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The Daily Need

The facts (and fictions) of life

Photo: Flickr/Leonardo Aguiar

As anyone with an older sibling already knows by now, learning about the “birds and the bees” is a process that’s rife with opportunities for misinformation. (My own older sister exercised great creative license by feeding me stories about the role of the female penis in the human mating ritual when I was in first grade. That kind of breathtaking deception was still possible in the pre-Google days.)

In this week’s New Yorker, Jill Lepore examines books that attempt to cut through the apocryphal tales and explain sex to kids with varying degrees of success. (Fun discovery of the day: Peter Mayle started out his literary career by penning two sex-ed books for tweens, “‘Where Did I Come From?’: The Facts of Life Without Any Nonsense and with Illustrations” (1973) and “‘What’s Happening to Me?’: The Answers to Some of the World’s Most Embarrassing Questions” (1975), before moving to France and reinventing himself as the Bard of Provence.) After surveying the classics of the genre, Lepore concludes that, “If you, too, find it embarrassing to talk with your kids about sex, take heart: the authors of many of these books appear to be just as terrible at it as the rest of us.”

The New Yorker staff, in their cheeky wisdom, created a companion quiz for readers to test their carnal knowledge. To be fair, the questions tilt a little more in the direction of coming-of-age trivia rather than the strict biological machinations of procreation. Still, my dismal score of 33 percent suggests that I would be well-served by reacquainting myself with some of the titles on Lepore’s reading list.