.

Talking With Your Son About Sex and Sexuality

One father's advice about teaching your son about sexuality.

I saw my first pornographic image when I was in kindergarten. My family lived in an apartment complex in Arlington, TX. It was a warm summer day, and we were playing hide and seek. I was hiding in some shrubbery with another kid and while waiting, we started playing in the dirt. As we did, we uncovered something buried behind those shrubs. I can still remember the excitement; it was like unlocking long, lost treasure! We opened the treasure box (a coffee can) and pulled out a wad of some sort of magazine paper stuffed inside. As we unfurled the paper, we saw something neither of us had ever laid eyes on—sex!

There it was. Right in front of me; something heart-pounding, something exhilarating. I remember thinking I shouldn’t be seeing this, but that was part of the excitement. My heart raced, and my mind was in a whirl. I didn’t truly understand what was really going on; I just knew that it looked breathtaking.

Thus began my struggle with lust, pornography and my ideal of women. It warped my thoughts of women and how I looked at them. It seemed like everywhere I turned, there it was; just staring right at me. There were times in my life growing up that it was almost all consuming. Sometimes I actively pursued it, and others it actively pursued me.

I am not alone.

According to Exposing Porn: Science, Religion, and the New Addiction by Paul Strand approximately 40 million people are sexually involved with the Internet. The largest consumer of Internet pornography is the 12-17 age group, and the average age that someone sees porn on the internet for the first time is 11 years old (Internet Pornography Statistics. Internet Filter Review, 2004). 

Times have changed. But boys have not. Think about it. When we were growing up we all wrestled and struggled with our sexuality. What does it really mean to be a man? Is what I have between my legs what makes me a man? And if that is all it takes, then how do I act and think? How do I treat women? But what if that’s not all it takes? What if there’s more to being a man than just anatomy?

I want you to go back in time and remember an age when you had your first kiss. Are you thinking about it?

I can remember mine. We were walking down a neighborhood street holding hands. It was a Saturday afternoon, and it was a little cool. The wind was blowing and causing shivers. We stopped at a street sign. She looked at me, and I knew that she wanted me to kiss her. Man, I was so nervous! My heart was literally trying to jump out of my chest, I couldn’t catch my breath, my hands were sweaty! But this was it. So I slowly leaned in and I kissed her. IT WAS AMAZING! I had been waiting for that moment for so long, and it had finally happened. I felt like I could conquer the world. A flood of hormones washed through my brains and swept all coherent thought from my mind. I walked around the rest of the day in a haze of delirious joy.

Remember the awkwardness of growing up a young man? Remember seeing a girl and realizing, for the first time, that she was a girl? My mind was full of all kinds of thoughts, hormones, and fantasies. We all go through it, but it’s what happens during that journey that determines what kind of man we become. And in turn, that determines what kind of young men we will raise.

I have a son. He’s almost 2 years old. He is nowhere near this stage of life. And yet, my wife and I have already had several discussions about things we are going to have to talk about and when they should take place. It may be a bit early, but we have a game plan in place that is flexible, and ready to be used when we deem it necessary. And I can thank my dad for that.

I can also recall this memory like it was yesterday. It was another of my “man” moments growing up. My dad came upstairs and said to me, “Let’s go for a drive.” Huh? What for? Did I do something wrong? It wasn’t totally unusual for us to go for family car rides, but for just him and me to go for a drive, well, that was out of the ordinary. So I knew that it was something really good or something really bad. It turned out that it was neither, it was really embarrassing. It was the “talk.” We drove around for what seemed like several hours, and when we arrived back home, the “talk” continued. We talked about dating, kissing, heavy petting, foreplay, sexual intercourse, masturbation, pornography, the female anatomy, the male anatomy, a female’s cycle (I thought he meant some kind of bike at first--boy was I wrong), tampons, condoms, etc. You name it, and we talked about it.

Like I said, it was embarrassing, but only at first. After awhile, I realized something: My dad was a boy, an older version of me. It was one of those bonding moments that I will never forget.  It was the first time I realized that I wasn’t alone in this struggle. I understood that I didn’t have to go at this by myself. We became partners in this skirmish, in the battle between what my brain was saying and what my nether regions were screaming.

