"The birds and the bees" is an almost universally known phrase. Television and books often depict parents telling their kids about sex using this phrase. Where it began is unclear, but it has been traced back to 18th century literature, and actual science is behind its use.
Worldwide Words reports that the phrase "birds and the bees" began in literature. One work commonly cited as making the link between the birds and the bees and sex is “Work without Hope” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1825). The reference is not explicit, but the poem is believed to have laid the groundwork for the phrase.
Another source cited as one of the first to use the metaphor is a set of essays by John Burroughs titled “Birds and Bees, Sharp Eyes and other Papers,” in which the American naturalist attempted to present sex and reproduction to children in a way they could easily understand.
Phrase Finder defines "the birds and the bees" as a phrase used to refer to sex and reproduction when giving a basic explanation of these topics to children. It is a metaphor that uses the mating rituals of birds and the bee's reproductive process as a comparison to human courtship and reproduction. It often is used to avoid speaking literally about the subject. It also is used when making jokes about sex.
Significance of Birds
Most birds are monogamous, meaning they stay with one mate for at least a season. Some stay with the same mate for life. This kind of relationship means both care for their young, increasing their chance of survival.
Birds must find mates, so they do certain things to attract them. They court in the spring, incubate (sit on) their eggs for a time, and then the babies are hatched. The mating rituals and monogamous nature of birds relates well to many human parents' goals for their children when discussing sex and love. These goals are often to find a mate for life and reproduce with that single mate rather than to be sexually indiscriminate. This is how birds came to be part of the metaphor.
Significance of Bees
The bees' part of the metaphor relates to human reproduction.
Male bees have one purpose, and that is to have sex. Once he has, the female has all the sperm she needs for a lifetime. In the case of the honey bee, once the male has had sex with a female he dies as his endophallus, or sex organ, falls off and he cannot live without it. Other bees can mate with multiple females before they die.
ScienceRay points out that female bees do not need a male to produce male offspring, and they have a choice whether or not to fertilize the eggs already inside themselves.
The mating rituals of bees is directly related to the act of sex because of the similarities between the need for male and female sex organs and the fertilization of the eggs inside the female.
Some believe that flowers are a part of the theory behind the birds and the bees relating to sex. But the science and history, as explained by Scienceray.com, is that the original meaning and intent was that birds represented courting and bees represented reproduction, and the phrase meant nothing more than that.
Many believe "the birds and the bees" became a popular phrase because it was an easier, more comfortable phrase for parents to use when discussing sex with their children. The phrase is less often used to discuss sex as time goes on, as it's been proven that children can understand literal definitions using the proper terms for parts of the human anatomy and the physical act of intercourse.
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