Birds do it, Bees do it...
July 24, 2008 1:24 AM   Subscribe

Is (or was, since it sounds quaint now) the phrase "the birds and the bees" mostly an American thing or is it also used in other english-speaking countries as a euphemism in reference to sex education. What other euphemisms or idioms are used around the world within the context of sex education (not formal sex education in a classroom setting, more along the lines of "The Talk" parents have with their kids). I'm interested in phrases used in other languages too.
posted by amyms to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Oops, a couple of those sentences should have question marks.
posted by amyms at 1:26 AM on July 24, 2008

This is a very common euphemism in the UK too. Don't know the origins though. Maybe ask languagehat?
posted by ClanvidHorse at 1:33 AM on July 24, 2008

The Facts of Life (UK).

Seconding that "the birds and the bees" is also a common expression here.
posted by tomcooke at 1:42 AM on July 24, 2008

In Sweden they say "blommor och bin", the flowers and the bees, which actually makes a bit more sense than the interspecial furrysex described in the english phrase.
posted by Iteki at 1:58 AM on July 24, 2008

The birds and the bees is also common in Norwegian: "Blomstene og biene". Don't know if it's adopted from English or not.
posted by Harald74 at 1:59 AM on July 24, 2008

What Iteki said - "blomstene og biene" means "the flowers and the bees" in Norwegian!
posted by Harald74 at 2:00 AM on July 24, 2008

There's a wikipedia article about it with some potential explanations.
posted by trig at 2:11 AM on July 24, 2008

Erm, explanations as to the origins. Not so relevant to the OP's actual questions.
posted by trig at 2:13 AM on July 24, 2008

For the Scandinavian trifecta let me just add that "blomsterne og bierne" (the flowers and the bees) is a common phrase in Danish as well.
posted by sveskemus at 2:21 AM on July 24, 2008

Following the Scandinavian theme (just a tad more southerly), 'The flowers and the bees' aka 'Die Blümchen und die Bienchen' are also a common euphemism in Austria (and the other German speaking countries as far as I know).
posted by Presentnapper at 2:28 AM on July 24, 2008

According to the Straight Dope, nobody knows.
posted by b33j at 2:30 AM on July 24, 2008

No "the birds and the bees" in Portuguese. In fact, I'm scratching my head to come up with a euphemism used in the same way, and I can't. I don't think we have one. I also can't remember how it was I learned about sex, but it sure wasn't in Sex Ed. class because we don't have those (it goes into Biology, in the 6th grade, but I'm pretty sure we all knew the facts of life by then).

As for the English idiom, when I was leaning English and came across "the birds and the bees" talk on TV or some movie I had a very hard time understanding what the hell it meant. And I still find it weird how kids get it... It always looked to me like a "diversion strategy", like "let's confuse them a bit and they'll lay off" or something. Ha.
posted by neblina_matinal at 3:01 AM on July 24, 2008

The Netherlands have "De bloemetjes en de beitjes", which means "the flowers and the bees" (like in Scandinavia and the German speaking countries).
posted by bjrn at 5:21 AM on July 24, 2008

In German, a less euphemistic and quite common expression for sex ed is "Aufklärung", which, confusingly, also is the term for "Enlightenment" (in the historic sense).

[Funny thing, as a kid, I already knew that this expression was for a vaguely taboo subject, but not what exactly it was all about. Also, I knew nothing about history. Naturally, I was shocked when my mother one day started reading a book called "Die Aufklärung" broad daylight and in front of her kids! Didn't get less confusing when I took some sneak-reads in the book. I'm afraid it took me years to find out that 17th Century Philosophy is in no way connected to "the birds and the bees"...Growing up without Google was tough.]
posted by The Toad at 6:09 AM on July 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

I would imagine that it's "birds and the bees" to maintain the same double-"b" alliteration from "flowers and the bees", despite the interspecies improbabilities in English. It's a mnemonic. Doesn't help figure out who adopted it from whom, though, but it would certainly seem to make more sense in the European languages.
posted by steef at 6:21 AM on July 24, 2008

quinion takes a stab at the origin.
posted by msconduct at 7:35 AM on July 24, 2008

For the Scandinavian trifecta let me just add that "blomsterne og bierne" (the flowers and the bees) is a common phrase in Danish as well.

And I'll add the Finnish "kukkia ja mehiläisiä", which is identical in meaning.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:04 AM on July 24, 2008

re: other idioms used -- "the facts of life" is fairly common, I think.
posted by Rumple at 9:35 AM on July 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

In Spanish there's no phrase that I can think of.
posted by signal at 9:50 AM on July 24, 2008

Trig, that wikipedia article mentions this:

According to that story the birds are like men and the bees like women: Birds are free to fly wherever they like, but bees are enslaved to a single queen their entire life and their whole life is dedicated to keeping her alive.

As an American, I´ve never heard this as an actual story, and always thought ¨The Birds and the Bees¨ more of a code word for explaining the mechanics involved. Was there an actual story along these lines that used to be told?
posted by yohko at 10:48 AM on July 24, 2008

American English speaker. I've always understood the phrase to refer to two separate stories, told by a well-meaning but overly euphemistic parent.

1. The birds have a little egg in their nest and they love it very much, and they sit with it until it hatches. Mommy is growing a baby inside her just like there is a baby chick growing inside the egg. (or something along those lines - to explain gestation)

2. The bees pollinate the flowers, just like mommies and daddies, um, you see (or something along those lines - to explain fertilization)

And I think part of the humor of the phrase comes from the fact that it's a pretty confusing explanation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:21 AM on July 24, 2008

In Liverpool as a child I spent endless hours searching the vegetable patch for signs of my baby brother to be, we all knew that that was were babies came from!

On the continent (and in childrens books), babies are apparently delivered by Storks, complete with nappies (diapers) as we didn't have any Storks to reference, finding babies under cabbage leaves seemed much more likely!
posted by plainjs at 11:37 AM on July 24, 2008

The bizarre "stork delivers a baby" thing is definitely well-known here in the states. It's in dumbo, even.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 1:41 PM on July 24, 2008

Thanks for the interesting answers, especially about "the flowers and the bees" variation, which I hadn't heard before.

Just to clarify, I wasn't looking for the origin of the phrase, I was looking for examples of other euphemisms used to mean the same thing in other parts of the world.
posted by amyms at 4:21 PM on July 24, 2008

Bees & flowers are used metaphorically for sexuality in Chinese symbolism, but I can't state with certainty that it has the same euphemistic meaning as the birds & the bees in English.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:21 PM on July 24, 2008

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