The thing we need to be clear about from the get-go is that NOT talking about sex will not stop your adolescent/teen being – well – somewhat obsessed by it. Take that as a given.
But let’s back up a bit. Our advice is to start talking about sex early by using the correct terms for body parts from when they are little; naming them during bath-time is a good way to do this. Moving your kids away from the euphemistic terms they’ll pick up at school will make it so much easier when it comes to having more serious discussions on puberty and sex later on.
Your son may be noticing other boys’ erections as well as enjoying his own, and joining in the boner, stiffy, woody, wang’ jokes at school from around the age of 6 – if he’s an early bird. So it’s best to start explaining erections to your boy in a low-key way, making sure he understands there’s nothing shameful about a natural bodily response he has not one jot of control over. If you’re wanting to put him at ease a little more, then you can also let him know that as he ages he’ll be able to control the “reaction” a little more and also let him know he can go “easy on the monkey” as it were.
When to have the talk
Remember, you’re not waiting for the right moment to have the big sex talk’ – in fact, all the advice points to looking for teachable moments’, everyday situations that provide opportunities to teach your child about topics related to sex. For example, if there’s a pregnancy or new baby in the family, seize the opportunity to talk about how babies are conceived and born. The where do babies come from?’ questions can start from as early as age 3 or 4, and they need plain, clear answers. Mums have a uterus inside their tummies, where babies live until they are big enough to be born’ etc will do for a start but of course, you’ll need more sophisticated answers as they develop.
How much do they already know?
Your child’s knowledge will be a mix of what they’ve learned at home, in the classroom, and in the playground. You can start by finding out what they already know by checking out what they are learning at school. Sex education is part of the Health and Physical Education curriculum in New Zealand. It starts in primary school, covering things like friendships, different kinds of families, and respect for each other and people who are different from them. In the latter years of primary, they will likely cover puberty, body development and image, human reproduction, and social-media risks and issues. By secondary school, they are learning about positive and supportive intimate relationships, contraception, managing their health, and the influence that society has on the way we view things such as gender and sexuality. By this point, you might find that they have already engaged in sexual acts or perhaps even experimented with something like this pocket pussy or other sex toys alike, so you might want to keep in mind that around these ages is prime time for experimentation. Find out when and how the school discusses reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, sexual orientation, sexual harassment, and so on. If they use textbooks or handouts, read them yourself.
Then, check out what your child is looking at online, seeing in comics and magazines and on TV, and listening to on the radio – basically just hang out with them and absorb a bit of their world so you get a handle on what and who they are referencing from. You may be very surprised! Parents we know discovered their 12-year-old was accessing violent pornography that they’d never even imagined existed. Exposure to it skewed his sexual maturation and required a lot of input from both the parents and a counsellor to unbundle the exposure.
The influence of Pornography
The reality is that your adolescent/teenager is probably going to check out pornography, like most of us have, at some point. The danger for both girls and boys is that it will shape their perceptions of sex and relationships. Seeing images of adults having sex with children and/or animals is just plain damaging, and even some of the so-called soft porn’ has a very unreal quality to it. Shaved genitals, bleached arseholes, whopper penises and breasts the size of balloons are simply not the stuff of everyday sexual relationships – it’s unreal and sends all the wrong messages about intimacy and pleasure. When people become of age and engage in sexual acts with their partner or even by using an escort Frankfurt could offer, they will find out that sex is very unlike the acts you see in pornography. Ultimately, pornography isn’t about relationships – it’s about power, which might be OK to explore within an adult relationship where there’s no power imbalance, but it’s just decidedly bad for our young people. The problem is that pornography is everywhere, and kids can easily access it online.
If you discover your child accessing pornography, be careful not to guilt them out or shame them – it’s important to differentiate between them being interested in sex and exploring porn as part of that drive. You don’t want them to go underground’ through guilt and shame when your goal is to open up discussion about healthy sexual relationships and encourage them in that direction.
