Our memories of sex education

Our memories of sex education

Every issue, our Editor at Large, Valery will be reliving the best bits of our lives. This fortnight, when babies were found under gooseberry bushes...

For the whole of my last term at primary school, my best friend Joyce and I had only one topic of conversation – how were babies made? And why would nobody tell us? We had theories on everything, from what the mysterious 'towel' machines on the walls in public loos were to how babies arrived. I knew they came from the mother's tummy – and as my gran had a very generous cleavage, I assumed that the baby came out from between your breasts. I prefer the theory told to Julie Vinsome though... “At primary school in the Fifties one of the older girls told us how babies were born. 'Ladies who have husbands have a zip that starts at their belly button and when they want a baby, they just unzip their tummy and the baby jumps out'. I timidly asked if she had a zip. 'Don’t be silly,' she said. 'I have to get a husband first'”

Meanwhile Pamela Pollock's friend was hedging her bets, “I was told by a schoolfriend that babies came out of your mummy's tummy button and Mummy and Daddy then gave the baby to the stork to deliver.” But our parents, were often the biggest story-tellers, although Christine Gilbert remembers it with fondness. “I was born in 1958 and my late mum told me 'when your dad and I were ready to have a new baby we went to the bottom of a rainbow where we were met by a fairy who took us over the rainbow and let us pick a rose we liked, and you were behind the rose'. She said she chose a red rose. I never questioned this and to this day love to think that my mum and dad chose me specially!” And a surprising number of you were fed the gooseberry bush theory, which led Jean Coughlan to worry, “how babies could breathe under the bushes and how they knew when to come out?” 

Anita Pritchard decided to conflate it with that other popular myth, of the baby being brought by the doctor... “Early one morning, when I was six, I was woken up early, as my new baby brother or sister was arriving. I was sure that it would be a sister as I really wanted one. I can remember a lot of activity and being kept occupied by my daddy and grandparents. Eventually the family doctor came in, held his black bag up and said 'You've got a new baby brother'. I was convinced the baby was in his bag and he'd been so long arriving as he had to look under all the gooseberry bushes. I cried and cried and begged him to take him back as I really wanted a sister.”

But what about how babies got there in the first place? Alma Roberts mother wasn't taking any chances. “My mother just said, 'don't sit next to any man on the bus'! I thought for a long time I might get pregnant that way.”  Diane Helmore had to bribe her friend Valerie's big sister Pat with Fry's Five boys chocolate and flowers to tell them the truth... “but we soon wished we hadn't as this horror story came tumbling from her lips. Our eyes popped out as she told us about these rude things that grown ups did. I knew that my mummy and daddy would never do anything that rude! Then I wondered why Pat would make up such a dreadful story. Perhaps she hadn't. My childhood ended with that information, but I was determined that I would never, ever, do that.”

But sometimes learning the truth goes well – as Mrs Baker remembers. “The birds and the bees was a no-go area at school, not even discussed. But the night before our wedding, my mother-in-law handed my husband a book with sealed pages and brown paper covering. This was to take on honeymoon. We went to a little caravan in Devon and with great excitement opened the pages and were shocked to see a naked couple and the title, The Technique of Sex. We did read the book and a few years later we had three children under three!”

Dorothy Cullen remembers her friend who had just had a baby admitting to her she had to ask her midwife a rather important question when she became pregnant. “She told me, 'I asked the midwife how does the baby get out of your tummy? The midwife just said, “You know how it went in? Well that's where it comes out!” And she soon found out that this was right.”

Even for the royal family? “A few days after my 11th birthday,” writes Mrs Slocombe, “our headmistress assembled the whole school in the hall. She told us Princess Elizabeth would have her baby very soon. 'If we have a Princess you must come to school in the morning and go home at lunchtime. If we have a Prince you'll have the whole day off.' I went home and told my mother. 'But how do they know she'll be having a baby?' I asked. 'Oh' she said, 'they've spotted a stork flying around Buckingham Palace.' How things have changed.” They certainly have. These days we'd give the same time off for a Prince or a Princess – and quite right too!