You see, son, when a man and a woman love each other very much…

Last night my wife informed me that my youngest son apparently has a girlfriend.  It’s hard to parse out exactly how I feel about this.

On the one hand, at thirteen he’s younger by a few years than I was before I first had a “committed relationship” with a woman; this realization carries a certain amount of anxiety about the degree to which he’s really ready for the choices that could conceivably arise when the smooching starts.  On the other hand, I’m well aware that most junior high school relationships are so in name only.  Often times at that age little one-on-one time is spent together, and seeking out the moniker of “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” has more to do with peer jockeying than emotional and sexual exploration.  I could (and will) ask him about the details, of course.  But having been a teenager, I am well versed in the varying degrees with which the truth about one’s sexual activities can differ from the the stories proffered to one’s parents.

Which means that it’s probably time for me to sit down with him and have the talk.

He knows all of the basic biology surrounding human sexuality, of course – public education saw to that a while back.  The job of the public school sex-ed teacher, however, is merely to teach facts and present oddly symmetrical diagrams of female organs that will mean little to him.  Severely botching the teaching of wisdom is my job. And I must say, I’m dreading it.  I have had but two experiences surrounding the talk in my life: My father’s talk with me, and my talk with my older son.  Neither of those went particularly well.

My father was never a touchy-feely kind of guy in the best of times, and discussing the birds and the bees with the fruit of his own exploits clearly made him uncomfortable.  I suspect he would have been fine with avoiding the topic altogether, but when I was sixteen my mother found a Playboy in my room.  She really freaked out about it, and insisted to my father that he needed to sit down with me and explain what I was getting myself into with all of this awareness of girly parts.  And so one Sunday afternoon, he called me down to talk with him as he rearranged the liquor cabinet.  The liquor cabinet was actually just a large built-in kitchen cabinet at ground level.  When I found my father he was on his knees, his head, shoulders and arms inside the cabinet as he shuffled bottles around.

“So, your mom want me to talk to you about the birds and the bees,” he announced.

“Um… Ok,” I said glumly.

He began to talk about the importance of never having sex before marriage for the next fifteen minutes, never once taking his head out of the cabinet – which means that from my point of view, I got my birds and bees talk from my dad’s butt.

When he finished, he asked if I had any questions about sex.  The truth was I had a ton, such as: Where could I get some?  Which positions did girls like?  How could I find cheap, working birth control without my parents finding out?  Those ads in Playboy promising to make my penis 5 inches longer – those were bullshit, right?  And hey, how about them women’s breasts?  Were they awesome or what?  But I decided that I didn’t really want to ask my dad any of these questions, so I just said “No, but I’ll ask you later if I think of any.”

This seemed to satisfy him, and he left me with one last piece of advice before he told me I could go:

“Son, there are going to be times when you’re with a woman, and you’ll have the opportunity to go all the way.  And it’s going to be hard for you to stop.  So you should always remember to do this: When that time comes, ask yourself, ‘What if I were sharing this girl’s toothbrush?’  Because that’s basically what you’re doing when you have sex, and remembering that is usually enough to make you think straight.”

I remember thinking then that if using someone else’s a toothbrush were the price of admission, I would be willing to brush for hours if only someone would let me.


Because of my own birds and bees talk, I was committed that I would be a more open, honest and cool dad when my own son’s time came.  Unfortunately, what I didn’t anticipate was how that time would come when he was six years old.

I was cooking “grown-up” dinner as my older son, then a newly minted first grader, sat at the counter eating Kraft macaroni and cheese.  My wife came in the kitchen and kissed me, and I kissed her back.

“UGH! Gross!” howled our son.  “Mom and dad are humping!”

This came as a bit of a shock to us, and my wife and I handled it in very different ways.  As I recall, my wife began to turn the inappropriate comment into a teaching moment, but I waved her off.

“Where did you learn that word?”  I asked him crossly, knowing before he said it that the answer would be the school playground.  I explained that it was not a polite word, and one he was not allowed to use.  He wanted to know why.

“Do you know what ‘humping’ even means?” He thought about it for a minute before admitting he didn’t.  “Then don’t use it the word if you don’t know what it means.”

My wife gave me a look like she couldn’t believe what a moron she had married, but I was still congratulating myself for my quick thinking and awesome parenting skills.  “I’ve got it covered,” I assured her later that night.

The next day of course, he arrived home from school and announced that after having asked around he now knew what ‘humping’ was.  My wife gave me a “told you so” look as we sat down to deal with this newest development.  We chatted a bit about how some words just weren’t appropriate to use even if you knew what they meant, before I asked what exactly he had learned.

