Using condoms is freedom, not compulsion, there should be no limit to sexual experimentation – no rules in love, but condoms
THE CHECK “If you don’t fuck me tonight, I’m leaving you”. It’s been more than a year now since Giulio said that to me, on the phone. I had almost forgotten it. The phrase came to my mind today, when he said another, this time much more hostile. He told me, I love you.
WE MADE LOVE at his house. He came to pick me up by car, and I thought we were going to do it in there, the way we like to, with the rain beat- ing down on the windows like a peeping tom trying to get into the bedroom – but no, we went to his place, in his bedroom, on his bed. He touched me and clasped my hips in a different way, stronger than usual. Giulio came, I didn’t. I didn’t have the courage to say to him: do something, I’m waiting. So, when I realised that nothing was moving inside me, I decided to move my body. That, at least, might have been able to follow a shockwave which I was imposing on it, with all my might. When he pulled out of me, he stroked my hair and said what he always says after sex, “I’ll check”.
I SMILED AT HIM, and said that today I wanted to do it too. I got up on all fours on the bed, trying to mus- ter the energy to follow him to the bathroom. I wanted to take part in the ritual, perhaps because I felt guilty of not having truly taken part in the sex. While I was still on the bed, it started raining, hard, and I felt a sense of faintness wash over me. Even though I hadn’t climaxed, that bed with its flannel sheets was the only corner of the world where I wanted to stay. So I made a sug- gestion. An exception to his rule, a deviation from his habits, which might lead him to think that we could screw even without following the method, and perhaps maybe even skip the inspection altogether. “Come on, let’s not check today”.
HE LOOKED at me in amazement, and stopped still in the middle of the room. In one hand he was holding his limp condom, full of his sperm. A sight that by now, for me, was like a painting hanging in front of the bed. In his eyes I noticed a minus- cule glimmer of disappointment at this suggestion I’d made. Then he snapped out of it, he must have forgiven me in that fraction of a sec- ond, and he replied curtly, “No, we’ll check. You know why?” “No, why?” “Because I love you”.
“IF YOU DON’T FUCK ME tonight, I’m leaving you”. That’s what he said to me on the phone, a year ago. I’d closed my English literature textbook, sighed and dragged my body over to the armchair. Giulio was adding other words, other con- cepts, and who knows what else he wanted to say. All I’d memorized was that warning, and particularly the final part: I’m leaving you. Up to that point I’d been a lucky girl. None of the monsters who I’d been out with had left me. All of them had suffered for me, at least that was the way it seemed to me.
HAVING DUMPED them without warning, I used to like running into them in the street, and seeing that they’d grown thin from depression. I also used to enjoy their phone calls, des- perate and anonymous, just so they could hear my voice saying hello. I liked to think of all the money they were spending on petrol to come and meet me after school, or out- side my house, to ask me if by any chance I’d changed my mind. Their faces – pained, incredulous, hope- ful, and all resembling each other – always confirmed my decision: I’d been right to leave them.
WITH GIULIO things had been lasting. I was nearly twenty, and was a virgin – and Giulio meant what he said. “Fine”, I replied, “Tonight, we’ll do it”. I sighed, and for a split-sec- ond I felt disappointed with myself. I got up from the chair, rummaged around in a desk drawer, and out came a magazine from when I was a teenager. There was a question splashed over a double-page spread: what does making love mean? Just underneath it were photos of various girls, with their answers. Starry-eyed phrases that made me smile. Then, at the bottom there was a list with some advice on “How to tackle the first time: make sure you wax or shave completely; apply nail polish, including on your toes, wear new knickers, and a bra that’s easy to take off”.
THOSE WERE JUST some of the points on the list, but they seemed the ones that would be most useful to me. I started with the nail polish, and was about to move on to the rest but after a short while the phone rang. “Hello?” “It’s me. Can you buy the condoms?” – Giulio asked me this in a brusque tone that didn’t seem like him. Maybe this thing, fuck- ing, was something that could only be dealt with this way – brusquely. So, I replied decisively, “Of course”. There was nothing more uncertain in my life, than me buying con- doms. But if I’d backed out, Giulio would have left me. I got on my bike and cycled to the only chemist in town, where I bought condoms and tampons, to remind myself that those objects were part of the same life, and would both be taking care of my cunt.
