So, Your Kid Is Masturbating While Your Family Isolates. What Should You Do?

A sex-ed expert explains why talking about self-pleasure can help protect your family's health.

Some much-needed good news: People are finding new self-care habits in quarantine. The simple joys of cooking, at-home workouts, and peaceful video games are giving Canadians small pleasures to look forward to.

Bad news: This includes kids and teens who have discovered, er, “Finding Nemo.” Or their own personal “Wiggles.” Thomas the Wank Engine, anyone?

Whatever you want to call it, masturbation is becoming a pandemic past-time. Social distancing measures mean sex toy sales are through the roof and touch-starved people are getting very handsy.

So it’s inevitable that in a health crisis that has millions cooped up at home, some young Canadians will realize that yes, bodies are marvels. Along with becoming very friendly with detachable showerheads, toothbrushes, pillows, and maxing out the family Wi-Fi plan without incognito mode.

As a result, parents may, unfortunately, come to the sudden realization that their walls are very, very thin. If you’re in this position and raising teenage boys especially, you have Twitter’s sympathy.

We asked Toronto-based sexual health educator Nadine Thornhill what parents should consider before bringing up their kid’s “alone time”:

First off, take a breath

In the grand scheme of things, Thornhill told HuffPost Canada having the perfect solution to a youth getting off shouldn’t be your priority during a pandemic.

“Our spaces are limited, our access to resources are limited. If parents are navigating this on top of everything else, it’s OK to make do,” she said.

Vancouver-based sexual health educator Marnie Goldenberg told Today’s Parent that she felt for parents who feel stressed about their kids’ solo time, as many Canadians never had the conversation with their own parents. It’s common to be shamed or told medical myths about masturbation too.

Watch: The top five myths about masturbation. Story continues below.

The stress of parenting in this specific scenario might be exacerbated by worrying that masturbation is wrong for children to do.

Although it may be distressing or awkward for some parents to think about, masturbation is a perfectly natural part of human development. As kids are born with genitals, it’s reasonable to expect they’d be curious to explore their own bodies.

There’s nothing wrong if your kid discovers masturbation before becoming a teen. While puberty is when most discover touching themselves, children as young as two may do so as well.

Yes, there are COVID-19 masturbation concerns

It may be tempting to just ignore the self-trysts, but Thornhill pointed out several scenarios where coronavirus transmission risks should be noted.

For one thing, many families share computers and phones. Teens who are sexting or watching porn might be touching themselves while using devices or breathing on devices, which can lead to fluids and respiratory droplets being shared.

Video games aren't the only high scores sexually-frustrated teens are after.
Mayur Kakade via Getty Images
Video games aren't the only high scores sexually-frustrated teens are after.

Other shared household items, like blankets, might also not be properly sanitized after masturbation sessions.

Spending more time indoors may lead some kids to explore every nook and cranny of their households. And try as they might to stash them in a discreet spot, parents’ own intimacy aids (like sex toys and porn magazines) may be discovered. In that case, there may be unsanitary sharing going on without parents’ knowledge.

Yeah, maybe it's time to hide the vibrators in a locked safe.
Viacheslav Peretiatko via Getty Images
Yeah, maybe it's time to hide the vibrators in a locked safe.

On the plus side, masturbation may be what saves your family. Teens who have sexual partners may also be trying to sneak out to hook up, which puts your family’s social distancing at risk. In this case, masturbation should be encouraged as an alternative. As COVID-19 guidelines from the New York Public Health Department state, “You are your own safest sexual partner.”

Don’t put them on the spot

If you’ve noticed their solo act because of noise levels, hour-long bathroom breaks, or catching them in the act, hold your tongue before calling them out explicitly.

Thornhill recommended taking a subtle approach when bringing up masturbation to your kid or the family at large. Embarrassment about the topic can go both ways; they may feel humiliated if they’re put on the spot for what’s considered a private activity.

“Masturbation is really comforting to do, it’s normal in times of grief to have sexual feelings,” she said, as an example of a conversation starter.

She advises to check in with a kid’s comfort levels before delving into a speech.

However, it might be worth addressing directly with very young kids, as they may be unaware of the inappropriateness of masturbating in front of others.

Trouble-shooting thin walls

Hearing your kid’s fun time too much? Family living arrangements are different for everyone. For some, the solution may be to simply move to a different part of the house when you catch a muffled sound. This might be impossible in smaller homes, where cramped quarters make privacy challenging.

Consider agreeing on a family code word or scheduled time for private matters, Thornhill suggested, as it can ensure that no one is stuck in an internal hell of unavoidable eavesdropping.

Pray for parents with thin walls right now.
tommaso79 via Getty Images
Pray for parents with thin walls right now.

“I’m going to the bathroom, I need everyone to crank up the volume on the TV,” is a phrase family members can turn to. Exaggerated eyebrow waggles or signals can also get the message across.

They’re not perfect solutions, of course, as the urge may strike at anytime.

Consider investing in noise-cancelling headphones, playing loud music, or going for a walk around the block (keeping at least six feet away from neighbours, of course).

Share resources

Accessing education is tricky right now, but thankfully e-learning can take many forms.

As part of Thornhill’s “Sex Ed School” series, Thornhill and researcher Eva Bloom have normalized learning about genitals. As they told viewers, kids are ready to learn about genitals at the same age they learn about their other body parts.

It might also give young people solace to hear stories about people’s first times discovering solo tickle fights. Why not text your teen this link? (But warning, this video from The Cut has its share of swear words.)

Sometimes, they just want privacy

Don’t assume your kid is constantly taking themselves to town. Let them keep their antics to themselves without joking every time they try to get away from quality time together.

You’ll laugh about this later

Every family has their share of awkward stories. Months or years down the line, let’s hope many will find the humour in pandemic-era masturbation anecdotes.

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