The Catch

Are you sexually active? It was only one question, with boxes next to the possible answers—yes or no. There was confusion among the students as to what constituted activity, so some of them had to guess. Some kids wrote descriptions of what they’d done and hadn’t done, and some checked yes because they really, really wanted to be.

Polly was seventeen but people had asked her that question since she was twelve, no matter what her problem was. At the pediatrician’s, at the dermatologist’s, before her wisdom teeth were pulled, in the ER with a broken leg, in the college counseling office, which was really a joke, before the lady even asked which colleges were recruiting her: Honey, tell me, are you sexually active?

“Yes,” Polly said each time, waiting for someone to look up from their clipboard and say, Since when? How old were you? It wasn’t until she was in her twenties that Polly figured out that adults didn’t care about her personal history. What they were driving at was: Are you pregnant?

This time the point of the question was to separate the seniors in her public high school into two groups. There would be a sexually active class that year—the fuck-me class, Polly told her parents at dinner—and a sexually inactive class.

“The inert class,” she said, “like dead.” She grabbed her throat and rolled her eyes back in her head.

Her parents were English teachers at the private high school in their Southern California beach town, where sex ed was called Love Making and included such expressions of love as healthy relationships, service, social justice, and the religious or family life.

“Really, Polly,” her mother said. “The fuck-me class? You swear like a sailor.”

“I’m using the full extent of the English language,” Polly said, chasing four peas—especially a bright-green one—across her plate with a spoon.

“Sometimes,” her father said, “the full extent is too much.”

“Not for me,” she said.

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