FUCKING WASN’T HARD. It was rain- ing, we’d found a spot at the end of a one-way street that made me feel cosy, sheltered beneath a roof. We undressed, the dappled moonlight shone in, the music took our minds off the weight of concentrating. Everything was done right, except what happened afterwards. Giulio took off the condom, and lifted it up to eye-height. It was dangling, and was full of his sperm. “Now we’ll check it”, he said. He took a small bottle of water he had in the car, opened the car door and then I could clearly hear the rain, pound- ing down. He filled the condom with water, and it swelled up like a balloon. “We’re fine, it’s not broken”, he said. I smiled, but couldn’t look him in the eye. The procedure had seemed ridiculous to me, but there were some things I knew nothing about, and what mattered to me was to have been good.
AFTER THE FIRST TIME, Giulio and I fucked almost every day. I always bought the condoms, and Giulio was the one who dealt with what he called the check. All I knew about the activity were the results, which he always told me once he’d fin- ished the procedure. What I know for certain is that for all the time we were sleeping together, we nev- er, not even once, found a condom that was broken, pierced, faulty. That’s another reason why I asked him not to check today. But who knows why he answered me with that I love you. He said it, he smiled at me and I smiled back. And right then I thought, I can’t do this. I can’t love Giulio, because every time Gi- ulio fucks me he does the check. So I broke up with him, and walked home.
NOW I’M LYING on my bed. I opened the drawer and pulled out one of my large supply of condoms. I put one finger inside it, then another, I put it to my nose, I love that smell it has. I pulled down my jeans and underwear and, my hand protected by the condom, I’m masturbating. He loves me, but I don’t, not one bit. Sex can do nothing to combat boredom.
Text Ilaria Macchia
A HEAD-ON COLLISION
I REMEMBER THE PLACE, the time, even the temperature. It was a summer afternoon, in July, it must have been half past two or three, the adults had gone for a snooze after lunch, my sister and my cousins were watching TV in the kitchen, I was on a lounger at the back of the house, in that indefinite border space between our garden and the beginning of the woods, the heat of the full sun was tempered by the coolness of the plants, everything was good. I was reading a maga- zine. It was the latest issue of Pan- orama, back then my father would buy it almost every week. And it was there, on those pages, that I read an article about AIDS for the first time. In that issue there was also a photo shoot featuring Gianni Agnelli, pictured on holiday in the Mediterranean on his yacht, div- ing into the sea totally naked. That photo shoot caused a stir, people were talking about it for weeks. It’s crazy looking back: the collective attention focused on an undressed industrialist taking a swim, while simultaneously, the apocalypse approached.
I WAS SEVENTEEN YEARS OLD, lacking in sexual experience of any kind, and I had only recently begun to ad- mit my nature to myself. I realized I was gay, and a few months later I learned from the pages of a week- ly magazine that there was a new disease around that was affecting people like me, and of which little to nothing was known, except that it was fatal. Welcome hormonal storm and go fuck yourself, I don’t know what to do with you.
MY PHYSICAL MATURATION coincid- ed with the worst period in recent decades for gaining sexual expe- rience – the panic. At first, there was just confusion. And fear. Sex was prohibited. Kissing was pro- hibited. Don’t drink from the same glass. Don’t eat from the same plate. And hugging? Well you could hug someone. Maybe. Initially, it wasn’t called AIDS, but GRID (Gay Re- lated Immune Disease) because it seemed to be limited exclusively to the homosexual community. It was only later that they realized it could affect anybody. But the initials AIDS became a form of absurd, sick conquest. In so many people’s minds, for years, it remained the queers’ disease.
THE EXPLOSION of the virus in perfect synchrony with our physical mat- uration, at least for my friends and I, complicated everything, slowed everything down. Desires and fears exploded in our chests, but the fears took over. It took some time, too, for people to understand that the condom was an effective barrier. As well as damage, there was derision, we lived in a country in which the Church was opposed to even shar- ing this information. A plague sent by God, the fanatics said. Divine condemnation for being what I was.
I REMEMBER the first European nation to promote the use of the condom was England. The announcement consisted of a picture of a bed, on which two pairs of feet peaked out of the sheets, a male pair on top and a female pair beneath. It was the unmistakable image of copulation, although only the lower extremities of the two lovers could be glimpsed. The title read: “Now this can bring death, as well as life”. Chilling, like the slogan of a horror movie.
