42-year-old Sally* was doing something that moms often do — helping her teenage son with some laundry — when she grew a little alarmed. Amid Tyler’s* dirty clothes in the laundry basket, she found some items that looked like homemade sex toys. (*This probably goes without saying, but names have been changed.)
She wasn’t mad that her 15-year-old son had been doing some exploring. Who hasn’t?
But she was worried about the items he was using — various household objects that weren’t meant to be used for sexual pleasure. In short: She was concerned about his safety.
As a single mother, she didn’t know quite where to turn for advice. So … she went to the Internet.
There have to be some answers in there, right?
I know, I know. At first, I thought it was a disastrous move — I mean, have you seen the stuff on Yahoo! Answers? — but it turned out to be a great decision. Her post in Reddit’s /r/relationships racked up almost 500 comments. And a fair portion of the tips and advice were pretty helpful. Many people even messaged her privately, which helped her decide she needed to talk to her son about it.
Instead of pretending that she didn’t see anything, she decided to write her son an honest letter.
Included in the letter was a gift card to buy his own safe toys. In a follow-up post on Reddit, Sally writes:
“I told him that I care about him, which is why I don’t want him to hurt himself (or others, for that matter). I explained to him that what he had in his drawers could get him put into a hospital, and that was my biggest concern. I also made sure to mention that what he was doing was completely normal/natural; he just needed to be more health-conscious about it. I included a lot of links to educational resources (including Savage Love, which many of you raved about). I also bought him an Amazon gift card for $100.”
Tyler responded to the letter with tears — and relief. After a long discussion, Sally feels that they are now closer than ever.
They probably go watch sunsets together and stuff. Photo by Klappe/Pixabay.
Talking about sex with parents can be pretty awkward. (Probably more so if one of them found your private collection of toys.)
But Sally knew that her response could have a long-lasting impact on Tyler’s relationship to sex (and himself). That’s why she approached the potentially humiliating situation with love — and respect for her son’s natural sexual behavior. Right on, Sally.
Sally and Tyler’s story is a great lesson on talking about masturbation with kids.
How a parent approaches the topic can be vital to a child’s development. Here’s how Sally got it right:
1. She didn’t shame him for what he did.
While a recent survey from Indiana University shows that 78% of Americans have masturbated at some point in their lives, the stigma around the behavior makes a lot of people hesitant to admit it publicly. Sally was careful to emphasize that what her son was doing was totally normal. That can help reduce embarrassment about learning how one’s body works.
2. She respected his independence…
And, she gave him the tools to explore — safely. Sally emphasized that her concern was simply about her son remaining safe and healthy. When children have a healthy, no-shame relationship to masturbation, it helps them take ownership of their bodies. As a result, they have better sex with partners because they know how to communicate what they need.
3. …while also making it clear she was available for support.
A number of Reddit commenters suggested that Sally simply pretend she didn’t see anything. But receiving that letter helped Tyler muster the courage to approach his mother. Turns out, he’d been wanting to talk to her for a while because he was concerned about the effects of using the toys. An open conversation with his mother (and a quick doctor’s visit) helped reassure them both that everything was fine.
Props to you, Sally, for thoughtfully addressing this issue head-on. I’m sure Tyler would join me in saying, “Thank you for being awesome.”