I’m talking to all you dads out there reading right now (moms--take some notes).  You have to be the one to talk to your son about sexuality, about what the culture is teaching him and what it really means to be a man. You have to model how a man treats women, what a man thinks about women, and what a healthy relationship looks like. If you don’t, then others will. Someone or something will be pouring advice into your son, and depending on what that advice is will determine how he interacts with the opposite sex and may affect dating and marital relationships.

Here are some things that I learned from my dad that might help you along the way:

I needed my dad to teach me about the real value of women. From that first moment I laid eyes on what sex looks like through a lens, I had difficulty in looking/thinking/treating girls the way I should have. More often than not (and I’m not proud of this) girls were objects of desire. But because my dad discussed these issues with me, and more importantly modeled it for me, I was able to overcome that view of females and have healthy relationships with them. So, in turn, it’s up to us to teach our sons about reining in that sexual drive and setting boundaries with that emerging sexuality. My dad helped me see through the maze of an oversexualized culture and realize that my job as a man is not to sleep with everything I see, but to treat a woman with respect and love--not disrespect and lust.

I’ll never forget the moment that I truly understood what my mom meant to my dad. I was a cocky, know-it-all high school student. Mom was just my servant (in my mind) at the time, and I was trying to make sure that she understood that. We were standing in the kitchen, and I said something hurtful to my mother. She was really upset and sent me to my room. I sat there waiting for my dad like a man on death row. And when he came home, he came in my room and “discussed” the problem. I said what he wanted to hear, but there was no real change in my attitude. 

Later that evening, we were all back in the kitchen, and I said something I instantly regretted. I couldn’t help it; the words just tumbled out of my mouth—they escaped! And I couldn’t get them back in there fast enough. In the blink of an eye, my dad was on me like white on rice. When he had my undivided attention he said, “How would you like it if someone said that to your girlfriend?” 

I tried hard to answer in a manly way, but my voice sounded like my 8-year-old daughter when I said, “I wouldn’t.”

He  looked at me hard and spoke in an eerily calm manner, “Think of your mom as my girlfriend. If you say anything like that again, it’ll be the last thing you say on this earth.” 

“Yes, sir.”

At that moment I understood two things:

  1. My dad wasn’t really threatening my physical life on this earth.
  2. That my dad loved my mom in a way that I couldn’t understand yet.

In his reaction to my stinging comments, I learned more about what it means to love a woman than any other situation in life. He loved her fiercely, and that love was unquenchable. It would not allow for the things I had introduced into the home. It protected my mother against all intruders, including her son’s arrogant words.

I needed my dad to teach me that pornography isn’t reality. 

I’ll be honest, for the longest time I believed that women acted like they did in the images I saw. When real girls weren’t acting like this it caused confusion. Am I doing something wrong? What’s up with these girls? Why aren’t they acting like the movie I just saw, the magazine I just looked at or the website I went to?

That’s the real danger of porn: The unrealistic and animalistic expectations it produces. Pornography causes a man to see the opposite sex through a selfish and debasing point of view. It causes a man to see breasts and butts instead of a human being. The culture we live in encourages sexual promiscuity and exploits men and women in the process.

As I said last week, a typical teen will see upward of 14,000 sexual images a year! That’s what we are up against. As parents (particularly dads) we can’t sit around and expect the school system or someone else to teach our sons about what sex and sexuality are really about. Nothing in my young life was as powerful as my dad looking me in the eye and saying that he, too, understood the struggle of reining in that sex drive, that he understood my curiosity, my draw to what pornography promises but fails to deliver. 

I needed my dad to talk to me honestly about sex. 

My dad was very good about being honest and real. He never used scare tactics with me. 

He didn't say, “Have sex and you’ll get an STD,” or “Have sex and you’ll get that girl pregnant.”

Those are realities, but they only exert force to encourage a certain behavior. When your son leaves the influence of that exerting force, then what? It is imperative to instill these values internally. Scare tactics do not work. Having these open conversations with my dad allowed me an avenue to ask questions, raise doubts, think out loud and do it in a safe environment where I had real guidance. I’m not saying that I was perfect growing up, but these talks had a profound effect on my life.

