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Curious Minds Want to Know
But adults don’t want to tell them
Thanks so much to everyone who subscribed last week, for the maiden voyage of Submit Here! Enjoy the piece below, and please keep sharing with folks you think might enjoy it. —Tolly
I was eight years old when my mom got the call.
“Yes, hi, Mrs. Moseley?” the caller began.
“I’m calling with some news about your daughter, Tolly,” she continued, somber.
Oh yes. These were somber, serious matters.
And they were coming from Olga: a power-hungry counselor at my summer day camp, a counselor you did not want to piss off.
If we are being honest, Olga was ill-suited for the job. Overheated and humorless, she was broadly feared among my near-feral friend group that summer. Why? Because Olga liked discipline.
“I just overheard her talking about sex,” she said, scandal dripping off her tongue.
I knew the call was coming.
A few minutes earlier, I was standing around a rusty, dribbly water fountain, filling balloons that would soon be used for battle in the soccer field, the San Antonio summer version of a snowball fight, save for the pieces of colored plastic we’d all have to pick up afterwards, and the impending threat of heatstroke. That’s when I overheard one of the boys say “humping.”
“Are y’all talking about sex?” I asked.
And then – “oh, shit!” – they scattered.
Because what I didn’t know right at that moment, was Olga was walking by, authority whistle swinging off her neck. Marching up to supervise this water balloon business, freezing when she heard me.
“Excuse me?” she said.
“Sex,” I repeated. “I wanted to know if they were talking about sex.”
Precocious? Nah. I was scared of Olga. I just didn’t know to be scared of this word quite yet, didn’t know it might live in the same zip code as “shit,” or “ass,” or the other words I knew were bad. Super bad!
“I’m calling your mother,” she said, and stormed off to the office: a small wooden shack with a landline and cigarettes.
The call itself was narrated to me, later. But what I imagine is Olga reaching for a binder off a dusty shelf, flipping to the M’s — “Moore, Morales, Moseley” — taking a deep breath, and dialing the emergency contact number.
This wouldn’t be pretty. Oh no it wouldn’t. Kids. Kids and the filth they spread.
Fortunately for me, my mom didn’t share Olga’s sensibilities.
Because here’s the thing about Christi Moseley. She’s a Midwesterner with a keener ear for bullshit than God. She wasn’t raised religious, has never once owned a Precious Moments figurine, and back then was more worried about affording groceries and rent than the possibility of her daughter being an eight year-old pervert.
“Oh,” she said, laughing. “I’ll talk to her.”
I am now the mother of an 8 year-old girl. I live in Texas, which at the moment does not advertise itself as a particularly sex-positive place. My daughter knows my job though, which is (cue: I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom) working for a sex podcast.
Does she know what sex is? Not yet, but soon. Her public school offers opt-in classes on puberty, I’ve done a little freelance work for a sex education platform, and she’s seen people kissing on TV. Which she thinks is disgusting.
But I was reflecting on Olga recently, when I remembered a quote that I will likely butcher. “In Europe, parents don’t want their children to see guns, but they’re lax about sex. In America, parents don’t want their children to see sex, but they’re lax about guns.”
I don’t know who said that, or if it’s entirely true. But it feels true, right?
In most of Europe, sex education is not opt-in, it is mandatory. In The Netherlands (stop me if you’ve ever heard a left-leaning American start a sentence with “In the Netherlands”), sex education starts as early as age four. It is reiterated throughout each year of school. Topics include self-pleasure, consent, orgasm, and contraception methods. I just learned that “Double Dutch” is a thing there, where you use both the pill and condoms to make sure no one gets pregnant. Not a surprise, then, that they have some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world, and here’s a stat I particularly love: the Dutch tend to report positive first sexual experiences.
The Dutch have the attitude that teenagers are going to have sex anyway, so, let’s help them do that in the safest and most satisfying way possible. On average, Dutch teens have sex for the first time around the same time American teens do, between 17 and 18 years old, but the difference is, American teenagers are more likely to get pregnant. In general, the whole enterprise is more fear-laced here: even as I Google the phrase “American teens first sexual experiences positive or negative,” my algorithm – my algorithm, the same one that searches penis rings and anal sex and clitoral anatomy all day long for work – brings me back these results:
“Growing Up Too Fast: Early Exposure to Sex” (PsychCentral)
“Sexual hook-up culture” (American Psychology Association)
“Sex of any kind can harm teens emotionally” (Reuters)
Olga, is that you?
Listen – I’m not advocating for American teenagers to go on a collective sex frenzy. But it’s frustrating to look at the data, to see a direct correlation between abstinence sex education and teen pregnancy (top three teen pregnancy states: Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, all stressing abstinence), and it’s just dark to think about the American adults who themselves never got the opportunity to talk about sex, who themselves never processed it like a normal thing, and who themselves took their unresolved urges out on kids. It’s like, what the fuck are we doing, guys?
Here’s one of my favorite memes of all time:
Me: Hi sky daddy
God: I really wish you would stop praying like that
Some of my favorite jokes tend to be the ones that combine sex and God and/or Jesus. Another one, saved to my Instagram folders and brought out time to time for a chuckle, features Jesus in fetish wear holding chains. Floating above his head are the words:
Jesus hears you.
And next to his hand, the one with the chains:
He just wants you to fucking beg for it.
You probably sense what I’m getting at, here. Even if you’re not religious, there is a premium in our culture on the innocence of children. And I think that’s cool. My daughter can be so shockingly mature sometimes, but she still likes to pretend she’s a kitty. “Pet my head!” I oblige. “Give me a treat!” Here’s an invisible one. “Now I’m biting you!” Ooh, don’t bite me.
I don’t think providing kids a healthy childhood and talking to them openly about sex are incompatible tasks. They’re only incompatible when you’ve been marinated in fear about sex, when you’ve been taught it’s inappropriate or something to be ashamed of, because sex outside of procreation is, well, sex for pleasure. And sexual pleasure is something something lust, something something sin.
Often, I think those ideas are losing their societal grip. Relics, right?
Then, I see tidal waves of anti-LGBTQ legislation happening in my state. And I’m like: oh. There it is again. No room to discuss the nuances of sexual desire or sexual pleasure, because PREDATOR! If you want to be open with children about sex, including various forms of sexuality, you’re a predator.
This is how some people think.
Still – attitudes change. People move on. My generation of fellow parents seems to be different, in that we’re less prone to shame when talking to kids about sex. We’re more prone to awkwardness. It’s a language we don’t quite know how to speak yet, a dialect we’re still getting the feel for.
But that’s where I see the hope: because if you’re awkward, at least that means you’re talking about it.
What I’m currently, voraciously, consuming:
If you liked those stats from The Netherlands, here’s the piece I sourced them from: Bonnie Rough’s 2018 piece in The Atlantic, “How The Dutch Do Sex Ed.”
Amanda Montei’s very cool feminist Substack Mad Woman, which I just subscribed to! As I get more comfortable with this platform, I’m learning a lot from writers who not only share intellectual real estate with Submit Here, but also show me what it’s like to be successful here.
This Victorian wellness influencer, thank you to my amazing sister-in-law for sending me this.
StyleLikeU: I adore this sweet Instagram (and YouTube) account, where folks take their clothes off as they’re being interviewed about their lives. It’s run by a mother-daughter team, and I have wiled away a whole afternoon, moved to tears by people’s stories.