Talking to tweens about sex and masturbation: keep calm and spank on

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Parents face a potential challenge that will likely rear its head sometime in the tween years: how do you talk to your kids about masturbation and sex without the conversation making everyone uncomfortable? Nicole from Moms Who Drink and Swear recently had to face the convo with her twelve-year-old head on, and here's how it went:

I initiated the conversation. "So Dude, next time we are at the doc, feel free to go in alone. It won't hurt my feelings. You are growing up and deserve your privacy, but please know that I am always here for you. I'll listen and not judge and try to help you and if I don't have the answers, I'll find someone who does. Your wang is your thang, okay?" I said to him, hoping to encourage him to go it alone the next time. His response floored me.

"Yeah, I know you'd be cool with me going in alone. Besides you don't have a dick so how would you know about dick issues?"

Oh yes he did.

I've been dealing with dick both literally and metaphorically for a lot longer than my kid has, and I had to deal with his little dick for a good many years before he got control of his own bathing, grooming and potty training business.

I TOLD him that, and it was only the beginning of my mini-rant about all things sex and sex parts related.

You can read more here — and trust me, this read is worth it in LOL counts alone.

While this piece is about talking to boys, we're curious: how are you talking to your tween and teen boys AND girls about masturbation?

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  1. It might be a little over the top, but the kids in my life (and my family's life) get scripting about masturbation from a VERY young age, so we're all very comfortable talking about it and are giving the same, positive message. Most little kids (3 years old, give or take) get pretty obsessed with handling their junk, so the script is "It's okay to want to touch yourself because it can feel good, but you need to do it in your room, in private, okay?" By the time they're older we're so comfortable talking about it that it's no surprise to them when we get more serious. Also, when we talk about "the birds and the bees" we include masturbation as a valid (and safe!) option!

    Now, all that said, it's a little tougher with my foster kids because I haven't been there for most of their upbringing. I've totally handed my boys a box of sandwich baggies and a bottle of lotion with the comment "No more socks! And put it in your trash, the toilet can't handle baggies" and left it at that. Luckily for me, most of my more curious boys are pretty forthright with their questions so I don't have to go around searching for ways to get them to talk.

    1 agrees
    • Yeah, my friends with older kids have had really great conversations about the difference between "secret" and "private." Masturbation isn't a secret (there's no shame in it, everyone should do it if they want to, it feels good and is even good for your body), but it IS private — ie not something we do in the living room.

      2 agree
  2. Being the daughter of a librarian, my mom bought me a book about puberty which was for both boys and girls. There were sketches of the development of the female body and the male body, stuff about all the shapes boobs come in, a bit about circumcision, and a bit about masturbation and wet dreams (although it was more centered on boys than girls). That was the sum total of our discussions about masturbation. I love @Amanda's "no more socks" thing for boys. If I have a girl, I have every intention of presenting her with a vibrator and some lube and just encouraging her to figure out what she likes. If you figure it out for yourself first, you're more likely to enjoy future sexual experiences as well as to not rest your entire sexual fulfilment on another person (Ariel was bang on).

    3 agree
    • Just a head up, be careful with vibrators. My first experiences with vibrators definitely had an impact on developing vaginismus.

      1 agrees
      • How did it contribute? My experiences with one contributed to loosening things up so there wasnt any problems lol. Im not judging or saying you are mistaken, I am just overly curious.

        • Vibrators feel like I'm being electrocuted in my vag. Definitely not anything that's pleasurable, and like any kind of electrocution it makes your muscles tense up. Thus, vaginismus. Vibrators also contributed greatly to my vulvodynia, nerve damage due to consistent over-stimulation.

          And perhaps most importantly, I thought my clitoris was broken for the first 10 years of having a sex life, simply because vibrators overstimulated me so much that I didn't ever want it touched (and when it was touched, I couldn't feel anything). It took two years of lidocaine therapy to re-grow the nerve endings and then at least another year to find the stimulation I enjoyed on my clit, and at almost 29 years old I've only been able to make myself orgasm for about 6 months (and not easily or satisfyingly at that). I really wish I'd never even tried vibrators.

          1 agrees
        • In my case I thought I was supposed to enjoy penetration so I kept using it even if it was uncomfortable. The more I used the less I liked penetration, to the point even the thought of it made me shiver. When my body experienced pain/discomfort the first time I kept expecting pain and my body started to tense immediately. I thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn't enjoy vibrators so I kept going and it had very bad consequences for me. Every experience with vaginismus is different, of course, I just want to say that in my case it worsened things.I started very young and to this day I cannot enjoy penetrative sex. Brigitte, I am so sorry that happened to you! I have always thought the myths about vibrators destroying nerves were false, but it seems they were true afterall.

          1 agrees
          • "but it seems they were true afterall."

            …for some people.

            I don't wish to diminish anyone's personal experiences, but it's important to note that the majority of women who use vibrators do not have issues with them.

