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Did You Hear About The Girl Who . . . ?

Contemporary Legends, Folklore, and Human Sexuality

Marianne H. Whatley, Elissa R. Henken

Publication Year: 2000

Ever hear the one about the man who wakes up after a chance sexual encounter to discover he's been involuntarily relieved of one of his kidneys? Or the tiny gift-wrapped box from a recently departed lover that reveals a horrible secret? Everyone knows contemporary legends, those barely believable, often lurid, cautionary tales, always told as though they happened to the friend of a friend. Sometimes we pass them on to others unsure of their truthfulness, usually we dismiss them as mere myth. But these far-fetched legends tell us quite a bit about our deepest fears and fantasies.

In fact, a large part of what we know about our bodies we have learned informally, from kids on the playground or colleagues at work, from piecing together the information contained in folk beliefs, jokes and legends. Sexual folklore goes beyond classroom lessons of mechanics to answer many questions about what people actually do and how they do it.

Mariamne H. Whatley and Elissa R. Henken have collected hundreds of sexually-themed stories and jokes from college students in order to tell us what they reveal about our sexual attitudes and show us how they have changed over time. They confront myths and stereotypes about sexual behavior and use folklore as a tool to educate students about sexual health and gender relations. Whether analyzing popular rumors about celebrity emergency room visits or the latest schoolyard jokes, Did You Hear About The Girl Who . . . ? presents these tales in a way that is intriguing and educational.

Published by: NYU Press



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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

When we have discussed this project with friends and colleagues, there has seemed to be almost as much interest in how two sisters survive coauthorship as in the project itself. Intrafamilial writing raises more questions than does multidisciplinary scholarship. This book, a discussion/ collaboration between disciplines, began as a conversation between two sisters—one a biologist and health educator, the other a folklorist....

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pp. xi-xii

We give special thanks to those people who read and commented on various drafts of the manuscript, giving us essential feedback and encouragement: Julie D’Acci, Charles C. Doyle, Adriane Fugh-Berman, Joseph P. Goodwin, Carl Lindahl, and Jan Savage. Nancy Worcester deserves extra thanks for her emotional and intellectual support throughout this project and for her insightful reading of multiple drafts...

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Chapter 1: Yes, We Are Folk and We Do Have Folklore

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pp. 1-16

This story, told by a woman to her college-student daughter, is folklore, whether or not the mother or the daughter knew it at the time. Specifically, it is a form of folklore called a contemporary legend and is not merely entertainment but also conveys a set of messages. In this book, we present a range of folklore relating to issues of sexuality currently circulating...

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Chapter 2: Contraceptive Jelly on Toast and Other Unintended Consequences of Sexuality Education

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pp. 17-23

A first reaction to this story is usually laughter at the punch line, followed by disbelief about this being a “true” story, and amazement that, if it is true, anyone could make such a ridiculous mistake. On one level, many of the stories in this chapter can be read as focusing on the ignorance of the client/patient, but another more useful reading is that the educator/health care practitioner was at fault for presenting...

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Chapter 3: You Can't Get Pregnant Your Very First Time: Understandings of Fertility and Birth Control in Folk Beliefs

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pp. 24-42

A clear presentation of facts is important in sexuality education, but unless the shared and often unspoken beliefs such as those above are dealt with directly, the facts are mere abstractions that don’t contradict deeply held misunderstandings. An educator can discuss the ovulatory cycle and issues around pregnancy and contraception in great detail, but still leave whole areas of students’ beliefs untouched. The...

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Chapter 4: Lesbians Don't Have Periods and Other Menstrual Folklore

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pp. 43-66

Many young women have their first formal education about menstruation in elementary or middle school as part of puberty education. This may range from a short one-time session, perhaps featuring a video produced by a manufacturer of “feminine hygiene” products (the term itself indicates that menstruation is seen as unclean), to much more comprehensive programs integrated into the curriculum throughout...

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Chapter 5: The Tiny Gift-Wrapped Coffin: Addressing Fears of AIDS

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pp. 67-90

This short version of a popular and chilling legend was reported by a man who had heard it in high school, told about a friend of a friend. Many variants exist, including another with a man as the protagonist, which circulated widely before the coffin variant appeared. When the story is told about a man, he is usually out of town on business and picks up an attractive woman at a bar. In the morning she is gone, having left...

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Chapter 6: Of Gerbils and Stomach Pumps: Homophobia in Legends

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pp. 91-113

In an episode of ER, the very popular television show about a Chicago emergency room, when an X-ray shows a large flashlight located inside a man’s rectum, the staff jokes about his explanation that he accidentally sat on it while he was changing a fuse. Ask any emergency room staff and they will have stories about strange objects found in men’s rectums, along with the patients’ bizarre explanations of how those objects got....

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Chapter 7: The Peanut Butter Surprise: Fear and Loathing of Women’s Sexuality

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pp. 114-142

There is a clear message in this legend for young women who experiment with sexuality; the result of attempts at masturbation for this teenager is humiliation of the most dramatic kind, involving both her parents and an emergency room visit. In her analysis of the legend, which was popular in her middle school and high school, the student who collected it commented on the girl’s anxieties about sex leading her...

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Chapter 8: The Frat Boy's Sister and the Chat Room Date: Incest, Accidental and Otherwise

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pp. 143-158

Many legends are particularly bizarre and improbable, though, by definition, they have to be at least possible and plausible to some listeners. The basic plot of the gang-rape of a drunken woman does seem plausible to those who have read about gang-rapes in college settings, particularly fraternities, while the bizarre aspect is provided by the unintentional incest. There are some minor variations in the story, but all end with the same terrible revelation: At a fraternity party, a girl drank too much and passed out leaning out the window. One of the fraternity brothers came into the room and saw her. He lifted up her dress and violated her. When he was done, he went and retrieved one of his friends from the party. He brought his friend into the room, and his friend violated the woman also. They decided to see who she was and so they pulled her in. They looked at her face and the second frat boy said, “Oh my God, that’s my sister!”...

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Chapter 9: The Stolen Kidney, Leaping Crabs, and Other Dangers of Sexuality

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pp. 159-181

I heard a story about nine or ten months ago about a man in Dallas, Texas who went out for a night on the town with a couple of friends. After several drinks he is aware of a beautiful girl watching him and following him. She approaches him, introduces herself, and explains that she is from out of town. He is very attracted to her, and she seems taken with him. Before long, the man tells his friends to go on without...

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Chapter 10:I Don’t Believe This but My Friends Do: Using Folklore in Sexuality Education

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pp. 182-198

Sexuality education is one of the most controversial areas of the school curriculum. The debates about abstinence-only curricula versus more comprehensive curricula are as intense as those between anti-abortion and pro-choice groups. Researchers have consistently shown that abstinence- only education (that is, where abstinence is presented as the only possible option for teenagers, or even adults who are not married, and...


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pp. 199-204


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pp. 205-209

About the Authors

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pp. 211-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780814784549
E-ISBN-10: 0814784542
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814793220
Print-ISBN-10: 0814793223

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2000