Why Parents Need to Talk With Their Boy-Child About Sex

Father talking to son
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Boys need a special formal talk on sexuality. Back in my days, I got all the lessons from my grandfather. Including the art of seduction! With hindsight, most of the lessons are much deeper than any books I have come across.

Over last 2 decades, movies and sitcoms have presented a caricature of the sweaty-palmed, birds-and-bees conversation in which Dad stammers through a convoluted description of sex to a pre-adolescent boy — who, it turns out, knows all of the details already. The humor arises from the tension most parents feel about discussing sex with their kids. ("What if we tell him too much?" "Will this rob him of his innocence?" "What if he starts asking about what we do?")

What isn't so funny is the reality that too many boys learn about sex from everyone but their parents. Playground slang and obscenity, a distorted description of intercourse from the tough kid up the street, or worst of all, a look at some pornographic material on cable TV or the Internet often provides a boy’s first jarring glimpse of sex. What should be seen as the most beautiful, meaningful and private communication between a married couple becomes a freak-show curiosity. "Mom and Dad did that? More than once?!"

Efforts by public schools to correct misinformation from the street and lack of information from home often leave out a critical ingredient: the moral framework within which the facts about reproduction should be presented. Without an ethical context, sex education becomes little more than basic training in anatomy, physiology, infectious diseases and contraception.

Giving him facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both express love and begins a new life, retains his innocence. But a boy who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mindset if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking or abusive context.

Openly addressing the all-too-human questions of sexual development, sexual desire, and the nature of the adolescent’s developing sexual identity are critical.


What Makes It So Hard to Talk about Sex?


Here are some things that get in the way, along with some ideas about handling them.


It’s not “polite” to talk about sex. 


You probably didn’t grow up talking much about sexuality. In most circles, it’s a risky topic to bring up at social gatherings. This means that we don’t get to practice talking about it. We may even be uncomfortable using words to describe parts of our bodies.

The only way to strengthen your “talking about sex” muscle is to exercise it. Practice talking aloud about sex—naming body parts and activities, say–anything that gets you using the words. It’s fine to do it alone at first. It’s fine if you blush or giggle or stammer. By all means, choose carefully whom you practice with; maybe your partner, maybe a close friend. Once you’ve started, you’ll find it gets easier.

We don’t want to look ignorant.


Of course, no one wants to feel clueless about anything. But that seems truer of sex than of many things. Because sex may not have been talked about in our families of origin, people sometimes feel that sexual information is something you’re supposed to just inherently know or figure out for yourself, rather than something you can actually learn about. Which is silly, but it might feel that way.

It may seem like everyone around knows more about sex than you do. That’s probably not true. But even if it is, that’s not a good reason to stay silent. You can look things up on the internet. You can talk to your close friends about it. (“This is sort of embarrassing, but I keep hearing about x and I don’t really know what it is. What do you know about it?”) You can talk to your partner about your discomfort and your curiosity. You may find that other people are as puzzled as you are.


We believe that some feelings are more acceptable than others. 


We may be afraid to admit how much we love sex or to admit that we don’t like it at all. We may feel that our tastes or libido don’t fit what society expects for our age or gender. We may not like to think about how our needs differ from our partner’s.

The truth is that what’s “normal” for humans includes a huge range of possibilities. There are all kinds of sexual feelings and styles. There are often variations in sex drive between partners. Sex drive can change when we’re under stress or as we age (which we may not want to admit even to ourselves). It’s far better to accept there are all kinds of sex and all kinds of feelings about it, and (provided it’s consensual), it’s all good. Rather than judging your feelings, try to be curious about them.

We’re uncomfortable with the fact that our children are sexual beings. 


If you’re a parent, talking to your kid about sexuality may feel extremely uncomfortable. It is just weird to think that your little girl (or boy) can experience sexual feelings from infancy on (and of course much more so after puberty). But all human beings are sexual to one degree or another; it’s normal. Don’t let your feeling weirded-out prevent you from giving your child the information he or she needs about sex.

It’s so personal. 


Our sex lives are deeply personal. What we do in the bedroom, what thrills us, what we long for—all that is intimate, private, no one else’s business. You may choose to tell some things to someone close to you, but you don’t have to.

You certainly don’t have to tell your kids anything about your sex life—in fact, you shouldn’t. (Would you want to know what your parents do/did in bed? I didn’t think so.) If your kids ask, all they need to know is that “Yes, we have sex,” said (hopefully) with a smile and a warm tone so they know that’s a good thing. Anything more is Too Much Information.

With your regular partner, though, it’s different. It’s not essential to talk about sex with the one you love, but it helps a lot. This is the person with whom you’ve chosen to be intimate. It’s worth struggling through your discomfort to at least talk about anyways of being touched that are uncomfortable for you, about important sex-related experiences from your early years (e.g., if your parents were really uptight or shaming about sex, or if your first boyfriend/girlfriend betrayed you) and about what you do together that you especially like. Try to be curious about what your partner particularly likes. If you start with those sorts of things, in time you may find it easier to talk about more challenging topics (say, new things you might like to try).

None of this will make talking about sex completely un-awkward. But each little bit does help. It’s worth pushing through some discomfort to be able to talk about such an important topic with the one(s) you love.
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