            1 agrees
    • I'm glad you're talking to your daughter about masturbation. It seems (here in the US at least) more common and acceptable for boys to masturbate, but not girls. I always thought I had an open relationship with my mother, and it was certainly more open than many of my peers, but while we talked about menstruation, sex, sexual orientation, STDs, dating, love, lust, child birth, nursing, and even rape, the subject of masturbation never came up. I kind of had to figure things out for myself.

      7 agree
    • I would have HATED my mom for giving me a vibrator. Thats way too much parent involvement. I think its important to know that you can talk to your parents about everything.. but parents also should know when to stop.

      1 agrees
      • I had no problem figuring all that out with no guidance, I think i was figuring it out around age 8, a lot of stuff I saw on tv gave me ideas. i never used toys and now have a very satisfying sex life with my one and only sex partner, my husband, in many different ways. Kids figure stuff out and with the internet, figure it out much faster then the previous generation.

        1 agrees
    • I think the risk of giving your kid any kind of sex toy is that you are effectively telling her that it is something she "should" enjoy. Even if you don't phrase it like that if she is given something designed for sexual stimulation she may believe that this is the "proper" way to be sexually stimulated. Hell, it's so proper her MOM gave her one. So clearly *everybody* uses one.

      Which would be a super big bummer if she didn't like vibration, or penetration, or things with glitter etc.

      Maaaaaaaybe I'd consider giving my kid an Amazon gift card or something with a note that (s)he wouldn't have to read in front of me that just mentioned that they sell adult toys on Amazon. The kid could use it on a vibrator, a giant butt plug, or new shoes. And I wouldn't have to be involved.

      Plus, I think I would have *died* of embarrassment if my mom handed me a vibrator. And I say that as a student midwife who talks to people about their sex lives all the time now!

      1 agrees
  3. Right now I'm facing the issue of the boys sharing a room. My 11 yr old has had a lot of talks, but my 9 yr old hasn't had as many talks. I worry that my oldest will need more time to himself, but since we live in such a small space with only 1 bathroom, there just isn't that much time or space to give him.

  4. Lotion??! I don't get this. Neither does my husband or ANY guy I've been with/discussed this with. I think it's an American thing? Are they so super sensitive that a hand is going to rub the skin off?! Please enlighten me as it's a topic that comes up frequently when watching American films!

    1 agrees
    • Masturbating with lotion is definitely something that I hear of more often from those who are circumcised. If you're in a country with lower circumcision rates, the concept may not be as prevalent.

      1 agrees
      • Yeah, I think it has a LOT to do with circumcision. Guys I've been with who weren't circumcised didn't use lube/lotion, but the ones who are cut tend to want a little slip. In any case, I tend to err on the side of "here, have some lotion!" because I have NO CLUE what will feel best to them so I want 'em to have options. And lotion is a LOT cheaper than lube!!

        2 agree
      • Aah-I see. It's a geographical thing 🙂 Yeah circumcision is not very common in the UK. I find the whole thing quite interesting really. I have read that cutting decreases sensitivity so would have thought that lotion would have the opposite effect?
        Not that I'm confusing you with a "sexpert" or anything 🙂

        1 agrees
        • I do not have a penis, but in my experiences with dudes like my partner, they masturbate by sliding their foreskin over the head of their glans generally. Well, if you have no foreskin, your hand has to fill that role, and hands aren't always the softest of things, so you need lube or lotion to make it less friction burny-y and more pleasurable.

          1 agrees
        • The foreskin also has a self-lubing mechanism via the mucosal membrane on the inside. So when a dude is circumcised it doesn't just give him less pleasure, it makes it harder for him to jerk-off. I don't even want to imagine the female equivalent…

          1 agrees
      • My aunt had to take my cousin to the dr for extremely painful penis when he was a teen. Turned out he'd just been rubbing it too much. And dryly.
        The dr said to try to ease off on using it so much and to use lube or lotion when he did. Actually he recommended hair conditioner as a very cheap slippery substance to use.
        She didn't say, but I assume he's circumcised.

  5. Growing up, I lived in a household that cultivated a culture of shame around sexuality. My mom actively refused to acknowledge my desire to understand sexuality and any question I had about, well, anything, she would shut me down with "that's disgusting, only perverts ___________". (fill in the blank– masturbate, kiss other girls, think they might be gay, etc etc).

    What happened is that I did not understand that sexuality was supposed to be a part of my self-identity as well as a healthy part of a relationship, and I really struggled–am still struggling– to define myself as a sexual being with needs and likes and wants– because as a kid, sex and masturbation was a dirty, dirty thing that only disgusting perverts did, so as a normal teenager figuring out ma business, I had to do it in private, with shame and guilt, because I felt like I was doing something wrong. (didn't stop me though. Orgasms FTW).

    I wasn't able to ask my mom questions, and discussing things like boundaries and healthy sexual patterns between consenting adults was just a conversation we never had. It BLEW MY MIND when my partner told me "you know, you can tell me what YOU like in bed", and it took me a long time to be able to do so, because I felt pervy and ashamed for knowing what I liked and expressing that.

