Books on Birds, Bees . . .

bird and bee

As I have mentioned before, I thought about a lot of weird stuff as a kid. In fact, I spent a good part of my childhood in strange thought experiments, pondering this and that, trying to work things out. Why were there so few colors and could I think up a new one if I really tried? How would Math work if humans had six fingers on each hand? How do they get the music on to those vinyl records? But when it came to where babies came from – I was only ever-so-slightly intrigued. Not enough to really spend time pondering it all. Men and women got married and spent a lot of time in each other’s company. Babies happened. No storks were necessary ( – that story was so lame). There were no questions.

That made it all the more shocking to me when all my non-existent questions were answered late one winter night in a cabin full of girl scouts at Camp Minikani. (See, Bitter Ben – once again it is those darn scouts! They are to blame!) Our hippie counselor had snuck out to join the other adults and the bunk-bed discussions began. An older girl started explaining the . . . production process . . . to a younger one and I listened in. Basically I had no choice.

Like many young kids (I assume) my first reaction was “Eewww!” Then came the realization – like a tidal wave rolling over me – “My parents did THAT!?!” Then the third wave crashed: “And they did it FIVE times!” While I was dealing with the undertow, the younger girl was made to repeat it all (to make sure she really understood, they said. Right. There was no sadistic pleasure happening here – this was all purely educational.) Then one of the good Samaritans said it was my turn to repeat the information. I pretended to be asleep.

It was only after this camp experience that I noticed the books. They were casually placed around our house for any of us kids to find. Masters and Johnson, David Reuben’s “Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex* (*but was afraid to ask)” . . . there might have been more. The first time I took one off a shelf to look at, I saw that it had been read a lot before. If I stood it on its back and let it go, it would always fall open to pages with interesting illustrations. My mom saw me looking at one of them once and said “If you have any questions, you can ask me.” I thanked her politely and she left the room. That was sex education in the early 70s.

Fast forward nearly 40 years and I was now the mom. But, once again, I was confronted with the topic a bit too early. My daughter was only in the 3rd grade when a letter came from her school. They wanted to offer a program with a team of social workers who would come to the school and talk to the kids about various topics. The title was something like “My Body Belongs to Me – Sexual Abuse Prevention” – who doesn’t want that for their kids? The first stage was a mandatory parent’s evening during which they ran through the entire program with us first. It was exceptionally well done. And yet . . .

At the end, the parents were encouraged to ask questions, make objections, . . . whatever. The silence was deafening. Slowly, a hand started going up and it surprised me to realize it was my own. I thought “Oh, shit!” when they noticed and called on me. Slightly panicked, I fell back on my training in negotiation: Begin with a compliment.

“I think it is very important what you are doing here. But . . . I am fairly sure my daughter doesn’t know about sex yet. And I’m worried about her learning about sexual abuse before she even knows what sex is.”

There was a murmur in the crowd. Then came the response.

“I understand your concerns. You should have the talk with her before we begin.”

The murmurs got louder. I responded.

“I don’t have a problem talking to her about this subject. But I have always gone with the principle of waiting till the question is asked and then answering it honestly. She hasn’t shown any curiosity about this yet. And if she had, she would ask me, I know that.”

It was a strong argument I thought. I had used this same approach to deal with all the questions my kids had about their adoptions and birth parents. So far it had gone really well. The social worker, however, was not convinced.

“Because of internet and cell phones today, it can happen so fast that your child is shown a porn video or confronted with something trashy from YouTube. It’s better they hear it from you than be introduced to sex in that way. You should have the talk with her before we begin.”

(Fast Forward: Years later, this exact thing happened to a very young student of mine. The drawings he started making in art class set the alarm bells off. A parent/teacher conference ensued quickly and I observed the mother’s face going white as she looked at her son’s artistic renderings. I felt so bad for her . . . )

After that, one of the parents complained that one of the points in the program (sexual abuse committed by a mother) was completely unacceptable. A mother would never do such a thing! I watched the social workers carefully as they dealt with this subject. They were fantastically diplomatic as they stuck to their guns. I also felt they were right. (I had read “Sybil” in Junior High School. It got passed around from student to student and it was another one of those books that simply fell open to the most insidious chapter. The kitchen scene. It haunted me for years.) It was during this discussion that I decided – if they were right about this point, they were probably right in their advice to me.

I related the whole evening to my husband later and we ordered the books suggested in the parents’ evening. They arrived quickly and we placed them casually around the house for our daughters to discover. Days and days went by and, still, they didn’t take the bait. The day of the school program approached as the books lay untouched and gathering dust. We clearly needed a Plan B.

Two days before the program, my husband got the girls up and ready for school as usual. The bus was late. Suddenly my husband noticed that it was only 5:30 am, not 6:30. They had an hour to kill. “How about if we read a book?” he suggested.

