I don’t often blog about personal issues.
But this one comes from my own experience, rather than a reader’s question. I am a Mom. I am also a sexuality educator and Professor of Sexology. So when my son came to me the other day and told me he knew what he wanted to be when he grew up… his answer both surprised and pleased me: a Daddy.
He is only 5. But yet the two worlds of professionalism and mommyhood converged for me in that moment. While I was delighted that he wanted to be a daddy one day, I started to think of all the things I will need to teach him! Things like relationships. Patience. How to protect. And mostly, how to navigate the increasingly complicated world of sexuality for young boys. The mechanics of sex were the furthest thing from my mind. Actually initiating and negotiating healthy relationships is what I pondered.
I also happened to attend a lecture last night on the prevalence of internet pornography and how this has changed our notions of sexuality. I have blogged about this concern before, but mostly about girls. But what does the massive exposure of porn do to our young boys? At such early ages? I think that for most people, the barrage of images and their meanings can be confusing. So how do we help our young boys navigate through what is “real” and authentic?
Most boys grow up with some form of porn.
They discover it from early ages through magazines and television. But those were the good old days! Today, the volume of images are multiplied exponentially, and the graphic nature of the content is much more explicit than ever before. Our young boys are no longer getting aroused to images of just bare breasts. There are hard core images of violence and sexuality interconnected, with women displaying very vulnerable and submissive roles at the fingertips of our kids’ smart phones.
For young boys just starting out in the world of sexuality, with no prior bank of sexual experiences, it is a distorted message about gender roles, what relationships are, and how to behave sexually with one another. The common place porn of today is more aggressive. It is more explicit. It is more advanced, and generally strips away any of the intimacy involved between people.
Porn itself of course is not the problem, unless it is the main medium of learning about sex, which it is usually is! If porn was used as intended- for play, then the discussion may be different. But the reality exists that many boys do grow up on a porn diet and do not know anything else by the time they get into relationships. There is often a lot of disappointment that follows such experiences, and confusion around what sex means for each other.
So, I plan to teach my son that he has a choice.
I will tell him that he will be exposed to a lot of images, and he will have a choice to look or not. I will also explain to him that porn is fantasy and make belief, and that most women don’t enjoy the deep throating, hair pulling or the double penetration he will see.
I will teach my son how to date. I will take him out on dates with me and teach him about chivalry, how to make conversation, how to read body language, and how to respect the company he is with. I will teach him about intimacy and what that feels like. I will tell him he will be nervous and get the jitters. And that those are the good feelings!
I will teach him how to be a partner, to whomever he chooses. I will teach him to listen to someone else. I will teach him how to see someone else’s point of view. I will teach him how to discuss consent. I will teach him how to be compassionate when someone is hurting. And I will teach him how to repair a relationship when he hurts someones’ feelings. As we all do from time to time.
I will also teach him how to fail, and more importantly to get back up again and try. And I will be there to remind him how amazing and loving he is when he gets his heart broken for the first time. And maybe possibly the tenth. After all, crushes are called “crushes” for a reason.
I am well aware that the growing masculine culture is one of machoism. This has not changed much. But I believe that having a son to raise is both a challenge as well as a privilege today. One of my students’ once said that she felt her largest duty as a Mother to her son was to teach him how to become a good husband one day. I could not agree more.
I want my son to have whatever he wants in life.
And it is my job to give him those tools. As our world of sexuality evolves at a rapid pace, it is hard to predict where we will be in ten or twenty years. But as a sex educator, and as Mommy, I will teach him how to be a man. The kind of man most of us would look up to, respect and want to date! As our world evolves, it may perhaps be a new definition of manhood. But this is both my challenge and my privilege.