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How To Talk To Kids About Masturbation, Sex, Porn, Other Uncomfortable Things

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Let's say, hypothetically, that your 3-year-old finds your vibrator -- and they think it's a toy. And let's say they are pretty smart, so they figure out how to turn the "toy" on, which only creates confusion for you both. Let's say they ask you to show them how to use the toy. What do you do?

Asking for a friend.

I have five kids; I say this a lot. I say it a lot, because, A. I'm still like, what? How did that even happen? and B. I feel like it somehow gives me a shred of credibility. In any case, I do have five kids, and in the last 20 years of raising those five kids, I've made a lot of mistakes, I've gotten some of it right, and some of it was just flying by the seat of my yoga pants.

The Sex Talk is anticipated with a measure (probably a pretty big measure) of dread for parents. I know this is true because a lot of parents have told me that they'd essentially prefer bamboo being shoved under their fingernails than have to talk to their 9-year-old about erections. The Sex Talk was never a thing I never felt dread about -- getting kids to pick up dog poop is harder than telling them about gonorrhea.

There is a lot going on in the world, and this is especially true in the age of the Internet. Things, all things, are easier and easier to see, read, hear, and obtain. This includes sex.

Naked people.



All of the sex.

You are not going to be able to control their media consumption all of the time. You can turn the router off at home. You can block anything "adult" in nature on the TV, computer, tablet. You can take their phone away.

They will find a way to see people having sex. They will watch. This will incite sexual arousal. They WILL masturbate.

They will eventually also have sex. A lot of them (the average American teen will lose their virginity at 17), will have sex in high school, without you knowing. They are going to ask everyone around them for advice, information, tips, and pointers. They are going to be generally misinformed.

Unless you inform them.

Today I'm talking masturbation in particular because this stuff is the stuff happening before your teenager is getting busy in the back of your SUV (it's happening, sorry). We are laying the groundwork for healthy, happy sexual behavior. In the next two installments, we'll talk porn and then finish it off with actual partner sex stuff.

Part 1 of 3: Masturbation

This is a thing they aren't going to ask you about. They are embarrassed.

That embarrassment is the very reason we are talking about this.

Do you remember being 12? Or nine? Or five? Do you remember the humping of a pillow? The repeated crossing of legs? The hiding, wondering why in the name of all that is holy is my penis standing up? Penises are not supposed to do that. Ever.

Do you remember feeling like you are for sure the only person ever who made out with a pillow? Or touched and touched and touched themselves until you thought you were going to be committed?

Shame is not the solution here. Ignorance never helped anyone.
Were you afraid your palms would grow hair? That your penis would fall off? That your body was awesome, but that you couldn't understand it?

Do you remember feeling ashamed? What if you had experienced all of that without shame at all.

Shame is not the solution here. Ignorance never helped anyone. You don't have to give your kids pointers or spank material (let's face it, a 16-year-old doesn't need any help). But, the more information you give them, the better equipped they are to handle it, and the more willing they are to ask you when they have questions/are scared about something/need help/need condoms.

This conversation might look like this: Hey, ______. You may have a lot going on in your body right now that may feel a little confusing, but is really really normal. Do you want to talk about any of it?

They will say no.

You: Well, I'd like to tell you a couple of things you might expect while these changes are happening. I really want to give you accurate, honest information, so you don't have to hear it from your friends who heard it from their cousin who heard it from TV. You may have feelings you haven't had before about other boys/girls/boys & girls/people. Those are normal. All of them.

You don't HAVE to tell them how arousal works, but it's a good time to to get anatomical. (Good resource for that here.)

Here is the scary part.

You: I want to talk to you about masturbation. (You can add: This is touching your body -- they probably know this already) This is really normal, too. In fact, everyone everywhere does it. EVERYONE!

I know what you're thinking right now. Joni, you are a lunatic. I am not going to even say the word "masturbation" to my child. My god, woman. What is wrong with you? WHAT ARE YOU SMOKING? (Can I have some of it?)

This is the part where I remind you that A. sex is not inherently shameful; we made it shameful, and, B. if your kids do not get this information from you, they will get it somewhere else, and it will be misinformed.

Sex is not inherently shameful.

Ergo, masturbation is not shameful.

You don't have to give them a bottle of Astroglide (though it would be pretty nice if you did), but you can tell them what to expect, and reassure them that they are normal. This is a critical time to tell kids they are normal in all sexual regards. All kids, and especially our LGBTQ kids who may feel really abnormal. We can save our kids a lot of suffering by being honest with them, even through our own discomfort.

We talk about masturbation lightheartedly in our house. "Why were you late for dinner? Were you having You Time?" It's just not a big thing. We poop. We pee. We masturbate.

Imagine if the conversation around sex was just no big deal. And our kids just grew up having healthy thoughts and feelings about sex, and therefore, their bodies. And then they taught that to their kids.

Imagine how that would change it all. Mind. Blown. (See what I did there.)


This story by Joni Edelman first appeared at

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