“Humping,” he said cheerfully, “Is when a man takes his penis and hits a woman’s stomach with it.”

“Actually, that’s foreplay.”

The words were out of my mouth before I even knew I was speaking them.  My wife threw her hands in the air, as she mouthed “What the hell?!”  I froze up, unsure of what to say next and hoping that my son hadn’t really been paying attention.  No such luck.

Foreplay?” he asked, wide eyed and clearly fascinated.  “What’s foreplay?”

That weekend I sat down with him with a few simple picture books about sex written for young children I’d checked out from the library.  Holy crap, I thought as I checked them out, I’m actually making my kid into the guy that tells everybody the forbidden knowledge on the playground.  As it turned out, while uttering a forbidden word was indeed an exciting adventure, learning the mechanics behind the miracle of birth held little interest.  We were halfway through the first picture book when he interrupted, bored, and asked if he could go watch TV now.

“After this book,” I insisted.  He gave a heavy sigh and settled into the couch as his eyes glazed over.

So now with my youngest son I face my last chance at being involved in the talk in a way that isn’t a complete disaster.  And it feels important that I get it right.  My parents had no idea, but by the time my mom found that Playboy and forced my dad into making our family’s own homemade After School Special I had already lost my virginity.  It seemed perfectly obvious to me at the time that I was mature enough to make that decision; it’s just as perfectly obvious to me now how wrong I was.  Sex carries with it a tremendous number of potential consequences, including pregnancy, disease, and a level of emotional depth I was unready to plumb at that age.  So immature was I in high school that given the choice between risking being seen by my parents or their friends buying protection at the neighborhood drug store or risking having unprotected sex, I opted for the latter.  Somewhere out there, there are some grown women whose fathers owe me a punch in the face.

So I’ll have the talk this weekend and I will do everything I can to make sure that my son makes better choices than I did, since I cannot guarantee that he will be as lucky at dodging bullets as I was.  I’ll let him know that given the choice between him engaging in risky, stupid behavior on his own or engaging in risky, stupid behavior with our help to protect himself and his partner, he needs to choose the latter.  I’ll remind him that if he ever feels like he can’t talk to us for whatever reason, he has a remarkably mature older brother waiting in the wings.  And I’ll make sure he knows that no matter what, his mother and I will be here for him.  And then I will sit back and spend the next decade or so anxiously hoping that he heard me.

Wish me luck.

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65 thoughts on “You see, son, when a man and a woman love each other very much…

  1. Last night my wife informed me that my youngest son apparently has a girlfriend. It’s hard to parse out exactly how I feel about this.

    How do you think I feel.. I’m being outclassed by a 13 year old!!!

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    • My neighbor is in junior high and is up to girlfriend number eighty something, at last count. Sometimes we just refer to them by number. A few months ago he spent the night in a treehouse with a bunch of cheerleaders from a rival junior high, I think having dated all the cheerleaders at his own school. He’s even dated high school girls and has been hit on by college women.

      His latest girlfriend (who looks like a runway model) gets dropped off here by her parents, and last week when they came to pick her up the neighbor kid gave her a kiss that would’ve made Cary Grant’s jaw drop. I think he even knows her name, so this one might be serious.

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  2. So immature was I in high school that given the choice between risking being seen by my parents or their friends buying protection at the neighborhood drug store or risking having unprotected sex, I opted for the latter. Somewhere out there, there are some grown women whose father’s owe me a punch in the face.

    I’d tell this to him. But I’d modify that last sentence, replacing, “Whose father’s owe” to with “who.”

    I never found much benefit from telling them what they should do; but great benefit from telling what did, and what, in retrospect, I did that was really, really stupid.

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  3. ““Humping,” he said cheerfully, “Is when a man takes his penis and hits a woman’s stomach with it.”

    “Actually, that’s foreplay.””

    i laughed so hard i peed a bit. classic.

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  4. “Actually, that’s foreplay.””

    And now we know why Tod exercises so much self-control here at the League. Ever since that day he’s never uttered a word without writing it down, having it reviewed by a team of lawyers, then approved by his wife. By the time he gets through that, the thread is usually long gone from the front page.

    Good luck, Tod. My “talk” came from my mom, in an even weirder way than yours. In response to some question completely unrelated to sex, girls, or, as best I can remember, anything having to do with the human condition in any way, she sat me down at the kitchen table, and with a vast degree of embarrassment began to explain things to me. About three sentences in, before she’d gotten to anything remotely informative (or even anything truly embarrassing), the phone rang. She leaped from her chair, grabbed the phone, and we never spoke about it again.

