This blog post is the 4th in a five part series on healthy sexuality for children and teens. Last post, we boosted parents up to tackle conversations with their daughters about sexual health. In this post, we want to add boys to the mix.
First, let’s think about a framework for helping boys view themselves as developing young men (assuming that’s how they identify). Think of what values you want your sons to live by as young men. List out your top five values that relate to healthy, whole living as a man in today’s society. For instance, you might want your boys to—Work Hard to Play Hard, Know their Feelings to Listen Well, Love Learning & Creating, Understand the Value of Money. Be A Giver in their Community.
Then, seek out experiences and education that promotes those values, which could include volunteer work, Saturday chores before tech time, etc. Horace Hough writes a book for boys, “8 Things Every Boy Should Know About Being A Man.” Check out what he says. You can also draw from more classic texts such as, “50 Things Every Young Gentleman Should Know” by John Bridges. The text needs to convey your values, and sharing demonstrates that you are investing in showing your sons how to act and think in our complicated world.
Now the hard stuff!~Peggy Orenstein interviewed over 100 teen/young adult males to try to understand what is going on in the sex lives/minds of young men. I’ll summarize her findings and add some tips for helping you BE BRAVE and invite your sons into these talks regularly.
As a parent raising two sons (now only 10 and 12), I found myself seeking the advice of my friend who has already raised her boys after I found signs of sexual curiosity and exploration on my child’s ipad. She shared about a time her oldest son sought her advice about his sex life with his girlfriend whom he was in love with. She recounted the story to me, considered it a true success that he came to her, and viewed it as a marker of his maturity—He could be vulnerable enough to talk about his fears and sexual uncertainties openly. I asked her how she thinks she influenced him to grow this skill. She chalked it up to regular 1-1 conversations over dinner with him from 10-20 years old where they’d talk openly about whatever he wanted.
Before I delve into this hard topic, I want you to remember my friend’s advice. Mostly just spend time listening to your sons, talking with (not at) them, and sharing openly with them in mind.
So, what do we need to know about how our sons are experiencing their sexuality these days? Generally, Orenstein would say that we are still defining masculinity by 1955 standards with the technological and sociocultural dynamics of the 2020’s. Here’s how.
- Boys are still walking around with very dated masculine images and ideals.
- For instance, Emotional detachment is gold. Being a man is narrowly defined. Feminine qualities are rejected or weak (crying, having or showing feelings).
- Toxic masculinity is alive and well and includes emotional suppression, denial of fear, and bragging about sexual “wins.”
- Boys learn about sex online through porn mostly.
- Boys’ bodies (and girls too) can be aroused by porn whether they like what they are seeing at first or not. It’s not moral, it’s physical.
- Over time, porn can create a dynamic where we start to “believe what we see” especially when it comes to sexual acts. Kids then think porn sex is real sex.
- Gay relationships do better at consent.–They ask, “What are you into?”
- Consent is 2-way. Yes, boys have unwanted sex too and are assaulted.
- Boys aren’t taught how to speak up against exploitative comments or actions; And when they do speak up, they are often punished socially.
- Boys feel trapped by negative expectations or assumptions that exist in The Boy Code—(“bro culture”, denial of feelings, denigration of girls).
- Young men of color are also trapped by racial stereotypes of aggression (black boys) and others.
The same skills apply to having conversations with your sons as with your daughters. Yet with boys we need to BE BRAVER. We need to assume all boys are watching porn (or will watch it), and talk with them about what is/isn’t real, safe, and wanted in a sexual relationship. As parents, Orenstein says we need “to get over it” and have awkward conversations anyway. Young men want [AND NEED] to hear from dads as well as moms. They need to experience their dad struggling with hard feelings so that they can learn to do so too. Young men need to understand from their dads that consent looks different now. It requires young men to ask each step of the way in a sexual encounter with a young woman, “Is this okay? “You Okay?”
How can we shy away or avoid this topic when so much is at stake for our boys? Boys are uncertain about how to handle their sexuality well. Most boys want to do the right thing, have 2 way consensual sex, and be healthy sexually. WE just need to show them how.