July 5, 2019

5 Things I want my sons (& everyone else) to Know About Sex.


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The response to my first article on this subject, “The Kind of ‘Sex Manual’ Every Man (& Woman) Should Read,” was overwhelmingly positive and revealed an audience hungry for advice to share with the young people in their lives.

Which is great, ‘cuz I have a few more things to say on the subject (although that’s true of just about any subject).

“Part II” comes with a caveat I should’ve included in the original article; namely, that because I’m fairly certain my boys are into girls (and 100 percent sure they’re white), I share these suggestions using the language of male/female relationships and speaking from my own privileged, white, American perspective. Clearly, not everyone identifies with a binary gender system, is white, or engages in heterosexual relationships.

While I cannot account for all of the potential combinations out there, I do believe most of my recommendations can be applied across gender and cultural lines, as well as to the queer community. That being said, I welcome any and all comments on blind spots or places where I’ve otherwise missed the mark.

This is my version of a road map, guiding (or steering) young (and not-so-young) males in the right direction to have healthy lives and loves when it comes to sex:

1. Always be kind when turning someone down or ending a relationship.

Listen, it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and admit you like someone. You guys know—you’re usually the ones expected to make the first move. But in the teenage universe of “I heard she likes you,” you may, at some point, become aware that you’re the object of some young lady’s (or young man’s) affections. Now, you’re not going to be into everyone who’s into you and that’s perfectly fine (although I encourage you to give admirers a chance whenever possible). But lack of interest is never an excuse for rudeness or cruelty.

The correct response is always something along the lines of “that’s very flattering, but…” or “thank you so much for asking, but…” or “that’s cool of you, but…” The correct response is never, ever laughter, ridicule, disgust, or even silence. If someone has gotten up the nerve to put him or herself “out there,” you owe them a mindful response.

And when a relationship comes to an end, as they all do until one doesn’t, I beg you to proceed with sensitivity and dignity. Even if you’ve been dumped. Even if someone is talking sh*t about you. Even if you’re in a lot of pain. Whatever has caused the relationship to end, at some point there was mutual interest and, presumably, some level of enjoyment from spending time with this person. That history deserves respect, and it dishonors both of you to behave otherwise. If you hear that your former partner is not adhering to this set of standards, that is not—I repeat, not—an excuse for you to act like an a**hole, too.

Phrases to keep in your back pocket include: “I’m sorry she feels that way” or “I’m grateful for the time we spent together” or “I’m really not interested in saying anything negative about so-and-so.” You get the idea.

I promise you, having the last word is not nearly as satisfying (or beneficial to your love life) as a reputation for being kind, considerate, and respectful of the people you once dated.

2. Never send, solicit, or share pictures of yours or anyone else’s private bits.

Even if you trust someone a whole, whole lot. Even if you’re desperately seeking approval on the size or shape of a particular private bit. Even if it feels like a sexy way to communicate when you can’t be together. Once those images are out there, they’re out there, and there are so many ways they can get distributed, regardless of the original recipient’s intentions. Phones get lost. Screenshots get taken. Texts accidentally get sent to the wrong person. Feelings get hurt. Parents check texts. An image is shared innocently with a friend that your trustworthy partner trusts, only that person turns out to be not-so-trustworthy.

And beyond the embarrassment, depending on the age of the person in the picture, the picture itself might be considered child pornography.

I know, right? Pretty serious stuff.

The U.S. Department of Justice defines child pornography as any visual depiction of sexually explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age). By that federal definition, you having such a picture on your phone becomes “possession of child pornography.” Likewise, sending or sharing such an image becomes “distribution of child pornography.” I urge you to familiarize yourself with the DOJ’s “Citizen’s Guide to U.S. Federal Law on Child Pornography” so that you have a crystal clear understanding of the risks involved in this kind of behavior. It’s far too common and the risks too great for you to not take a moment to educate yourselves.

3. Get comfortable with the idea of condoms.

Full disclosure: I’ve never had to put one on, myself. Still, it looks fairly complicated what with all of the rolling and unrolling and the potential for trapping those dark n’ curlies—so, why not practice ahead of time?

As of 2010, the Center for Disease Control found that only 62 percent of women of reproductive age practice some form of birth control and, of those women—only 28 percent use birth control pills. While the numbers may have increased a bit in recent years, the safe assumption for any young man having sex with a woman is that she is not taking birth control pills. And for young people, the most affordable and accessible form of birth control has always been—and remains—condoms.

Wait! Except for abstinence! Abstinence is always, always the most affordable and reliable method of birth control.

You can buy condoms over the counter at nearly any grocery, pharmacy, or gas station, or get them for free from many school nurses, Planned Parenthood, or a local health clinic. And while the idea of procuring condoms may sound unsexy, inconvenient, and/or anxiety-producing, I can promise you it’s a lot less any-of-those than an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

Just say you’re getting them for a friend, or that you need them for a science experiment. You’ll think of something.

4. Intimacy between two people is a private matter. Please don’t kiss and tell.

I have to sign a separate photo release form every time my 13-year-old goes on a school field trip—what on earth makes people think they have the right to share the details of another person’s sexual behavior without that person’s consent? When someone agrees to have sex with you—or simply kiss you—she’s consenting to a private interaction, not a public announcement. If you have a close confidante or two with whom you’d like to share a few nonspecific details, that’s one thing. Friends can be a vital source of support, information, and values-checking as you navigate this complicated, uncharted territory.

An example of a nonspecific detail you might share with a friend could be: “So…as of last week I’m not a virgin anymore and I’m having mixed feelings about it.” An example of a detail that provides too much detail is, “Dude, I lost my virginity to Suzie last night and she really seemed to know what she was doing, if ya’ know what I mean.” FYI, Instagram is not a close confidante. Nor is Snapchat, Facebook, the lunch table, or the bathroom wall. Please, be respectful of both your partner and yourself by keeping your encounters private.

5. Drama is not the same thing as love.

Yes, every relationship requires work and no two people see eye to eye all of the time. Sometimes we mess up and hurt each other; sometimes tears are shed and time-outs need to be taken. But if you find yourself stuck in an endless break-up/make-up cycle, or feel as though you’re walking on eggshells to avoid yet another argument, then I urge you to consider whether or not this relationship is really working for you.

Even if she’s super pretty and a good kisser.

A good partner brings out the best in us, not the worst. A healthy relationship enhances our life and makes it better, not more difficult. The carefree days should outweigh the tough ones, like, 30 to 1. And when I say “tough days” I don’t mean days that are explosive and devastating; I just mean days when you and your partner need to wrestle with something a little bit. You’re young. You have so many relationships and partners in front of you. If spending time with someone no longer brings you joy, move on (respectfully, of course; see number one).

Try to learn a little something from each experience—a small nugget of insight you can tuck into your pocket and consult as needed along the way: a strength you didn’t know you had or a quality you may need to develop further; a character trait you’d like to avoid in the next potential partner; a situation you thought would feel okay but ultimately didn’t; what not to say when a girl asks you “does this make me look fat?”

And whatever questions you still have—and I’m sure there are many—know that the answers will reveal themselves to you in due time, in your time. I’ve given you my version of a road map, but the route you take is completely up to you.

I know the trip will be amazing. I’m right here if you get lost.

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