The birds and the bees


First published in France in 1973, Good Sex Illustrated gleefully deciphers the subtext of a popular sex education manual for children produced during that period. In so doing, Duvert mounts a scabrous and scathing critique of how deftly the “sex-positive” ethos was harnessed to promote the ideal of the nuclear family.

I’ve been reading this book and it’s been it’s been interesting to see what was considered “sex-positive” in 1973 versus what we consider the term to mean now (whatever that term means now). But the book is an angry exploration of how even when trying to be forward thinking, open and honest with children about sex, they still end up teaching that masturbating too much is bad, female orgasms aren’t worth mentioning, homosexuals aren’t normal, you aren’t really a woman until you have had a baby and no one needs to know what a vulva looks like.

It’s also interesting how the same discussions happening now about gender stereotypes, patriarchal privilege and heteronormativity were happening 36 years ago.

Two of my best friends have recently had kids and I’ve been thinking a lot about pregnancy (like a lot) and I remembered how I first learned about the birds and the bees. I technically never had the “talk” with my mom. She handed me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves and said “Let me know if you have any questions.” I also recall a hippie book on natural childbirth that included a recipe for Placenta Stew. Between that and sneaking peeks at my mom’s Joy of Sex, my dad’s copies of Juggs, and lying next to Zac during nap-time (Zac liked to spontaneously stand up and take off all his clothes. Zac was awesome.) I pretty much figured it out on my own. I also recall a book called Them (or maybe it was Us?) by Anonymous that was always by my mother’s bedside table, in which I learned dicks can be put in ladies’ butts.

But before all the visual aids and stories about affairs with tanned pool boys, my first understanding of sex started with a man and a woman getting married and in my head it went a little something like this:

A man and a woman lie side by side on a bed. The woman is wearing a wedding dress and the man is wearing a tuxedo with a top hat. Then the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina. Somehow.

I hadn’t yet figured out the logistics of how this would work. The whole, lying on top of each other concept didn’t occur to me, so I didn’t have a clear idea of how he got his penis all the way over there. Did it grow really, really long and kind of bend over to it? How did it get through all the clothes? Did it go up underneath the dress? I think my concept was that a penis was a lot like a plumber’s snake.

If only…

I found this old book my folks must have given me when I was little. Or maybe it was the lamer book my older sister got stuck with. This was from 1953. They spend more time talking about how the small-mouthed black bass gets knocked-up than how people do. There’s lots of information about what happens once the baby’s in there, but before? The actual mechanics of intercourse (Chapter 3: The sperm and how it finds the egg) takes up about a page and describes how horses and dogs and lions get it on. What, you want to talk about humans? Well, it’s kind of like how horses do it, only “more lovingly” and you can lie face to face.

I haven’t seen the 2009 equivalent of these books. I’m guessing there are additional chapters on deep throating, female ejaculation and how to supplement your allowance with a webcam.

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