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  5. My planned speech for any future son goes:

    Having sex – protected or not – runs you the risk of derailing your life [See Addendum 1, columns A and B] or causing you extreme mental anguish [See Addendum 1, column C].

    Every single time you have sex – protected or not – you run the risk of having your entire life derailed. [See Addendum 1, columns A and B, focus on column A]

    Every girl you have sex with – protected or not – you are potentially giving enormous power over you. [See Addendum 1, columns A-C, focus on column B]

    Having unprotected sex exponentially increases the possibility of your entire life being derailed [See Addendum 1, columns A and B, focus on column A] [See also Addendum 2]

    In summary, you’re going to have sex sooner or later. Later is better than sooner [Explained in supplementary fashion before, during and after this speech]. Reducing the frequency of sex and the number of partners reduces the likelihood of bad effects. Protected sex is much, much less likely to cause bad effects than unprotected sex (excluding addendum 1, column C, though even there it might apply).

    The speech to my daughter will contain most of the elements from above, though with some differences. Addendum 1 would be reworked.

    Addendum 1:
    Column A – A list of all of the possibilities of what happens if she becomes pregnant, why all of them suck, and how you have virtually no control over any of it.
    Column B – A list of STDs, with graphic pictures if I can find them.
    Column C – Possible negative emotional consequences of sex.

    Addendum 2

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  6. You might consider starting off by claiming to be “a student in the matter” rather than “an expert,” and ask him about how much he knows already, what his attitudes are toward it, etc.
    That would give you a workable baseline.
    I think it’s one area where correcting errors is more important than imparting knowledge anyway.

    Best of luck to you.

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  7. Ecch, talking to my kids about sex was pretty graphic, all things considered. Sex, I said, can be the most fun you’ll ever have in your whole life. For all this stuff and nonsense about Romance and Love and all that hokum, sex makes fools of us all. It’s how we reproduce.

    When the door to temptation opens, I can tell you which part of me gets through that door first. Do not follow that rascal around, he will get you into trouble. For when he gets hard, your brain gets soft.

    And sex should be fun for your partner too. Be nice. Ask before you do anything. There are lots more ways to have fun than the way girls get pregnant. You keep that rascal wrapped up. Basic rule of thumb, my boy, when it comes time to have unprotected sex, look around that room. If you don’t see enough space for a baby crib and a changing table, maybe you ought to think through your options and maybe have some other sort of fun than the kind that gets girls pregnant. But if you do see enough room for a crib, if you two really want a child and have a home for that child, boy, that’s how you were conceived and brought into this world. You were a wanted child and I wept with happiness when I was told you were within your mother.

    Just you make sure your children enter the world the same way.

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  8. This is all very interesting; I would be so much more blunt.

    But my youngest brother died from AIDS. We talked very frankly, often, and honestly. And we still do. Because it’s not something to be ashamed of, to bumble about with, or to hide. It’s a natural human thing. Girls get as bothered by it as boys, and are much more prone to hide their behavior.

    But pregnancy is the slight problem.

    Don’t muck around. Your children will grow up in a world where their friends are watching internet porn by the time they’re 13. Where some will be doing drugs, and the worst at that age is easiest to access — alcohol; some of it will probably be yours.

    Talking about sex, about drugs, about alcohol, about pregnancy, about STD’s should be common and regular; it should be anything but ‘the talk.’ If it’s one big event, and an uncomfortable and fumbled one at that, you are not communicating life skills to your children, you’re letting them learn from the street and checking off a box as a job accomplished when you’ve done nothing of the sort.

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  9. So I wrote a comment and I asked Maribou “can I post this comment?” and she told me “No, it’s misogynistic and the only people who will think it is funny are retrograde.”

    She went on to say “if you wanted to be accurate, you’d say that if he gets into a serious relationship, someday he will ask his significant other if he should post a comment and then he will hear ‘no, you shouldn’t’ and his partner will go upstairs with half of his toast. And, besides, Tod didn’t ask for advice! He asked for good wishes! You should just give him best wishes!”

    Then she went upstairs with half of my toast.

    So I am left here saying “best wishes, Tod.”

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  10. “So immature was I in high school that given the choice between risking being seen by my parents or their friends buying protection at the neighborhood drug store or risking having unprotected sex, I opted for the latter. Somewhere out there, there are some grown women whose father’s owe me a punch in the face.”

