Yesterday, Yahoo announced that it was shutting down the internet's weirdest repository of questions, Yahoo Answers. After having a good run for 16 years, the site will be inaccessible from May 4.
For me, Yahoo Answers was more than an outlet with weird questions like “how is babby formed?” or “Is it okay to boil headphones?” I come from the land of Kama Sutra, and as exotic as that sounds, my country isn’t very fond of promoting sex education in schools. Sex is still a taboo subject for many of us; it’s mostly seen as a “private matter”. Sex-ed has often been brushed aside in India because it will have a “negative impact on children”.
This meant that my prepubescent self had a ton of questions that would usually leave the adults around me horrified. At one point, a friend’s mother had asked the teenage me to stop talking to her daughter because I was “educating” her about sex. I mean, isn’t that good? I was practically doing what our government was supposed to do for free. I deserved some credit for that.
My questions were simple ones anyone nearing puberty would have, ranging from “Why am I growing hair in my armpits?” to “When am I supposed to get my period?” and “Why don’t boys get periods?” These questions didn’t get a response every time I posted. But to my last question, someone responded, “Because they don’t have a uterus lol”. But what the fuck was a uterus? My 11-year-old brain did not know, and Google search results were filled with technical terms I didn’t understand.
Thanks to the first (and last) sex education session in my school with a sanitary napkin company, I found out what a uterus was. In front of us, there was a diagram of the uterus with the fallopian tubes joining it like two horns. I remember the instructor saying something about eggs releasing from the ovary and I thought to myself, “Eggs are laid by birds and chickens, what the hell are they in my body for?” I now had more questions.
The diagram didn’t look like any of the body parts and internal organs I knew. Our school books had illustrations of the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain but what is this hammerhead shark-like thing inside my body? And why didn’t boys have it?
I logged on to Yahoo Answers again, but before I could type out my questions, I found people with the same bewildering queries. A 12-year-old girl from Bangladesh had the same doubts but her questions had been silenced by her teachers with a whip. She was made to sit apart from the rest of her classmates lest she “pollute” their mindsets. The comments were no longer about why boys didn’t have a uterus; they were messages of love and solidarity from people around the world.
Before Yahoo Answers came around to sex ed me, films and music videos on MTV and Vh1 made me believe that sex was getting naked and kissing under pristine white sheets. The sheets in my home didn’t look anything like that but now I had a bigger problem—what even was the condom that everyone seemed to giggle about? Confused but determined to find an answer, I typed “condom” on the Yahoo Answers search bar, and what I found changed the way I saw sex. There were calls for help (“My boyfriend said he forgot to put a condom on, am I pregnant?”) or genuine confusion (“Should I wear two condoms to stay extra protected?”). This did lead to even more questions but not like that was a bad thing out here.
Other learning resources for my sex education were a newspaper column run by a sexologist, reports in the newspaper on sexual violence, and music videos. Yahoo Answers bridged the gaps in between. I’m not saying that this site even remotely helped me have a full understanding of sex safety and my body. My younger self deserved to have all questions answered with proper guidance instead of jokes and trolls online. But at least it worked as a space to go back to time and again, even if it meant coming back with even more questions.
I stopped using the site around 2012 but the ghost of Yahoo Answers followed me well into my teenage years. During a conversation with my now ex-boyfriend, he said milk comes out of boobs when a girl cums. “No, it does not.” I said, making a mental note to write to the government demanding better sex-ed. “Yes it does,” his 16-year-old self insisted. “I saw it on Yahoo Answers, babe.”
Yahoo Answers gave girls like me answers for questions we were not told to ask, questions which made adults around us jump and ask, “Who is teaching you this nonsense?” It brought me closer to a community of people who were just as confused as I was. It may have been a weird place, but it also gave space to my equally weird questions.
Follow Jaishree on Twitter and Instagram.