Did You Hear About The Girl Who . . . ?

Contemporary Legends, Folklore, and Human Sexuality

224 pages

March, 2001

ISBN: 9780814793220



Also available in


Mariamne H. Whatley is Associate Dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

All books by Marianne H. Whatley

Elissa R. Henken is Associate Professor of English at the University of Georgia.

All books by Elissa R. Henken

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.


  • "This is a must read for sexuality educators and youth workers concerned about the power of pedagogy and folklore as they swirl in the minds of youth. Whatley and Henken construct a magnificent argument about listening to the beliefs, the jokes, the sometimes very wrong headed, sometimes brilliant folklore narrated by youth as we accompany them into conversations about sexuality, health, desire, and danger. If adults can be useful at all, it is only with the guidance of Whatley and Henken that we have a chance at engaging with, rather than lecturing to, the fertile minds and bodies of America's youth. This book is fun, clever, engaging and provocative."

    —Michelle Fine, CUNY Graduate Center, author of Framing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban High School

  • "Books that deal with adolescent sexuality have one of two audiences: adults or teens. Finally a book that bridges what often appears to be an unbridgeable chasm. Henken, a folklorist, explains what young people are—really—saying to each other in their private moments; while Whatley, a biologist and health educator, provides the correctives to these rumors and folk beliefs. The book, written in a lively style, takes the reality of boys and girls seriously, while never flinching from providing the best health information available. While many of the stories presented may be disturbing, each presents how gender and sexuality is interpreted. This is a book that should serve as a standard text for courses on sexuality in high schools, colleges, and for parents who want to know what their children believe."

    —Gary Alan Fine, Northwestern University, author of Manufacturing Tales: Sex and Money in Contemporary Legends

  • "A book with a wonderful interdisciplinary idea-using sexual urban legends as part of high school and college sex education."

    The Women's Review of Books, Oct. 2001

  • "Whatley and Henkin have written a book that is as intelligent as it is interesting and funny."

    Journal of Sex Research

  • "An entertaining and useful book which describes the ways in which folklore might be used to enhance sex and relationships education."

    Sex Education Matters