When I was about nine or ten years old, my friend and I used to call our teacher a virgin because we thought it meant she hadn’t started her periods yet, and that was just totally not cool. I longed for the day I started to grow pubes, and was obscenely jealous when my best friend said she’d grown one – literally just one. For us, starting your periods meant you’d have awesome things like boobs, underarm hair, and you’d be all grown up. But we didn’t really even know what periods actually were, we didn’t know how to pronounce “puberty” properly, and we certainly didn’t know a thing about sex.
Despite that, my mates and I at school thought we knew loads more about sex than everyone else. We had our own code words for it, for example, “sex” was “magic”. We had many a fun day asking teachers if they liked magic shows. The gloopy green glue in our classrooms was our teacher’s discharge, which was of course because she was a virgin, and a lesbian – which we thought meant she’d never had sex.
One day, my best friend and I were having an argument over what condoms were.
“It’s got that sticky bit!” I insisted.
“No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong,” my friend said. “It’s sorta like got a dangly bit on it!”
In the end, we decided we’d each try to nick one from our parents, then take it into school the next day to see who was right.
The next day, we eagerly waited for break time so we could compare our secret findings. I’d rummaged through the airing cupboard, aka the place where my mum kept her private things (God knows why she kept them in there), and found what I was sure was a condom.
We presented our findings to each other excitedly in the girl’s toilets. I’d carefully hidden my ‘condom’ in the bottom of my bag and pulled it out cautiously as if it were a stolen diamond.
My friend laughed. “That’s not a condom! That’s a sanitary towel!”
She pulled out a wrapped package. Slowly peeling it apart, she presented a tampon. “This is a condom!”
We bickered for a while until I just agreed with her in the end, to shut her up. Break time was nearly at an end, but we had our next problem – getting rid of the evidence. We could never put such naughty things in the bin the girl’s toilets, and couldn’t take them home and put them back as they were clearly man-handled. So, we decided to flush them down the toilet, in theory, with some added toilet roll (I’ve no idea why we thought that’d help). We went off to our next class, relieved to no longer having the guilty goods on us, hoping they were gone forever.
Then came the announcement. “Would whoever flooded the girl’s toilets report to the head teacher’s office.”
I may not have known what a condom was, but I knew the words oh crap.
So what did we do? We stayed quiet. The teachers said something including the words “disappointing” and “cowards”, but we never got found out. We rushed out of school so quickly that day, past the “out of order” sign outside the toilets, and we never spoke of it again. So there’s my confession, decades later.
Later, my mum asked me why I’d been going through her “ladies things” in the airing cupboard. I denied all knowledge. A few days later, one of those little books about the birds and the bees with lots of little drawings and “cool” lingo to entice teenage girls, turned up on my bed. I flicked through it, until I saw a picture of a tampon. Excitably realising that my friend had been wrong, I considered taking the book into school the next day, but then decided against it. There’s no way that would’ve flushed down the loo.