The Birds and the Bees

Do you recall how you were told about the ‘birds and bees’? I have a vague memory of a book my mother gave me when I was about six. I must have been asking questions because she was pregnant with my youngest brother at the time. It had paper cut out pictures of a rooster and a hen, 2 rabbits and a very happy mummy and daddy standing naked holding hands, then cuddling under the covers in bed. There was an egg and a white wriggly thing that looked like a miniature snake. All I did was laugh and point at the nudey pictures.

That was the sum total of my sexual education until I hit early high school, where I was horrified to learn in sex education class (presented by a red-faced male science teacher called Mr Mortimer – poor bloke) that a man actually puts his PENIS INSIDE A WOMAN! At thirteen this idea was frightening, fascinating and revolting.

Having been brought up Catholic, I had the impression that all things to do with the body were shameful, regardless of whether love was involved or not. Religious dogma had me weirdly separating sexuality from romantic relationships. Sex was a taboo subject. I wouldn’t have dared ask an adult about it. I didn’t even have the words for the questions. Up to that point everything I learned about puberty and sexuality I’d learned from peers with older sisters. And there was no trusted adult in my world to set me straight.

So, last night when my nine year old daughter brought up the subject of sex over dinner, I decided not to shy away from it. She’d asked a few times about sex (mostly as a result of conversations she’s been having with friends) but never at a time when it was easy for me to respond. This time it was just the two of us home, we were relaxed and enjoying each other’s company, which made the ensuing conversation a lot easier. I did, however, shy away from the detail about the mechanics of sex. Mostly because she seemed so horrified by the idea of...well...I’ll let the conversation itself do the explaining:

Miss 9: My friend told me sex is when a man and a woman get naked and rub their vagina and doodle together (giggles)
Me: Did she? Who told her that?
Miss 9: Her big sister.
Me: *smirking* That figures.
Miss 9: I told her sex is how babies are made. I mean, really, being naked and rubbing your vagina and doodle together? Ewwww.
Me: Did you just say ewww?
Miss 9: Yeah!
Me: Actually, she's right you know.
Miss 9: What? Really? People get naked and rub their doodle and vagina together?
Me: *nods*
Miss 9: Do they kiss?
Me: There's usually some kissing involved, yes.
Miss 9: Do they hug?
Me: Yep.
Miss 9: Is that how you make babies?
Me: *giggling* Yes.
Miss 9: *eyes wide & horrifed* I am NEVER having sex. I'm keeping THAT (covers vagina) to myself.
Me: * laughing so hard I spit dinner *
Miss 9: I'm having babies the way I was made
(NB: She's an IVF baby)
Me: *shut eyes with laughter*Picture by Mike Jacobsen
Miss 9: YOU didn't want to have sex to have me did you?
Me: What? With Daddy?
*We both snort soup through our noses and choke with laughter.*

I could see from her point of view how the thought of her father and I doing THAT to make a baby was just too ridiculous to entertain.

At that point I had to get her organised to go to drama class, but I didn’t attempt to clarify the ‘rubbing their vagina and doodle together’ idea because a) I didn’t want to terrify her, and b) I didn’t know how to tell her, and c) I basically chickened out.

I figure it’s no big deal. This will probably be the first of many conversations to come. I’m glad she has the confidence and ease to discuss it so openly with me. I just hope at the appropriate time I can do the same, get over my own awkwardness and tell her straight what’s involved.

Tips anyone?

How did you find out about sex? Have you ever discussed it with a child? How did it go?


I read a helpful book to my boys, after realising I had to correct some schoolyard misconceptions. I say helpful, but my face was like beetroot, my skin burning and I am sure I was sweating. At the end there was silence. Not for long.
Monkey: Well. That was disgusting. I'm NEVER doing that.
Bear: *looks traumatised and creeps away*

KateBelle.X's picture

Oh Monique that's so funny. It's so awkward isn't it? Especially when they start asking personal questions about their parent's sex life (which we have subsequently had)! 

