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What are the Birds and the Bees?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The "birds and the bees" is a euphemism often used by parents in the 1930s onwards to discuss human reproduction. Since parents often feared that giving out too much information would confuse matters, or were embarrassed to discuss sexual intercourse, many resorted to emphasis focusing on the biology of animals, which naturally caused a great deal of confusion. Birds and bees don’t reproduce in the same fashion as humans, causing confusion among many children regarding the basics of human reproduction.

The phrase “the birds and the bees,” may have been inspired by Cole Porter’s 1928 song “Let’s Fall in Love.” Key and rather suggestive lyrics state: “birds do it” and “bees do it.” According to Michael Quinion of the Internet site World Wide Words, the phrase was first used in print in 1939 in the Freeport Journal Standard, and referred to the sophistication of the French.

Specifically, discussing the birds and the bees, or sometimes the flowers, focused on reproduction with all the messy human details left out, such as mention of human genitalia. Since such matters were not discussed freely, sometimes even among husbands and wives, discussing genitalia and its reproductive function with children could have been especially difficult. Instead, reproduction was taught using animal, and specifically non-mammal examples, and children had to infer or create the connection on their own.

Given the relative innocence of many adolescents, this method for teaching about sexual reproduction produced a number of urban legends about how one could get pregnant or avoid pregnancy. Great-grandparents or grandparents of today may laugh over how they thought kissing was a sure way to get pregnant. The birds and the bees teaching method was not always a matter for laughter. Common misconceptions included the myth that you could get pregnant from kissing but if you did have sex, you could not get pregnant the first time, or if you jumped up and down vigorously after intercourse.

Failure for children to understand reproduction, or complete misunderstanding of how pregnancy occurs led to unplanned pregnancies which were associated with a great deal of social stigma, up until about the last 10 to 20 years of the 20th century. Armed with only limited knowledge about sex meant many teens were unprepared to deal with their changing bodies, hormonal flux, and basic human desires to procreate. By offering flowery explanations rather than facts, sexuality was cloaked in mystery, which was tempting to some teens, and daunting to others.

The sexual revolution of the late 1960s made human sexuality a much more open topic, and discussion of sex was more clinical, less euphemistic and more approachable by the media, as well as in private homes. Parents still have to decide when to acquaint children with details about sexual reproduction, and this remains a matter of some debate. Public education, particularly in schools, tends to focus on the scientific mechanics of human sexuality and reproduction.

Parents can choose not to allow their child to participate in these programs. Unfortunately, since not all children receive equal education, or explanations from parents at the same age, some myths about intercourse and pregnancy still persist.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon143811 — On Jan 17, 2011

i have never heard the actual story of the birds and the bees. my mom just told me to never have sex even when i didn't even know that the hell it meant. So then i learned the hard way in health class but my questions were not answered. thanks to research i know everything i could know.

By succulents — On Feb 07, 2010

The great adult conspiracy kind of backfired lol! And to think the whole thing came from a song. My mother didn't have the "birds and bees" talk with me, I was told that was stupid and made no sense, which is true. She did however answer every question I had. She didn't get detailed of course and used the clinical terms..even when I asked what a slang word meant she explained what it was in clinical terms. That way I learned how to interpret what kids around me were talking about and understood the scientific truth too.

Mom was great!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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