Raising Sons? Here Are 8 Ways To Teach Them About Sex, From A Pediatrician

Pediatrician & bestselling author By Cara Natterson, M.D.
Pediatrician & bestselling author
Cara Natterson, M.D., is a pediatrician, consultant, and New York Times bestselling author of puberty and parenting books. A graduate of Harvard College and Johns Hopkins Medical School, Cara trained in pediatrics at University of California at San Francisco.
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When we were kids, if our parents didn't talk about what was happening to our bodies (many didn't) and our schools didn't teach about it (again, most didn't), then we were left to seek out information from either our friends or a textbook with a few clinical diagrams, and both the friends and the books seemed to evoke in equal parts disgust, fear, and confusion. 

Fast-forward to parenthood in the 21st century. Our kids are managing all the same physiological and emotional byproducts of hormones that we contended with decades ago. But today they are simultaneously bombarded with images and messages that sexualize them to a degree we never experienced—nor could we ever have imagined—when we were their age.

The new leaders of the body and sex-ed movement aren't looking to replace your voice in your child's head, though sometimes they may; rather, they just want to acknowledge what's happening under the hood. In doing so, they are able to meet our kids where they're (hormonally) at, jump-starting their education often well before we might recognize their thirst for it. But, for boys, in particular, this subgenre is more than informational—it releases conversations around puberty and sex into the zeitgeist, making it watershed.

Here are eight tips on how to talk to boys about sex:

1. Timing.

On the one hand, information is power, so do it early. On the other, you wouldn't ice a cake before it was fully baked, so don't give him too much too soon. You get to choose when to start talking with your kid, but remember that these days he has lots of alternate sources, so delaying your conversation doesn't necessarily delay the flow of information.


2. Make the talk plural.

Talking about sex with your kid is no longer one-and-done, no matter how much you might wish. Cover one topic at a time, and repeat each topic many times over several years. Trust me when I tell you, the more often you go there, the easier it becomes. We know this subject—we've had sex—we can handle most of what comes our way.

3. Stick with broad definitions. 


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That starts with defining terms! Sex is intimate physical contact involving the genitals. Don't forget to cover sex with one's self (aka masturbation) and all of the fooling around that precedes sex—those "bases" from our youth are intimate, too, and deserve some dialogue.


4. Don't check your emotions at the door.  

It's as important to dive into the emotional component of dating (or, frankly, not dating) as it is to cover the mechanics of physical intimacy. Our kids are growing up in a hookup culture where, at least in many cases, intimacy has no strings attached—in theory, that is. In reality, emotions travel alongside physical pleasure, so help your kid put words to feelings.

5. There's no "U" in sex ed.

If you feel like you might die of embarrassment just thinking about talking to your son about sex, it's OK. Same goes if you are completely comfy with everything in this chapter and can't wait to dive in with your kid. We're all wired differently, and we communicate in unique ways. Just remember that this isn't your sex talk, it's his. You don't need to download your entire personal history in order to prove vulnerability or coolness or whatever else it is you think you are accomplishing. Tell him a little about your own life if you want, but don't dominate.


6. Cover legal ground. 

As your kid gets older, you really must include topics that span intimacy and legality. These include sexting: Both what to do if someone asks you for a nude picture (answer: Don't send one!) and why your kid shouldn't solicit a nude from someone else. There's also consent, rape, and the impact of drugs and alcohol, each of which deserves its own conversation, but they also need to be covered together because your son must know that consent doesn't exist in the presence of drugs or alcohol.

7. Don't assume they know it all. 

Even if your child's school has a robust curriculum, even if he has watched every episode of Big Mouth or has four older siblings, make sure that he knows correct facts about anatomical parts, birth control, and STDs.


8. Emphasize love, not fear. 

Don't demonize sex, because the ultimate goal is for your kid to have great sex as part of a loving relationship one day in the future—emphasis for most of you on "future." Remember that if you always frame sex in a negative light, then that day will come when your kid has sex (as almost all humans do) and you have set things up such that he cannot talk to you about it. Not to mention that your negativity about sex today can result in feelings of shame within him later on. So above all, don't forget to discuss love.

Adapted from Decoding Boys by Cara Natterson, M.D. Reprinted with permission from Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2020.

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