It’s the Hormones
Time for some science here (stay with me): Puberty kicks in somewhere between 9 and 15, when the brain starts to release the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). When GnRH reaches the pituitary gland (a pea-shaped gland that sits just under the brain), it releases into the bloodstream two more puberty hormones – luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). Boys and girls have both of these hormones – they just work on different parts of the body during puberty. (Note that puberty begins two years earlier on average nowadays, possibly due to rising levels of childhood obesity because the hormones that regulate sexual development are stored in fat.)
In boys, this hormone tsunami signals the testes to begin producing both the hormone testosterone and sperm. Testosterone is what causes most of the changes in a boy’s body during puberty, and of course, he’ll need sperm to reproduce. Let the wet dreams begin!
His first ejaculation may happen during a wet dream and he may have no idea what’s happened when he wakes up! So it’s important to talk to him about the possibility of this before it happens. Tell him it’s a normal part of growing up – that he can’t control it and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s all part of becoming a man.
Don’t be shy
Despite all these major hormonal changes signalling sexual maturation, parents seem reluctant to step up to the plate when it comes to talking to their kids about sex. A recent UK survey of 2000 parents showed that over a third of parents had never discussed it with their kids. Don’t be one of those parents! Of the others who had, 27 per cent first discussed sex before their children were 10.
Because girls have periods, mothers (mainly) can’t really avoid talking about puberty, but talking to sons is harder for both mothers and fathers it seems. The main thing is to check out your boy’s readiness for information – let him be the driver of it.
The problem, according to paediatrician Dr. Claire McCarthy of Boston Children’s Hospital, is that mums feel awkward referencing penises, and dads aren’t socialised to tackle the topic. McCarthy says both mums and dads look at me like I have three heads’ when she recommends they talk about sex with their 10-year-olds. Women have less comfort with it, and men have zero comfort,’ she says. That’s kind of a bad combination.’
You do need to consider ripeness’ here though – is your child ready for the information? How worldly and inquisitive is your child? Are they interested in sex? What do they already know, and how much and what type of information do they need from you?
It’s a delicate walk, no doubt about it, but you need to trust that all the foundation-building you’ve done will see them through this phase. If boys respect their mother, they’ll have a healthy regard for women in general and that should see them right. Trust that when the time comes you can have deeper conversations with your boy about pornography and its relationship to real sex. You can do this!
Know the facts and don’t overreact
Dads/men are probably going to be better at talking to boys about erections, puberty and sex than mothers/women because they’ve experienced them. That’s just a fact. But if dad’s not there and there isn’t a man who you mums trust to have this conversation with your boy, wade in. Talk to a good man you know for some advice and hit your Google button – there’s lots of good info available for you both to access together and discuss whatever questions/issues he has.
Remember, the main goal of any sex talk is to communicate that sex is a very normal and natural thing. And don’t overreact if your child asks you something awkward – it may put them off coming to you again.
As kids near puberty, it is common for them to start feeling awkward and/or confused about their bodies – how they stack up against their friends’ bodies, and the early rumblings of attraction can be both confusing and traumatic. Sexual orientation is much more fluid these days as people explore heterosexuality, homosexuality, bi sexuality, transgenderism, gender fluidity (not identifying particularly with any gender), etc – so get ready for the roller-coaster of your child going on the journey to discover their sexual orientation.
Ultimately, you want them to be happy. Our experience from having interviewed over 650 men in depth about their emergent sexuality is that the more authentic they are in terms of their sexual orientation, the happier and more fulfilled lives they will lead. As parents, we’re there to help our children find their right place in the world, and their sexual orientation is a big piece of that puzzle.
By Ruth Kerr and Richard Aston, parents to four adult children in a blended family. Ruth and Richard co-authored Our Boys Raising strong, happy sons from boyhood to manhood based on their 15 years’ experience working at Big Buddy a social agency that matches well-screened male mentors with fatherless boys.