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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.