I FOUND the announcement in an English music magazine, I tore it out and glued it on to the side of the wardrobe in my bedroom filled with pop star photos, between Du- ran Duran and Depeche Mode. A warning to developing me: don’t forget.
THE FIRST PERSON I knew to die of AIDS was Stefano. He was a friend of my friend Paolo, who sometimes came round the bars with us, one of the crowd. A nice, exuberant guy, who prided himself on conquering men with a glance, walking down the street, who regaled us with tales of erotic adventures halfway between the daring and the hilari- ous. Someone who loved all eyes on him, who wasn’t afraid of attract- ing attention. One evening a group of us went to the cinema to see the comedy Working Girl, and at the end of the film, during the credits, before the lights were turned on, he got up and declared aloud: “Well that was the story of MY LIFE!”, – he had the whole room in stitches. A true character, whose absence did not go unnoticed. So when we didn’t see him for a couple of weekends, we straight away start- ed asking after him. At first Paolo said it was a passing sickness, then he spoke of a rare disease that the doctors were considering with caution. We couldn’t bring our- selves to ask him outright. Saying those words meant pronouncing a death sentence. We asked him more generically, “But is it seri- ous?”. Paolo minimized, “I said it is rare, not serious”. This was enough to remove the clouds of suspicion, to confine mortal danger in a point still very far from us. Time passed, Stefano was in and out of hospital, and even when he was at home he didn’t come out or accept guests. I asked Paolo why we never saw him anymore and only at that point did he blurt out: “Because he can’t! He’s covered in blotches everywhere, even on his face”. From his expres- sion after he spoke, it was clear that he regretted what he had said, that it had slipped out. He hadn’t said those words, but reading between the lines it was clear: Kaposi’s sar- coma. I didn’t ask him anything else. The funeral was one month later.
THEN CAME MORE, one after anoth- er. One particularly impressive – when my best friend, Antonio, started going out with this laborer from Brianza, a shaven, muscular guy, a supporter of the Lega Nord (a Lega Nord faggot was legend- ary material at the time). The few times we went out together, we didn’t know what to say to him, it seemed to us we had nothing in common (even if we all secretly lusted after him). It wasn’t serious between him and Antonio. Very on-off. Then it came out that he had caught the virus. From someone else, because Antonio was always careful. We saw him fade gradual- ly, that salubrious woodcutter air disappearing week after week, his body deflating like a balloon with a hole in it. In the end he looked like a skeletal old man in which the only thing left alive were his eyes, clear, pungent, completely lost.
WE HAD ALSO LEARNED to laugh at ourselves. Antonio told me that one day, one of his colleagues had told him over lunch that he was plan to make love to his girlfriend that evening and it would be the first time for both of them. Then he had asked him to go with him to the pharmacy to buy a box of con- doms. “If you’re both virgins, what do you need condoms for?” – Anto- nio had asked. His colleague stared at him in amazement, and replied: “Well, because we don’t want her to get pregnant”. We gays had so firmly grabbed on to the concept of condoms as the only form of pre- vention, that we had forgotten that, in fact, they were actually designed for something else.
THEN, THANKFULLY, things began to change, treatments began to work, contracting the virus meant you would have to learn to manage it, to live with it, not die from it. We calmed down, we reasoned it out, and we fucked frantically, as it should be. But for my generation, that of the Eighties, the imprinting was categorical. Ours had been a head-on collision, one we would never be able to forget.
I THOUGHT BACK to all these things, this chaotic flow, this morning while I was sitting in a café with Sebastian, a friend who is half my age and is HIV positive. I wondered if the terror that I absorbed in ado- lescence is the only reason for my immunity. Why am I, in my fifties, healthy, and not him? I’ve fucked an unknown number of men, sometimes I fell in love and had re- lationships with them, others were one night stands from clubs, sau- nas, friends’ parties, erotic chats. I ran my risks, venturing alone into parks at night in cities on the other side of the world, into clandestine bars to be accessed through anon- ymous doors by ringing a certain bell revealed only to interested parties, finding myself in select parties where in every room there were sweaty, intertwined bodies, but never, not even once, did I have sex without a condom. It was like an animal instinct connected to my DNA, imperative, not to be compromised on.