Ha, I've had bits and pieces of the talk with my son (now 11) as he's asked. Which is usually while we're driving somewhere. Yeah totally mortifying...

I was schooled in the catholic school system from Grade 2-12 so I get the whole shame thing. I was given a book by my mother when I was maybe 11 or 12, told to read it and did I have any questions? Needless to say, I was so embarrassed by the whole thing that I didn't ask any.

Then came grade 8 Science class doing reproduction. All-girl school. Male teacher. I was a little girly swot (still am lol) so studied diligently, if furtively for the test. I mean, come on, there were cross-sections of *gasp* penises to study! Mortifying! I came first in the class for the test and my teacher completed the embarrassment by making a point of the fact...

So fast-forward to eighteen, still terribly naive, left the all-girl school, no brothers etc - and started work in essentially an all-male blue-collar industry. That was an eye-opener for sure :)

KateBelle.X's picture

Wow, Kerrie, I bet most of your learning was on the job (so to speak - not casting aspersions!). I remember the cross sections in Sex-Ed too - it was then I realised the penise goes IN not on TOP. I went to a co-ed school, but the science classes were gender specific (weirdly). Reckon the teachers drew straws to see who would get the honour of teaching Sex-ed to the girls! It's just so tricky to get over the whole awkwardness of the conversation. I wonder how other cultures do it?

That is a beautiful conversation and I love how your daughter wants to have her kids!

I too was the Catholic educated/kept in the dark girl. But I wanted to be a vet. So when we had sex ed in year 6 and watched some video at school, then came home, Mum and Dad asked if we had questions. Gosh, I had thousands, but after the first one, I got sent to bed and sex was never spoken of again. I asked if Dad's penis came out all pink like the dog's. Seemed like a decent question to me. And it took me years to know the answer. LOL.

Good luck, Kate. I'm sure saying anything and keeping the discussion open has to be a winner.

Cate xo

KateBelle.X's picture

Hi Cate, that's very funny! I can just imagine your poor parents blushing and stammering over that one! That's the thing, kids are SO literal, you really have to be prepared for the whole box and dice, nuts and bolts.

Yes, you're right. Keeping the conversation open is the best approach. Reckon hubby will struggle if she wants to talk to him about it though! x

Still remember the look on my father's face when standing outside a paddock, watching a stallion service a mare, I casually asked what the human methodology was... he choked, ran and wasn't seen again for many hours :)

Which made it all the more intriguing. Growing up on a farm helped a lot because the general mechanism and the outcomes were always there right in front of you - it was just that physicality of humans that had us confused (especially as my only sibling was a younger sister and we had no male reference points other than anatomy diagrams in Encyclopedia's).

The human side of things came down to a useless little pamphlet from the Methodist church, a bit of waffle about cleanliness and a lot of dire warnings about unwanted pregnancy and STD's. To be honest, I learnt more from a fiction book which did a much better job of explaining the mechanics and the desire....

KateBelle.X's picture

You're right about a farm being a great learning ground Karen. I remember searching fiction books for any salacious tidbit. Even a kissing scene was good for advice. My grandmother gave me a book to read and told me she always thought is was funny because the boy(love interest) called the girls breasts 'petit citrons' or little lemons. I read that scene over and over thinking how bold it was of him to touch them!

I vaguely recall a really awkward discussion with my mum when I was about 7 or 8. Then in high school we had a discussion in science class - girls and boys separated into different groups, of course. I remember a banana and a condom, but I don't think we were ever told what to do with the banana once it had its condom on! For my daughters I found a great book - Let's Talk About Where Babies Come From. We worked through little sections of it over 2-3 years as particular questions came up. Very useful!

KateBelle.X's picture

Thanks for the tip Jennifer - I might look into getting that book, or something like it. Just so there is something other than awkward giggling to go with these conversations. x

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