I came to the conclusion (through these talks) that I would wait for marriage. There were many temptations, but I have slept with one woman my entire life; my wife. And when I married her, I didn’t have to worry about my past—she had all of me. 

Research indicates that more than half of the males in high school will graduate having had sex, but by the time they reach 24, 75 percent of that group wish they hadn’t had sex. I didn’t have to worry about what I might have, or what I might give my wife. I understand that not everyone’s journey takes them down this path, and whether you agree that waiting until marriage is realistic is irrelevant. Sex is powerful. As dads and parents we have to be honest in that and help our sons understand that as well.

Beyond discussions, there are some safety precautions that you can place in your home to make it a safe environment:

  • Put Internet filters on every computer in the house. I recommend Safe Eyes and Covenant Eyes.
  • Never allow your kids to use the Webcam on a computer, unless you’re present. Live computer sex is rapidly growing, and 80 percent of kids who are involved in computer sex, link up with their computer partner for sex.
  • Be aware that with current technology your children can Skype on their iPods.
  • Establish clear guidelines for cell phone and cell camera use.
  • Regularly check all computers--monitor their histories to see where they’ve been. If the history has been erased, you have a problem. Ask why it’s been erased.
  • Keep all computers in open spaces like kitchens, with screens facing the open room where anyone can see what’s on the screen.
  • Keep all computers, cell phones, and anything that can reach the Internet, out of children’s bedrooms.
  • Teach your children about some of the dangers involved with Internet.
  • Be aware that porn producers are now targeting children. They do this by buying up the URLs around where kids naturally go on computers, so that one missed keystroke can lead a child from a perfectly safe website to a pornographic website.
  • Be aware of “sexting.” Research has found the 18 percent of boys and 22 percent of girls have sent nude or nearly nude photos over cell phones to boyfriends or girlfriends. It’s called “sexting” and is not etrievable once on the Internet.  

As parents, we can be proactive in our approach to our sons' emerging manhood. If we begin that early relationship and guidance, we can help him understand that it takes restraint and maturity to handle the sexuality that is inherent in us all.

Brandon March 18, 2011 at 07:17 PM
[The largest consumer of Internet pornography is the 12-17 age group] That is amazing, scary, and sad, but most of all, sobering. Thank you for this! Well thought out and helpful. Brandon (@MyersBaker)
Joe Smith March 19, 2011 at 07:43 PM
@MyersBaker thanks for the encouragement. Glad to hear that it was helpful to you.
Jeff Brandt March 20, 2011 at 01:54 AM
I think you are wise to recommend being open in discussing sexuality, but I can't help but notice some tones of heteronormativity in this piece, with all the talk of "what it means to be a man." It doesn't seem like there is much room for gay and bisexual men in this thought paradigm. Being a 24-year-old myself, and someone who knows plenty of 24 year olds, I also frankly question your statistic that 75 percent of 24 year olds are regretting having sex. I think it would be interesting to see your source for that statistic.
Joe Smith March 21, 2011 at 02:12 PM
Good thoughts, and thanks for that! That particular stat comes from an article called "It takes a man to raise a boy" by Dr. John P. Splinter. It can be found on Purehope.net. As far as not having room in this paradigm for gay or bisexual men- I honestly couldn't speak to that experience, having not lived it. In the thought process of this piece, I decided to stick with my own experience. I do, however, really appreciate the comment b/c it most definitely needs to be discussed from a parent's perspective. Thanks again Jeff.
Dave Harris December 10, 2011 at 02:08 AM
I appreciate what has been said previously. It is so critical that parent's are involved in their children's lives. This includes instruction about sexuality, substance abuse and moral issues. I have a business helping parents of troubled teens. Parents call us everyday wanting to send their teens away from home because they can no longer handle them. If parents do not invest time in their children, they will more than likely regret it later in life. Parents that have an open line of communication with their teens are able to talk to them about everything, including sex. If parents are needing direction with a troubled teen, they can find some help here. http://www.bootcampsforteens.com/

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »