It can be tough to break the ice – but a little discussion can do a world of good.
[Mike has been JackinWorld's Assistant Editor since 1997. He has two grown children, a daughter and a son.]
Recently in JackinForum a father asked for advice on how to begin talking to his son about masturbation. Shortly after, a teenager asked how he could do the same with his father. These letters inspired me to put together some thoughts on how one can approach the other about the topic.
Advice For Sons
If your father has never talked to you about masturbation, or has done so only barely, perhaps it's because he grew up in an atmosphere of intense negative attitudes toward the subject. You can help your father a lot by being patient with him, and understanding if he is uncomfortable with the subject.
First, think about what you want from talking about masturbation with your father. Are you curious about his experiences when he was your age? Or if he masturbates as an adult? Or do you want him to assure you that masturbation is okay? Do you have a specific question you haven't found an answer to anywhere else? Or, do you just want to feel closer to him by sharing this universal aspect of being male? Figuring out what you want can help you with the next step.
Start the conversation with something about you, not a question about him. You heard something at school the other day...or, your friend was telling you about something. Or, you heard something in sex-ed class that puzzles you or that you thought was funny. You can learn a lot about how to proceed by how he answers this introductory question.
If your dad gets embarrassed, starts to mumble or hesitate, or otherwise shows that he's uncomfortable responding to you, it may be best to drop the subject. Here is where being patient can help. If you can cheerfully change the subject without showing that your feelings are hurt, you can let him off the hook. Remember that he is probably more uncomfortable about this than you are.
However, if your dad smiles and talks easily, or jokes with you about it, take that as a signal to proceed. Here is where it helps to know why you want to talk about masturbation with him: If you want to feel closer to him by sharing experiences, you could proceed with a question about his experience or say some more about your experience. If you're seeking information or want to learn about his attitude about some aspect of sex, you're all set to ask that question.
After you have broken the ice and the two of you have become more comfortable talking about the topic, you might find it easiest to joke about it with him. For the two of you to develop your own private masturbation jokes can provide the basis for a very special bond – something many dads and sons yearn for all their lives.
If your father has already talked with you about sex and love, it might be easier to bring up masturbation. Even if you know the answer, asking a question still works to open the topic for discussion. Here are some suggestions for questions:
* I've noticed that almost every morning when I wake up, my penis is stiff and feels really good. What does that mean?
* I've noticed lately that whenever I rub myself down there, like if I'm leaning against a counter or putting on my underpants, my penis feels really good. I don't remember feeling this way when I was younger. What's that all about?
* In sex education class, we learned about "wet dreams," but I don't think I've ever had one. Is there something wrong with me?
* At school, the guys were talking about [slang term for masturbation]. What's that? (Or:) I think I know what that means, but could you tell me so I can be sure?
If you're feeling more adventurous, or if you've already discussed the topic a little:
* At school, one of the older guys said that if you masturbate, you'd grow hair on your palms. Is that true? (Or, substitute any other masturbation myth.)
* (If you are just beginning to ejaculate:) I'm starting to get some sticky fluid coming out of my penis when I masturbate. What's that all about? (Or:) The fluid that comes out of my penis when I masturbate is clear. I thought it's supposed to be white. Why is that?
* What was it like for you when you were first learning to masturbate? (Or:) How did you learn to masturbate?
* All the guys at school say they never masturbate. Do you think they're telling the truth? (Or:) Did you ever feel like you were the only one in the world ever who masturbated?
Many adults continue to masturbate even though they have satisfying relationships with a spouse. Your father might be one of them. So you could ask:
* Do you still masturbate? Why?
* Does masturbation still feel as good to you as when you were my age?
Notice that the first few questions just seek information. The others aim more at opening a discussion about masturbation. If you and your dad have not discussed masturbation (or even sex) before, start with a question that seeks information. However, if the two of you have discussed sex before and feel easy with it, then try one of the questions lower in the list.
Another way to open the subject is to joke about it, if you and your father have that easy a relationship about the subject. This goes for dads, too. Joking with your son about masturbation is an easy way to signal him that it's okay to talk about the subject.
Advice For Fathers
At the most basic level, when you're discussing sex with your son, you can explain that masturbation refers to rubbing your penis so that it feels very good, and that most boys and men do it at one time or another – some for all of their lives. If your son is much older than 10 or 12, he probably has already learned at least part of this from his friends. It's important to include that you think the practice is natural and normal, that it's important to do it in private and not in public, and that it will help him learn how his body responds to prepare him for sexual relations with others when he is older. If you have never talked much about sex with your son, this is a good place to start.
If you have talked some (or even much) about sex with your son, you might want to try telling him how you learned to masturbate when you were a boy. Or, you might tell him about how you learned a masturbation myth you later learned was false. Any other tale that is true will do. It's even better if it is amusing, because it will provide you a basis for joking with your son about masturbation. Thus, you don't have to be so formal as to say, "I think masturbation is okay, and I think it's even better that we can talk about it."
If you and your son have already established a good rapport in talking about sex, love, and masturbation, you might try opening a discussion with a question, such as:
* What do you think about the idea of masturbating with a girlfriend?
* Has anyone ever suggested to you that you masturbate together? What did you think? Did you do it? How did you feel about it?
* Have you ever masturbated so much your penis got raw and sore? What did you do about it?
* Have you ever had to go a long time without masturbating? How did it feel when you finally could masturbate again?
* Has anyone ever told you masturbating will make you gay? (Or any other masturbation myth.)
(If you still masturbate regularly and have shared this with your son:) * What do you think about the fact that I still masturbate? What do you think about the relationship of masturbation and loving sex between two partners?
Advice For Both Sons & Fathers
When fathers talk about their masturbation experience with their sons, it helps the son begin to see himself as a sexual being in the world, in the context of his father's sexuality. However, it invites problems if dads actually masturbate with their sons. Even if a father has only the best intentions, the risks of misunderstanding warrant that it's better to leave masturbation to conversation. Sons need conversational guidance from their parents so that they can establish their own ideas about sexuality, but be careful about offering too much.
It's important for sons just starting puberty to know it's okay to be sexual and to express their sexuality in private, and in a way that is age-appropriate. It helps a lot for parents to provide them with this privacy and with the necessary resources: lubricant, towels, tissues, etc. Youngsters also need to understand that their parents are sexual beings, too, who continue sexual practices as an important part of their love for each other – and who need their privacy, too.
Mid- to late-teens need to know it's okay that they're interested in exploring sexual relations with others their own age while guarding against disease and pregnancy. Parents need to help their teens understand what's expected of them in this regard, and what it means to act responsibly and to treat others with respect – and that other families may have different values. Parents also need to work with their mid-to-late teens to help them establish their own values around sexuality, to feel good about it, and to be able to defend their beliefs to others. Easy conversation is the best vehicle for building this kind of understanding.