    Anyway, this is way too long, but what I am trying to say is super kudos to her for being such a cool, understanding, accepting mom.

    12 agree
  6. I think that the key to all of these issues is to bring it up before it's actually happening. My mother talked to me about masturbation well before I had started, telling me that it was something I would eventually enjoy. I was a little bit horrified but not at all embarrassed, and the idea of masturbation being totally normal stuck with me.

    3 agree
  7. This was posted at just the right time. My 12 almost 13 year old son just asked to go to the Park with his "friend" who is a girl..a beautiful girl..that looks about 16 or 17 years old..he is still the small for his age, awkward Pre-tween boy who has a HUGE crush on his "friend". I of course said "hell no" I don't feel like he is ready or informed enough about what kind of situations you can find yourself in with the opposite sex..even if its just a "friend"..I took this opportunity to start up a very direct discussion about sex and feelings. We haven't had the whole conversation yet..I like to take in bits and pieces. I don't want him to be overwhelmed and tune me out. I really hadn't even thought of the topic of masturbation. But I see that its very important to add that in.
    I wasn't raised with open discussions about sex..just left to discover it on my own. Even when my mother found a condom wrapper in my car at the age of 17 on her Sunday drive to church she just quietly dropped it on my dresser and left, never to mention it.That didn't send a very healthy message to me about sex. So I wanna make sure I have a very open communication with my boys..With my 20 year old it was easy, he asked and said any and everything , never held back but my 12 year old is very reserved and more to himself. I just plan on approaching it the same as I did with his older brother..say what I need to say, give correct information, and keep at it..even if it takes awhile for him to open up and talk back or ask questions. Even with experience under my belt I still hope I say the right words.
    Thanks for a great post..Loved reading it.

  8. This is also a prime opportunity for the porn vs real life talk, if it's given adequate leadup it can be part of a healthy sexuality so long as it's understood that sex doesn't work like that with a partner. It's like candy, good occasionally but not meant for regular consumption.

    10 agree
  9. So my daughter is only 6 (thankfully I still several years – hopefully – before I have to have this talk with her), but this brings back a lot of memories of my own childhood and "talks" with my own mother. I feel that all of the things that happened and didn't happen when I grew up has formed my current views and opinions on sex now. 1) my mom was a nurse so everything sex related was very heavy with medical terms and information. 2) my mom was very religious. So any other info about sex aside from the medical kind was centered around staying pure for marriage and basically that God would be very upset with me for having sex before marriage, whether full intercourse or just heavy petting – it was all considered bad. It was never put in a positive light as being something that two people enjoyed when they loved each other and wanted to be together even though my parents always had an active sex life. Because it was only ok to have sex if you were married. 3) both oh my parents have genital herpes so oral sex was NEVER discussed in detail. The only thing I remember hearing from my mom, again, was put in a negative light as being disgusting or unsanitary. So it was never considered an alternative to sex or as a safe option. The first time I got married, oral sex wasn't an option cause I wasn't comfortable with the idea of it. 4) Masterbation was never discussed either. Not even once. But I'm sure it was also considered "un-pure". Because of all the negativity surrounding sex, I've never felt comfortable talking to my mom.

    Now that I'm in a much healthier relationship with someone I love very much (we're planning our wedding now!), I've learned a lot about sex, myself and my own pleasure, and his pleasure. I still feel uncomfortable at times, but he's very understanding and never pushes me. So I said all that to say this – I can only hope that when the time comes, I can stay open-minded and be able to discuss all these things with my own daughter so that whatever she decides to do, she can be informed of the joys of sex and the negatives that can come of it also when not prepared/ready. My main goal is to make sure she (and any other kids i might have) can always talk to me and ask me questions without fear of being told they are sinning and "being bad". Sorry this is so long!

  10. I struggle with this one.. I grew up in a house that it really just wasn't talked about.. I figured out masturbation on accident and didn't even know thats what I was doing till I looked it up in a dictionary/encolopedia software we had on the computer.. I later embraced it but still was not something I was comfortable talking about.. Heck i still have an incredibly hard time being vocal about sex w my husband (I freeze up and just can't say things sexy like…unless I'm typing like "sexting" lol )..
    But I have a 15 year old self proclaimed lesbian step daughter and an 11 year old one who's gunna hit puberty any day.. I WANT to foster a healthy attitude about sex and masturbation (I'm convinced that I was able stay a virgin till I was 20 was because of masturbation lol) but I don't know how.. I can stick with strictly medical stuff easy enough (I'm a nurse) but struggle with how/when/how much and if I'm still shy about stuff, that's even harder getting past my own issues I don't want them to have..
    The 11 yr old use to rub herself against door jams and stuff when she was 5yrs old but since I had just moved in with them- it was handled by her dad – (who is far better at talking about stuff) – "something to do in private" I believe he told her.
    I did get her a book for period stuff which helped start some conversations.. And I got another book that specifically talks about madturbation and sexual orientation but I don't know when it'll be appropriate to give her that one..
    shes very reserved and quiet so I don't see her bringing anything up first.

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