SEBASTIAN is facing new challenges, linked to the time in which we live. He chose to declare himself publicly on social media, and since then he
has received as much encourage- ment as verbal violence, there are those who call him a slimy mon- ster, those who thank him for what he is doing, those who admire his courage, those who say he makes them feel sick, and those who claim he deserves it. A senseless blend of love and hate, without control or moral, and Sebastian stands alone in the eye of the hurricane, taking it all head-on. I admire his boldness and I try to show him that as often as I can, for what it’s worth. I cannot help but think of the con- tradiction of his generation, con- stantly showered with information of all kinds, but skipping the pre- vention discourse, as if the danger were already overcome, when this, in fact, is not the case. “He was my first boyfriend”, Sebastian tells me. “He wasn’t an asshole, he just didn’t know he had it”.
Text Matteo B. Bianchi
ONCE UPON A TIME you would seek your soulmate. At school, at work, in the street. Looking around with a certain degree of heartache, as if they were there, hidden somewhere. Sooner or later you were bound to bump into them, no doubt about it; in fact, it was probably better not to actively look for them, that way they would appear faster, on their own. Casual sex was a question of status for men, while for women it was of- ten a problem, in the sense that the problem was actually what others thought. Then came the Nineties and with them the dark menace of HIV, and even in Italy people were more cautious and prudent than previously. The arrival of Internet brought blogs, forums, e-mails, and chatrooms. We could chat with people we would never have met otherwise. We knew them before we met them. Intimately. Being able to hide behind a screen meant that we opened up quite freely; in most cases falling in love was inevitable. Shared space, while it lasted, looked like a party for a lucky few. Then it was the turn of social networks, chiefly Facebook and Instagram. Photos became more important than mes- sages. We were also invited to judge: do I like it? It was a short step from appreciation of appearances to vul- gar comments: Do I like this girl? Is she hot? We started to scroll through photos even faster: Who’s she out with tonight? Where’s she going?
What used to be called marriage agencies became online dating por- tals, and when they further evolved into apps we all heaved a sigh of relief – much less hassle. We have become part of a catalogue, goods on display, a consensual transfor mation, they didn’t even have to ask us. Someone is certainly browsing our details right at this moment: are we worth a Like, a heart or (even) a message?
I ONCE READ, I don’t remember where, something true that has stuck with me: anything we neglect goes off. A room will dirty, a fire will go out, a love story will become banal, lose its romantic potential. The only antidote to neglect – care, that is – calls for commitment. How can we defend ourselves from relational neglect? What can we use as a weapon against unjustified boorishness? Let us try to outline the dynamics of a non-offensive approach, a polite first date. The first requirement—not always ob- vious—is that we must actually like the other person. We must consider them worthy of esteem and friend- ship: otherwise why would we want to spend time with them? Then we will take care to communicate clearly and correctly, for no reason must we mislead the other person or keep them waiting—we will always reply to messages that require an answer, even a simple “can’t right now.” The choice of where to meet will fall to somewhere both parties feel at ease, free to leave at any time, and better an invitation for a drink than the more serious affair of a dinner. During the date, body language must be reciprocally observed: if the other person avoids contact, does not smile, keeps look- ing around or comes up with excus- es, they must simply be left by the wayside. Blackmail, neither emo- tional (I would like you to stay) nor financial (have you any idea how much this evening has cost me?) must not be used, whatever the reason. First impressions can and must be renegotiated to the very last: sexual intimacy is the most delicate question we are posed, we have the right to rethink or change our minds. The decision to end an evening in bed with someone, final- ly, should be not only consensual, but enthusiastic: all other options inevitably verge on harassment or squalor.
PREVENTION, and in theory there should be no need to say this, is the most important of sexual and sen- timental good manners. The World Health Organization released some alarming data last year: the spread of STDs, from AIDS to syphilis, has increased fourfold – especially among youngsters, adolescents and twenty-somethings. Condoms seem to have become an option- al extra. More inclined to protect themselves, women find they are having to ask men to wear one and the answers they receive are most- ly senseless, refusals justified by The cost, the difficulty in finding them and the apparent discom- fort of wearing one: ruining all the pleasure, so it would seem. Excuses pulled from goodness knows where include I am allergic to latex or they don’t make condoms in my size. Ob- jections of this kind are contrary to any kind of good manners: putting on a condom before having risky sex – where risky means with anyone we don’t know very well – should be as automatic as brushing your teeth at bedtime. There is nothing excit- ing about playing Russian roulette with your health and that of others. This is the message of Shake your love, the sex ed campaign launched by Lampoon in February 2018. Sex should be free, wild, bold, but over and above everything else, it should be respectful.
