Some kids learn about sex because a parent, older sibling, or other experienced person sits down and actually tells them how it works. This could be good or bad depending on how much that person really knows and if they are being a jerk or not.
Other kids, like me, slowly pieced little tidbits of information about sex together, until it all became clear. It's like Hansel and Gretel following a bunch of breadcrumbs, but instead of bread crumbs they were puzzle pieces and instead of a puzzle it was sex and also many of the pieces were wrong or didn't fit or even have anything to do with this particular puzzle, even though people might insist that they did.
Here are the landmark breadcrumb-puzzle-pieces in my understanding of the whole thing.
Phase One: Book Learning
My mom left a book conspicuously on the bookshelf called Where Do Babies Come From? I don't remember the exact wording of the subtitle, but it definitely had the word sex in it, so it grabbed our interest. (Did she realize she left a book about sex out in the open? Sex is bad, right? Or grown up? We aren't supposed to know about it, right? Will we get in trouble if we read it? Was it an accident? Are we allowed? Excitement! Intrigue!)
Just as (I am sure) she intended, we would secretly pull it down and sneak-read it under the dining room table to learn about sex and sex-related things. It all felt very adventurous and taboo and exciting.
Of course, it was a book geared towards children, so it was a pretty simple delivery of the biological side of things. There was a picture of a man and woman sitting next to each other on a couch, some text about them loving each other very much, and then it jumped to pictures of sperm and eggs.
In the end, mildly disappointing. The sperm and egg are cool and all, but that wasn't the sex part! How did that sperm get in there in the first place? INQUIRING MINDS NEEDED TO KNOW!
Phase Two: Television
My next major event in understanding came as a preteen. (Maybe a pre-preteen? How old do you have to be to count as a preteen? I was definitely in elementary school.)
Here is what I remember: it was summer. Our family was eating dinner outside in the backyard because it was nice out. I finished and went inside to watch TV. We had (as usual) lost the remote, so I was sitting beside the TV, flipping channels by pressing buttons on the VCR to see what was on.
I came across what looked like some kind of teen movie. It was a teenage boy and girl kissing. Then they started taking off their clothes. I repeat: a boy and a girl were kissing and taking their clothes off. I was riveted.
It only progressed to them kissing in their underwear, but I remember sitting there, frozen, staring at the TV. My finger was poised on the button to change the channel and I kept glancing at the door to the patio so that I could flip away should anyone walk in.
It was all very... interesting.
I remember thinking, "This must be what sex is."
Phase Three: An Amorphous Understanding
After that, a slow understanding began to flourish. I saw enough movies and TV shows that suggested (always just suggested, after all, it was the 90s and my parents were pretty protective of what I saw) some more specific actions beyond standing in your underwear and kissing, and I eventually pieced together the mechanics of the whole thing.
Once I figured out that more went on than rolling back and forth with sheets that carefully covered your bathing suit areas, I decided that it was, at least functionally, a very gross activity. I knew that people liked it, and I had feelings that made me very interested in the whole thing, but also that the objective truth of it was that is was gross and messy. I don't think I was entirely wrong.
PS: I literally just realized something as I wrote this: from now on, kids won't get to have this strange, meandering understanding of sex anymore, will they? With the internet and all the porn, it is inevitable that they'll just see a bunch of very adult close ups and immediately know exactly what is going on.
I don't know, that sounds kind of disappointing. The confusion and intrigue and investigation was all kind of fun, if you ask me.
UPDATE: I talked to my mom. Turns out she DID sit down and talk to me, I just don't remember. Huh. Memory is weird.
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