No one knows for sure where the phrase “the birds and the bees” came from, or when exactly it became the foremost euphemism for the sex talk. (There are theories.) Consensus, though, dates the phrase to February 21, 1825, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge composed his famous poem Work Without Hope. An excerpt:
All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair—
The bees are stirring—birds are on the wing—
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
And I the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
Poor Coleridge. But it’s winter now, and people—like bears, the fat-tailed dwarf lemur, and some slug species—are beginning to hibernate in advance of the oncoming chill. Our birds and bees, however, continue to flit and flirt despite the weather.
Of course, the sex talk, The Talk, knows no seasons. As a time of traditionally awkward conversations, though, Thanksgiving seems like as good a time as any for parents to break the news to their children. Which is now measurably more complicated by the ubiquity of the Internet. Before dial-up, learning about sex was a real IRL experience.
How will the next generation get The Talk? We asked some of the Internet’s hottest dads about how they got schooled on the birds and the bees—and, more importantly, how they plan to spread the word to their kids.
Oh God, I have toddlers. This is so far away for me that I don’t even have room in my head to think about it yet. I’m just trying to make it through potty training and will deal with that mudpie later, thank you.
But as to my memory of The Talk, as I recall I’d known how the logistics worked for some time before my dad actually sat down and had The Talk with me. A friend of mine had a fairly graphic illustrated book, aimed at teens (I’d guess) that he’d stolen from an older sibling. We had pretty much devoured that thing long before my dad ever addressed the issue with me. As I recall, by the time my dad and I talked—I was probably 10 or so?—I pretty much knew the ropes but played dumb and didn’t ask a lot of questions because of COURSE it was awkward and I just wanted it to end quickly.
I assume all sex ed takes place in a Chrome incognito window now, horrifyingly. At least the text that made the rounds at my elementary school was accurate and factual. In my imagination, it’s all tied up in Slenderman myths and instructional YouTube twerking videos now. So, basically I’m planning on moving my entire family to a cabin deep in the woods before my oldest learns how to type anything into a browser window where we’ll all drink directly from streams and learn to live without electricity or tabs.
Elon Green, @elongreen
I never got the sex talk. So I don’t plan to give one, either. (My wife, I hasten to add, may disagree with this hands-off strategy.)
Eric Malinowski, @ericmal
Alas, I don’t have any funny stories from when my parents had The Talk™. I don’t actually remember ever having such a discussion, per se, but I have a 14-month-old son now, so I guess I figured it out all right.
As far as preparing for The Talk: My wife and I have yet to formally discuss our approach, but I imagine we’ll be pretty direct in answering whatever questions he may have. I don’t think it’s a subject that lends itself to (or ultimately benefits from) any kind of real subtlety. Having said that, this discussion hopefully won’t happen for MANY YEARS.
Richie Nakano, @linecook
So my parents never had the talk with me. I don’t know why exactly, but I more or less figured it out… And when my high school girlfriend’s parents found out we were having sex it was me who had to go to my mom to tell her, lest she hear about it through the town gossip. For me, I have two boys, so it’s going to be an important conversation. There are so many aspects that I think get overlooked with the talk; respect, love, consent, protection. It’s important to me that my sons are respectful of whomever they sleep with, so at the end of the conversation they’ll probably be in therapy, but at least they’ll be well informed…
Ryan Gantz, @sixfoot6
Right, thinking. I can say that in 5th grade my dad found me with a porn mag and it was super awkward as he offered to explain to me what terms like “screwed” mean. One thing I can say for sure is that I am confident I can handle giving my kid the talk because of my confidence researching things on the Internet. I will probably spend hours over many weeks researching other dad’s experiences, and then find strategic ways to lead my kid to knowledge or sending him links, rather than sitting him down for a fucking lecture.
So my dad basically stumbled on a magazine and then spontaneously had to attempt a Stern But Understanding father-son chat. But he is a scientist with inconsistent empathy skills, so it came out all factual and stilted, and it was a topic I’d never discussed with any adult, and I didn’t know what I’d even want to know or how to put it into perspective.
The structured syllabus of a Health class is much better for explaining context of biology, sex, what even is important. So I think with my kid, I’ll try to point him at resources, and then try to take time to talk to him about responsible behavior, being safe, communication and consent. Hopefully in a way where I can talk honestly and humorously about my own discomfort and uncertainty with women and sex when I was young. But maybe it’ll just be even more embarrassing for him.
Anil Dash, @anildash (reached, of course, via Twitter DM)
I grew up in an Indian household. Literally no one is getting more women pregnant in the world than Indian men. You think there’s a Talk?
We had watered-down public school sex ed and I brought the class materials home and my dad was like, “Uh, did you read all of that? Okay.”
I will teach my son pretty naturally. He’ll have questions and I’m comfortable explaining it. I’ll make it so ordinary as to be boring.
I found it odd that this many dads had the same thing to say—that is, nothing to say. Whence the traumatic experiences?
For my own part, I attended a Catholic school deep in East Texas, and so my experience with sex ed was nasty, brutish, and short. There were pictures of diseased dicks and boil-ridden vaginas; graphic videos of childbirth; and then, to top it all off, images of aborted fetuses projected on a classroom wall. Of course, we’d all “educated” ourselves online years before, with Yahoo Answers and the Mayo Clinic’s website and—probably, horrifyingly—WebMD. The talk I got from my parents was euphemized, sanitized, and maximally awkward. That said, I think they had a suspicion that I’d used online resources in order to fill in the rest.
All this said: Perhaps I’m not being charitable. I was a know-it-all youngster—I can’t imagine that made having this particular chat any easier. My dad’s a doctor, and was a family physician for more than a decade; I was a teen for much longer than that. (That’s how it felt, at least.) Was I his toughest patient? I’m afraid to ask. Talking about The Talk is probably worse than the thing itself.