Babies from Belly Buttons, And Other Weird-Ass Child Misconceptions About Sex

When I was a kid, my parents made sure to tell me that babies were made from sperm and eggs, but it took me 15 years to figure out that balls don't live inside dudes like sleeping chipmunks.

Aug 30, 2012 at 1:00pm | Leave a comment

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God knows how this thing got here, am I right?

I was three or so the first time I heard the word "vagina."

My best friend Chloe and I had been running around her house in our underwear, as was our standard practice. As we clambered down the stairs, her mother opened the door to her study and, rolling her eyes, told us to put our shirts on.

'Why?' I asked, mostly being a pill but also genuinely curious -- up until that point, any time the temperature got over 60 degrees had been an invitation to get as naked as possible.

"Girls have two private parts," she explained, looking kind of harassed. "Top parts and bottom parts."

"We're already covering two!" Chloe crowed triumphantly, clearly already having been better educated than I about the female body. "Butt," she continued, pointing at her rear, "And bagina."

"Bagina?" I asked, confused.

"Bagina."

I proceeded to call it "bagina" for years.

As a kid, I acquired all sorts of weird ideas about sex and the human body, mostly because I grew up surrounded by adults and my parents weren't great at supervising my reading material. Though my folks made a half-assed attempt at teaching me about the whole sperm-and-egg business, they left the rest of it up to witchcraft and the dim hope that someone would pull me aside someday and explain chlamydia. Also, they clearly thought that I was way smarter than I actually was: They figured that if they said "'Moms and dads make babies," I would just put the rest together on my own.

Uh, no. Though I prided myself on knowing the literal microscopic details of how babies happened, I only had a vague idea that dudes just kind of threw their spunk up in you and ran, like you were having an unfortunately salty water balloon fight. In my imagination, there was no intimacy involved; it was basically a business transaction.

This explains why it took me an embarrassingly long time as a baby Catholic to figure out why everyone in Nazareth freaked the fuck out when the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus.

When I got a little older, I finally pinned down the whole penis and vagina and loving monogamy business. I'd circumvented AOL's Parental Controls around age 8 or so, so I was free to stomp around in the weirder corners of the Interwebs, acquiring all sorts of patchwork knowledge about just how pervy people can be.

The tricky part, for me, was the actual execution of these acts. Thanks to my library card and "Summer Sisters," I knew all about cunnilingus, but thought it consisted mostly of blowing raspberries on people's crotches. And because I was subscribed to several little-known but wildly informative "AOL Zines" (exactly what they sound like, and exactly as ridiculous), I knew what snowblowing entailed in theory but no idea how it happened in practice. As far as my own body went, I was so surprised when I saw my first pubic hairs that I asked my mom what they were, secretly fearing that a spider had laid eggs in my crotch.

And, of course, I had no idea about contraception. I thought of sex-to-pregnancy as a 1-to-1 ratio, and just figured that my parents had done it twice and then declared themselves done with the whole business. My grandma subscribed to "Woman's World," which frequently suggested things like "having sex while asleep to surprise your mate!" I therefore suspected that this was why people were always so shocked when they got pregnant in movies and on TV.

Up until we hit our teens, my peers and I just recycled the same weirdo ideas until they became one heaving, gelatinous mass of bizarre, like the world's least erotic game of Telephone. One of my friends, who grew up on a horse breeding farm, famously asked her mother when she was little if her mom would collect sperm from her husband on her wedding night the same way she got it from stallions. The first masturbation joke I ever heard was centered on Area 51, and the punchline was about girls "probing themselves."

Even when I started reading "'M-rated" fan fictions in my pre-teens, I was shocked -- shocked! -- to find out at 17 in Biology 101 that dudes didn't get erect at a 90-degree angle.

"How did you think sex worked?" I remember my friend asking when he saw my dismayed face, to which I could only helplessly respond, "Like Tetris"'

Much of the problem, I think, comes from adults' own squeamishness. Most parents I know have no desire to get into the nitty-gritty of sex with their kids, so they just hope that their spawn will fill in the blanks. But when left up to their own devices, kids are really fucking weird. There's a thread going around on Reddit right now that basically confirms that although parents may think they're doing a great job of explaining that sex equals babies, any euphemism or sexual stone left unturned will be quickly replaced by children's horrifying imaginations. An upsetting number of commenters, for instance, thought that women gave birth out of their belly buttons, probably because no one ever sat them down and explained how vaginas work.

Even Sex-Ed, when it happens, is often patchy and unclear: though my own fourth grade teacher was great about explaining how HIV worked on a cellular level, it took 5 more years for someone to actually say that you could get it from having sex. And when we all dutifully took home sample tampons in the seventh grade, some of us just shoved the entire apparatus up our business when the time came and went on our bow-legged way. This was in California, where science-based sex education is required by law. If I managed to think that dudes' balls lived inside them like sleeping hamsters for 15 years, God only knows what you guys in Mississippi were coming up with.

This is all entertaining and all, but it's also why I find suggestions of expanding abstinence-only sexual education to be deeply suspect. Even though most kids these days are basically born with Instagram accounts, that's by no means a guarantee that they'll have access to accurate, helpful information when they need it.

In my experience, kids need nothing less than a Power Point presentation burned into their brains before they put 2 and 2 together. Telling them that they can prevent pregnancy by going out as a group and "getting plenty of rest" is just asking for a nationwide gonorrhea pandemic.

Did anybody else have really bizarre ideas about bodies as a kid? Or was I just too busy thinking about Animorphs to pay attention to the world other humans were living in?

Kate is coming up with euphemisms for female anatomy at @katchatters.