time acting nonchalant. Sometimes, I feel like I’m not enough: he’s already attending his fourth year of high school and I’m still on my second year. Moreover, there’s a whole lot of girls flirting with him. Actually, it might just be one or two girls but still, I don’t care about the number, I still feel like I’m being threatened. He doesn’t even know that it’s my first relationship. Sure, there were a few kisses before, with Andrea, a guy I met last summer on vacation. But nothing serious. I don’t fall easily for someone, but, since I really like him, I got stubborn. I said that he doesn’t know because I lied to him. I know I shouldn’t have but I couldn’t tell him the truth right away. He would have thought that, other than being a baby, I’m also a loser nobody would get close to. Sooner or later I’ll tell him the truth, though. I swear. 

Anyways, it’s already half past six and I yet have to get ready. Living in the suburbs is hard when your school is in the city center. I try to hurry so that I don’t miss the 7:15 AM train. Moreover, today it’s self-management day. So, no homework, no oral tests and no stress. Teo organized a few classes too because he’s a student president. He said that he’d be waiting for me, so I can’t be late. 

Before leaving the house, I glance one last time in the mirror. I’m not satisfied of how my eyeliner turned out but oh well, I don’t have time to fix it now. I hope nobody notices. 

I rush to the train station and I narrowly manage to get there on time and catch the train. Luckily, at least I didn’t run for nothing. The train is packed with commuters: some of them are going to school, others to university or work. In the distance, I see Sara. She lives just two stops away from me, in an even more peripheral town. Every morning, we meet on coach number three of the 7:15 AM train, and we go to school together. This morning, I couldn’t wait to tell her about yesterday’s conversation with Teo but it seems impossible now. There’s at least a hundred people separating us on this coach. Moreover, it’s really hot in here. I wonder why there’s never the right temperature on train coaches. During the summer, it’s always too cold while, during the winter, it gets too hot. It’s still December but in here it’s already, like, late June. Anyways, I better keep myself busy for the next half hour. I put in my earphones and I listen to some music. At least I won’t think about all the people pushing me on their way out of the train. Do you ever measure the time a trip takes based on the number of songs you listen to? I do. It usually takes about seven and a half songs to get from my town’s station to the station near my school. Today, it took nine. Maybe they were very short songs. Or maybe the train stopped for longer than usual and I didn’t notice. Anyways, I have to push a few people away in order to get off the train, otherwise I would have missed the first hour of school. 

Right when I get off, Sara walks towards me. 

-So, no morning chat today…I saw you while you were getting on, but I was stuck there in the middle of the coach and I couldn’t move anymore. 

-Yes, I saw you. It was so hot in there today. I have so many things to tell you! I spent last night talking on the phone with Teo.

Sara bursts out laughing, -It’s no news, you don’t even come upstairs to my classroom anymore during the morning break. You two really looked like you’re glued together, – She’s smiling but her words hurt me a little. I wasn’t expecting this answer. Our classes are on two different floors, that’s why I used to go upstairs to see her during the break. I’m not doing that very often anymore, that’s true. 

-What do you mean? It’s not like I’m always with him. Moreover, you haven’t come downstairs to see me either.

She notices that I got a little defensive and tries to play it down.

-Come on! I was just joking, you’re so cranky. So, what did he tell you?

I’m still a little hurt, I would have wanted her to be happy for me and not jealous. But she’s my best friend and I’m dying to tell her everything.  

-So, at first, he told me that Massimo, you know, the guy attending the fourth year who’s always making out with a blonde girl in the hallway, he’s friends with Teo and he said that he wants to organize a huge New Year party in the mountains this year and Teo told him that I will be there too…it was nice of him, it means that he thinks we’ll still be together a month from now. Then we talked about a whole lot of other things such as what he wants to do after high school, and he told me that next year he wants to try the engineering test, but he doesn’t know which specific field he wants to choose. I know nothing about that stuff, but I advised him on…what’s it called? The automation one, you know. Because my cousin’s boyfriend is getting his degree in that field and he says that he’s getting a lot of job opportunities. Then Teo also told me that this afternoon he’s going to be home alone and he asked me if I want to go to his place to spend some time together. 

-I think he’d better chose computer engineering. Nowadays, every company looks for someone who can use the computer. 

-Are you really thinking about engineering? Come on, what do you think I should do? Should I go?. 

-Sure, why wouldn’t you? He’s not going to harass you, you know. He seems like a quiet guy. I told you, you need to relax, you can’t get paranoid about everything he says. Moreover, if something should happen, what do you care?. 

-I don’t know, I’ve never done it before, you know it. You’re always acting bold, but I don’t think you were this calm before your first time with Fabio, right? Actually, I remember you being all nervous. 

-That’s exactly why I’m telling you that there’s no need to worry, because I know. Really, if you’re in the right situation, things will come easily. Don’t worry too much now, tell him you’ll go. 