He called me from work later in the morning to tell me about it. According to him, the girls were not particularly impressed. There were no questions.

I sat there, sipping my morning coffee, feeling just a little relieved. The Talk had happened. I thought about my girls on the school bus that morning and how they might have felt. I thought about my husband’s completely uncharacteristic clock reading “mistake”. I was ever-so-slightly intrigued. But not enough to really spend time pondering it all.

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17 thoughts on “Books on Birds, Bees . . .

  1. Sounds like in the world of reproductive intrigue, not much has changed. Sure, the stork story is lame… my grandparents said women got that way from eating a watermelon seed; after that, I was always careful to spit them out. It never occurred to me to ask why men didn’t. Then, around age 10, I got my hands on a copy of Judy Blume’s “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret.” It was in those pages that I discovered a period was not just what came at the end of a sentence, and consulted our Encyclopedia Britannica, which fell open to the correct page, just as you described. When mom asked, of course, I had no questions. Eeeww, but at least I didn’t end up surprised and freaked out like Stephen King’s “Carrie.” 🙂

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    1. “Carrie” – that was another of those seminal experiences of my youth. Haunted me too. Judy Blume was also on my mandatory reading list. But the watermelon seed? – In our version, it made watermelons grow in your stomach and had nothing to do with pregnancy.

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  2. We had The Body Book in the UK, and most of the kids in my class turned out to have had it as well (which we found out during discussions when we were much older). It includes sex but it’s more about the different bodily functions such as digestion. Oh and for years we credited this with the fact that we were all really shocked that a) adults had more pubes than just a few hairs (as in the cartoon pictures!) and b) childbirth had blood and gunk involved (as it’s completely bloodless in the pictures!). We had mandatory sex ed in the first year of senior school which was 13-14. Before then we did have it in primary school but only in the vague animal kingdom plus a bit of human sense (not much really though).

    When we were older we had a really good book with cartoons and pictures (for boys and girls) – it answered all the questions about wet dreams, periods etc and we all used to like reading it in our family. I’m trying to find out the name but can’t remember it… We found it was a normal part of being in our family that we had the books and could ask questions. We weren’t of the age where we got education on sexual abuse in primary school though. Scary.

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    1. I’m going backwards here through the comments. With the experiences I have had, I think 13 or 14 years old is a bit late. I guess those social workers converted me. 9 years old seems really young – but then my student who was confronted with porn from a neighbor boy was also 9 – and he had a whole lot to deal with. (He’s doing well again now, thank goodness – actually a very sweet kid.)
      What I liked about the program was actually the concept of “My Body Belongs to Me.” Especially for my younger daughter who has amazing hair – so much of it and so long – down to her waist. People were always asking if they could touch it – AS THEY WERE TOUCHING IT! She really hated that. She found ways to tell people in this program that they were not allowed to grab her hair all the time.

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      1. Ah. It depends what it is. The body book is about all our bodies including sex so it’s okay for young kids. The other one I recommended is for older kids maybe 11-12 upwards.

        I think it’s really dependent on the kid and their environment. I was in a protected environment so I didn’t have to think about sex till senior school (13).

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      2. That’s just it – what is a “protected environment” these days? When every 10 year old has access to the internet and parents don’t want to be the Gestapo with their own kids?

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      3. I don’t profess to know. People I know with kids control their access to the Internet until at least their teens. I’m sure things are changing so I don’t know how you can police it other than giving kids enough self confidence to know what’s right and wrong. And even then, your exposure to predators is just (bad) luck.

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      4. Yes – it’s a whole new world. You hit on wone of my buzzwords – “self-confidence”. It is one of the greatest gifts you can help your child to achieve. And it doesn’t come from monitoring them 24/7 – it comes from trust. A big parenting dilemma.

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  3. Ooh I’ve found it! What’s happening to me? An Illustrated Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle. It’s recommended for 9 and up. I think we were a bit older when we got it – maybe 12ish – and we all really liked it.

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  4. I guess growing up rural makes things much easier. You see the animals – not birds and bees, but big mammals like horses or cows, at it and understand very soon what is going on. The only thing one has to do finally, is realise, that humans are just like animals in that sense, too. That was much, much easier to accept than the religion laden sin-talk, I finally got from my mother with the help of a Jehovas Witnesses book on the topic. Much later mom said she was glad for the help of the book, since she herself as a girl never got any explanation at all and thought for a long time, she had to die of a terrible illness, when she first got her periods.

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    1. Wow. A Jehova’s Witness sex ed book – I would love to get a peak at one of those. I myself got a little manual from the Reverend on the duties of a wife. “Submission” was emphasized. Luckily it made me laugh more than it made me sick.

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      1. It wasn’t just sex ed, but for juveniles total. Meaning also giving the good advice on disco, music, drink, first love and so on. I am sure female submission was mentioned somewhere, too 🙂 Can remember that book’s name, but I do recall it was orange.

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