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What's the best way for parents to discuss sexuality with boys?

Andrew Smiler, PhD Therapist. Evaluator. Author. Speaker. Evaluation and Education Services, LLC

Many parents find it difficult to talk to their sons about their sexual development and early experiences with dating and sexuality. This is not surprising. We learn about history, math and many other important topics by sitting in classrooms with knowledgeable professionals and lots of materials to read.

However, most of us learn about sex with little to no information from our parents, no classroom, many media illustrations, some experiences that may---or may not---be typical, and a ton of hearsay from our friends that we may or may not believe. The result is that most parents lack a big-picture framework and good models about how to have these conversations with our kids.

It is a fact that the average American teenager loses his or her virginity around the age of 16, and nearly two-thirds have had sex prior to their high school graduation. Since the typical age of first marriages among Americans is now in the mid- to late-20s, this means that most kids will probably date and have sex for about a decade. And the odds are good that they will have more than one partner before marriage. Therefore, it is vital for parents to talk to their kids about these important topics.


Do

Do talk about your values

Help your son develop a set of sexual ethics that will guide his behavior by connecting dating and sexuality to the values you are already teaching, such as respect, honesty and caring for others. And just like these things may not be exactly the same when practiced with immediate family, extended family, friends and strangers, they will probably look somewhat different here.

Do specify an acceptable age for sex

You should specify an age at which you think your son will be both physically and emotionally mature enough to have sex. This is part of your values. To the best of your ability, be clear with your son that the age you give is based on his maturity level and values, as well as your broader experience and perspective. Remember that he will use what you say to guide his own behavior, which includes deciding if he is ready at the age you specified.

Do have conversations about pleasure

Sex should feel good for your son and his partner. Discuss the fact that there may be some embarrassment, funny noises and odd smells, but the experience should be more positive than negative. It should be fun.

Do discuss the basics of biology and reproduction

Your son needs to know the correct names for his external anatomy, that sperm live in seminal fluid and that urine and sperm (and seminal fluid) all come out through the same part of the penis. If the two of you are not quite sure what the vas deferens is or what it does, don’t sweat it. If you really want to know, find a website or book--and go through it together. But remember that you probably don’t discuss his gall bladder or spleen in any detail either.

He also needs to know that any time his erect penis enters someone’s vagina, there is always a chance that pregnancy will occur. He needs to know this even if he is gay.

Do alternate between one-way information transfer and open discussion

There are times when you just need to tell your son something to make sure he knows it, such as “no means no.” And other times where you will want to explore his perspective regarding some aspect of sexuality. Be as clear as possible about which is which---both in your own mind and at the beginning of any conversation.


Don't

Do not underestimate the need to have ongoing conversations

You will consistently talk to your son about his values, how to handle money, how to manage his time and the kind of person he wants to be as he grows up. Dating and sexual behavior is at least as complicated as these issues, so make it an ongoing conversation.

Do not focus only on intercourse

Your conversation needs to include various topics, such as attraction, consent (giving and receiving it), dating, and “pre-coital” activities, including kissing, holding hands and groping. Keep in mind that it is not just about what happens when everyone is completely naked.

Do not believe the stereotype that claims boys want sex and not romance

This stereotype describes only a small percentage of boys, which is why most boys date and enjoy it. It is also why many prefer hooking up with people they know, whether that is a “friend with benefits” or “sex with an ex.”

Do not forget the condoms

As the only form of contraception that guys can control, it is vital that he knows what a condom is and how to use it. If you have this conversation with him before he has sex for the first time, there is a greater chance that he will use a condom the first time he has sex and every single time after that.

Telling your son, “Do not have sex, but if you do, be sure to use a condom” sounds like a mixed message. However, as a teen, he is smart enough to understand the difference. And there’s a good chance you have told him not to drink, but if he does, he should call you for a ride and you will come pick him up immediately. If he can handle that message about alcohol, he can handle the same message about sex.

Do not assume he will only talk to a guy

Most boys want to talk about difficult, complex topics with the people they trust. In other words, the quality of your relationship with your son is more important than your genitalia when it comes to deciding who will talk to him about sex. Of course, there may be times when your son wants to hear the male perspective. And your son may be in the minority of boys who really do have a clear preference for talking about this with other males.


Summary
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Sexuality is a complex topic that deserves lots of conversation and parental input. For the vast majority of teens and adults, dating, romance, and sexuality form a central part of their identity and their lives. It is very important for parents to talk about these topics repeatedly as their children grow, giving each one the time it deserves. These conversations will change as your child moves through his teens, due to his increased cognitive abilities and greater experience. Start creating a foundation now that will lay the groundwork for open, trusting conversations later.


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Andrew Smiler, PhDTherapist. Evaluator. Author. Speaker.

Andrew Smiler, PhD is a therapist in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (USA) and the author of “Challenging Casanova: Beyond the stereotype of promiscuous young male sexuality” (http://challengingcasanova.com/). He is a past president of the Society...

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