Actually, I’ve tried putting this moment off for weeks now. I was never the romantic type and I never thought that my first time would have been with my life companion. And I like Teo. A lot. Lately, I noticed that he’s trying to make me aware of the fact that just a kiss isn’t enough anymore. I don’t have the courage to say no because I’m afraid that, eventually, he will get tired of this situation and decide to leave me for someone else. Moreover, I’m not the first girl he’s ever dated, which makes me even more uneasy. But I don’t know if I’m ready. Should I tell him that it’s my first time? Or maybe I’d better act as if it weren’t? Up until now, I’ve tried acting breezy, like a girl who’s not afraid to talk about sex. Sure, I’m not afraid to talk about it. I’m very prepared on theory, but not in practice. 

Oddly enough, today’s first class will be a sex education one. I’ve done this plenty of times in school, I could even be the one teaching the class about it. 

-There’s your man…should I leave you alone?, – Sara’s really in a good mood today. 

Finally, Sara and I get to school. The gate is open even though the bell won’t ring for another five minutes. Teo is in the hall. He’s explaining the program of the day to a bunch of guys from the first year. 

-Come on, there’s no time for joking. Actually, we better hurry because the class is about to begin. 

At least for today, we two won’t be divided into our different classes because self-management involves the whole school. We hurry to find the right class and we sit in the first row because all of the rows in the back are already taken. 

Sara grumbles, -That sucks, we have to follow the lesson now. Do they really think we don’t know this stuff? They’ve already harassed us in middle school with information about condoms, IUDs, contraceptive patches…I would have preferred to go listen to the concert in the gym, downstairs. 

-Shush, they’re beginning. What’s Teo doing there at the desk? I didn’t know that he’d be teaching. 

Teo’s sitting there, behind the professor’s desk and he won’t take his eyes off of his phone’s screen, which irritates me a little. Who is he talking to? At least, he could have made the effort of saying hello to me. I don’t think he didn’t see me, I’m right in front of him. 

In the end, he’s not the one talking. It’s a boy and a girl, some other student presidents. They’re talking about sexually transmitted infections, other conditions linked to sex and birth control. The two “newly-professors” are really struggling to keep the class quiet. Everybody seems to think of this lesson as free time for chatting. Obviously, there’s plenty of witty remarks. As soon as he hears the word “candida”, a boy sitting in the back of the class shouts, -You know something about that, right, Martina? – And a girl beside him turns red and smiles while she shouts back some insulting words at the boy. In the meantime, another girl tells us that she read an article saying that a woman had found out she was HIV-positive and the cause had just been a kiss. The two guys say that it can’t be true but who knows. I guess I’m not as knowledgeable as I thought when it comes to sexually transmitted infections.

I’m having a hard time concentrating. Maybe Teo has something to tell me but he doesn’t want to do it now. Maybe is that why he didn’t even say hello? 

-Hey, you, blondie…do you know?. 

Everybody’s staring at me, even Sara tried to elbow me, -What? – I try to act nonchalant but I’m not very believable. Now Teo’s staring at me too. 

-I see, everybody’s paying attention this morning…do you know what vaginismus is?. 

Help, of course I don’t. I can’t think of anything to say and I just keep quiet. 

The girl at the desk can see my hesitation, -Alright, it seems like you don’t. It’s a condition that can cause pain in women during sexual intercourses. It’s involuntary muscle spasms that involve the vaginal area which make penetration painful or, even, impossible. The cause might be of psychological origin. For example, many women who were sexually violated in the past, may suffer from this condition. 

Suddenly something in me clicks and I start sweating. Sara notices. 

-What? Nobody knew that answer, that guy wanted to have the class’ attention and he called you out because you’re right in front of him…but he knew that you wouldn’t know the answer. Who knows this stuff?

-It’s not about that, – Even though he actually succeeded in embarrassing me. 

-Then what? Are you worried about this afternoon? 

-No…I mean, yes, that too. 

-Come on, what’s important is that he knows it’s your first time. Then, since you said he’s already had other experiences, he will know how to act. 

-It’s just that it’s not really my very first time.

-What do you mean? You’ve already done it and you didn’t tell me? – Sara seems a bit offended that I didn’t let her know before. 

-Not really. It’s just that there was nothing to say. You know Andrea, right? The guy from Sardinia, the one I met last summer. Right, one day, we were having lunch at his place, my parents, my brother and me. Then, they all decided to go to the beach, but I didn’t feel like it and Andrea didn’t either. So, they left us home alone. In the beginning we started playing a videogame but then one thing led to another. In the end, we didn’t do it, but we tried. We weren’t able to do anything because it hurt me too much, so I ran away to the beach right away. After that, we never spoke again for the whole vacation.

-Why didn’t you tell me? 

-I don’t know, I told you, I didn’t think there was anything to talk about. Moreover, I don’t know, I thought it was embarrassing talking about it. What if I have vagi…what’s the name? Well, what if there were something wrong with me? What do I tell Teo? He might run away from me just like Andrea did. 

-You are overthinking! First of all, relax, there’s no reason to think that there’s something wrong with you. Most people feel a little bit of pain during their first time. It wasn’t all fun and games for me either and I was absolutely convinced that I was ready and in love with Fabio. But then, you need to think that everything will be alright. You must not let your anxiety take over. Maybe you were a little tense, which made things worse. I think you are worrying too much for nothing, if it won’t work out the first time, it will the second time or the third. 

I don’t know why, but this doesn’t reassure me, -Yeah but let’s say Teo doesn’t want to wait. 

-What do you mean? If he doesn’t want to wait leave him to look for someone else. Moreover, I don’t think he let you think that he’s got a whole lot of girls waiting for him in case you two broke up, right?

-No, of course not…but I know that there’s a girl who’s always looking for him during the morning break. She’s actually quite pretty. 

-So what? If there had been something between them, he would have told you, you’re worrying too much. She might be pretty but so are you. He even let you know that he wants to be with you, the invitation to that New Year’s party is still valid, right? Don’t stress yourself out.

-Might be so, – I try to cut off the conversation because the guys teaching are starting to stare at us from their desk and I wouldn’t want to be asked anything else for now. 

It’s the last half hour of lesson and the two guys decide to demonstrate how to put on a condom using a banana. The boy is holding the banana on the desk while the girl is unrolling the condom on it. 

-Condoms have almost a 90% chance of being effective, so it’s very unlikely for it to break. – She hasn’t finished talking yet when the condom she’s holding breaks right in the middle. Everybody burst out laughing, even Teo does. To me, it seems more like a tragicomic situation. Wasn’t it unlikely for it to break?

The girl looks a little embarrassed and she blamed it on her long nails. Generally, though, in a normal situation, it wouldn’t break or, if it did, as we saw, it would split right in two, so it would be hard not to notice. Alright, at least it’s not sneaky. 

The lesson finishes and the student presidents start distributing condoms to all the students in the classroom. There’s people making dirty jokes everywhere. Even Teo is standing in the doorway with a bucket of condoms. When my turn comes, I blush. The fact that later we will be alone embarrasses me. And maybe we’ll be left with this bucket full of condoms.

-Hey, I saw you sitting in the front row! Sorry I didn’t say hello, but I was talking to some guys who had a few problems with the organization of a laboratory. Anyways, what about this afternoon? Can I wait for you after school? – He takes me a little off guard, but what can I say? I can’t say no, even though the situation we’re in makes me even more uneasy. It’s like he wants to hint at something with all those condoms in his hands. 

-Yes, sure. Wait for me at the usual bench, – In the end, it was easier that I expected. 

As soon as we get further away from the class, Sara starts jumping, -See? What did I tell you, you’re imagining problems! He was so happy to see you! 

-I don’t know Sara, maybe I got a little too involved in the situation…but now I told him that I will go. Moreover, I need to solve my doubts, – Right. Because most of my friends, Sara included, already had their first time. I’m starting to feel a little late to the party. It’s not like I want to rush things, that’s for sure. But I’ve been thinking that, if I’d had the occasion, I wouldn’t say no. Even though fear and embarrassment stop me, I too would want to know what this sex thing is all about. The fact that I’m afraid, though, makes me feel like I’m failing or like there’s something wrong with me. From what other people say, this should be simple, the right moment should come easily. But it’s been weeks, actually months now, of me thinking that I would want to, but I can’t. Or that I can but I don’t want to. 

While we’re walking towards the gym, Sara stops for a second, -Look, I see you’re still thoughtful. I know it all seems difficult now but, in the end, it’s all a matter of trust. Do you trust him? If yes, then you know that he won’t judge you when you’ll tell him the truth and that you’ll always have control over the situation too. If you trust me, believe me when I say that it’s normal to have doubts at this point, you don’t need to be embarrassed about it or like you’re not able to handle the situation. And, most of all, if you trust yourself then you also trust your instinct and it wouldn’t send you in the wrong direction. 

Wow. Sometimes I forget how wise Sara can be. Do I trust them? Actually, I do. Teo never made me think that he was lying to me. Sara is my best friend and, as far as I’m concerned, I may have a bit of a difficult relationship with myself but Sara’s right, my instinct never took me on the wrong path. 

-I didn’t know you were a thirty-year old in the body of a little girl! – I smile and I hug her. 

While we’re entering the gym, my phone rings. It’s Teo: “I will wait for you outside. I can’t wait for this bell to ring”. Me too.

My name is Alessia, I was born on a summer morning twenty-five years ago in a little town near Milan and I’m a linguistic mediation student. A few years ago, the city of Bologna became my second home because that’s where I’ve been studying. Living away from home gave me the opportunity to make new experiences such as sharing a house with five other students my age and dedicating myself to the activities I love: writing and translating. I like to listen to what other people want to share and I like pondering all the different little details of words which change according to the context in which they’re used, even on a cultural level. That’s why, in the near future, I would like to mix my listening skills with my translation and writing skills as much as possible in order to make it my job.

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