Text Micol Beltramini
IN THE MID-SEVENTIES, as third-year middle school students, two class- mates and I would go almost every day to stand in front of the clinic of a Dr. Fraschetta Antonguido, venere- ologist. We had no idea what venere- ology was, but the mere sight of the brass name plate of this doctor who cured genitalia was cause for great mirth, sniggers and unconfessed turmoil, due to the hypocrisy of the adjective, which for us evoked an image of a curvaceous female with soft skin emerging from the wa- ters, and also the words, read in the station toilets, that warned against “Bacco, Tabacco e Venere” – Wine, Smoke and Love, apparently the ruin of every man.
SOMETIMES, still snorting with laughter, we would lie in wait for the good doctor’s patients, pariahs suffering from disgusting sexu- al diseases, atrocities that I had glimpsed in black and white photos in my cousin Celeste’s manual of clinical pathology. Hypertrophic scrotums, penises covered in boils, testicles the size of a watermel- on. This was sexuality, that great mystery of which our vague no- tions were based half on mammal biology and half on myths, but it was actually a mysterious parallel world to that of thirteen year olds, a reproductive destiny into which we were to venture sooner or later, marked threateningly by our pe- riods. This was back when people smoked in cinemas without any form of air conditioning, on buses where even drivers and conductors could be seen cigarette in hand and teachers smoked in class. Asbestos was this amazing building materi- al, everyone drank tap water, food allergies and intolerances were un- known, and if a husband thought his wife was having an affair he could kill her and his gesture was justified as an honour killing and not even punishable with impris- onment – honour crimes weren’t abolished until 1981. If you were expecting a phone call you had to stay home next to the landline, with your father likely to pick up on the first ring of this new pagan divinity of wellbeing that was the home phone – we adolescents its dutiful servants. Sanitary towels and condoms could only be bought from the chemist’s.
THE PURCHASE OF CONDOMS – a form of prevention like that against malaria or yellow fever, was, by tacit social agreement, the responsibility of the male. You were overcome with embarrassment even before you went into the chemist’s, because the latex sheath with its reservoir sug- gested an upcoming engagement in practices better not discussed. Con- doms were definitely not on display for the general public, the chemist, with a smirk, pulling them out of a drawer. They were always packed in threes, as three copulations were deemed to be more than sufficient for the needs of the young male; the fact that two of these usually split during use was not considered to be a problem.
THE OLD CATHOLIC church moral was safe. Bony adolescents, their chins furry with bum fluff, a showy bloom of zits glowing on their necks, painful red pimples which, at best, oozed pus. Our poor male classmates, tormented by raging testosterone, guided by the archaic instinct for reproduction, yearned to copulate with their well-devel- oped yet naïve female peers, vic- tims of the hormonal romanticism who dreamt of Prince Charming. Recalcitrant before ‘that thing’, which males reputed to be a form of oppression – according to the male cry of ‘you can’t feel a thing’.
GOING BEYOND the risks connect- ed to unprotected sex, STDs and venereal diseases, AIDS and un- wanted pregnancies, using a con- dom (luckily for us now available also in supermarkets, albeit near the checkouts among packets of saffron, pine nuts, tins of premium tuna and expensive razors) is a ges- ture of respect towards ourselves in the first place and our partner, in second place. What’s more, it has even been swept up in the wave of hyper technology. In Great Brit- ain they have come up with a 2.0 version: a sensor to apply to the traditional condom, capable not only of detecting STDs, but also of decoding the physiological results of the act itself, from the calories consumed (always a plus) to thrust speed, all data that this ‘intelligent condom’ will transmit to our trusty smartphone. And to think that we all fell about laughing at the Or- gasmatron, the crazy egg-shaped machine featured in the perplexing imaginary future of Woody Al- len’s Sleeper. This electronic cabin replaced sexual intercourse and guaranteed pleasure for two in just a few minutes, no effort required. Little did we know that this was the future, ready to become reality in a parody.
Text Rosa Matteucci