    Wow that’s risky!

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  11. I got all my knowledge about sex from TV and it is funny the conclusions I drew.

    1. At first, I thought sex was just rolling around together mostly naked or possibly partially naked. It took me a long time to infer that some act of penetration was involved. I thought that sex was enjoyable just as an act of hugging and kissing and rolling around. (This is how sex is portrayed in the vast majority of movies and TV; they cut away before the orgasm. Just lots of gentle oohs and aahhhs as if the participants are experiencing something like a relaxing massage.)

    2. Eventually, I determined that penetration was involved, somehow, (a combo of recess and nature shows, maybe) in the biology of sex.

    3. I finally realized that women would sometimes have an orgasm during sex. (Women would make jokes about it on TV and occasionally some movies would show women making orgasm sounds) But I really didn’t know if men did. This is not a question I asked often in my mind, but it was there, in the background. Eventually this question was answered in a very scientific way in the public school class where they talk about sex, but I still wasn’t sure if orgasm was something men felt or if it was just a biological act.

    You just don’t see male orgasm or hear it referred to on TV. (Maybe nowadays you do.) Indeed, I was still somewhat unsure about the existence of male orgasm or whether it was pleasurable in the way that female orgasm was depicted to be until I finally felt it. (If my kids read this, this happened when I was 29.)

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  12. I imagine, it being Monday morning when I write this, that “the talk” has already happened. But if “good luck” still holds meaning, then “good luck!”

    As the “adolescent specialist” in our office, I get a lot of parents telling their kids “if you have any questions, ask him ” before fleeing to the safety of the waiting room. Only once have I ever had a patient who was both ignorant of the details of sex and interested in hearing them from me. It was… weird.

    But I guess I had it coming. I was the kid on the playground who explained everything to the other kids. Suffice it to say, we had a satellite dish way back when the technology was first introduced, and a lot of them spicier channels didn’t get scrambled for quite some time.

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  13. How to Teach Your Kids about Sex and Reproduction

    1. Buy a farm.

    2. Buy animals to populate said farm.

    3. Tell your kids to play outside.

    They’ll figure it out.

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    • That’s the good part of growing up on a farm.

      And then . . . the dark side. With a herd of 120 give or take milk cows, you don’t want a single set of male genes, you want some diversity working toward improving blood lines. Luckily, there’s a thriving industry in artificial insemination. I’m guessing I was about 12 when my father ordered some expensive ampules from a star bull. He was pretty excited, kept going on and on about it before it arrived. And then the fun job of using it.

      We had, on and off, raised promising bull calves into adult hood, purchased a few over time. They’re not docile, stupid animals like cows are. They’re rather wild and quite dangerous.

      So I just want you to imagine my internal dialogue as I tried to comprehend how the precious material in these ampules got there; because get there it did, and there were pregnant cows — the promise of calves and milk and security for the family — promised. And one farming-related job added to my ‘don’t want to be’ list.

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  14. When I was a social worker – which is how I start most of my comments around here – I generally worked with teenage boys. Because of the reasons they arrived at our facilities, they were already well versed in sexual understanding and as a result, we frequently had to have frank conversations with them: about who to fantasize about, about appropriate behavior, about masturbation. All of that was uncomfortable but doable, in that the topic of sexual discussion often makes my skin crawl.

    You can imagine then my discomfort when I was called out the boys facility where I worked for a group conversation with ten teenage young women. I was coupled with a woman and we sat down around a table and asked everybody to submit anonymous questions which we would then answer. Every. Single. Question. Came. To. Me.

    I think the most amusing one centered on the idea that it “hurts” men if we don’t get off, truly one of the most odious lies men have ever developed in the ongoing pursuit of orgasm. The question was written something like, “What’s up with blue balls?” and I sort of giggled and went, “You were lied to.” And then, quite vociferously, a chorus of “NU UH!!!” filled the room as young woman after young woman confirmed that they’d fallen for this scam. And then I had to very patiently explain to them that it doesn’t hurt when men don’t orgasm, that men are lying when they say that it does, and that they are under no obligation to relieve their partner of his ghost pain.

    Then I took a break and my skin melted off my body.

    All of this is the long way of saying that I castrated both my children to avoid this in the future.

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    • A prolonged state of arousal is not good for anyone. Going through three or four days of being continually aroused actually can lead to physiological damage (blood clots).

      Most boys know where their “off” switch is. ;-)

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      • There’s no teenaged boy anywhere on Earth going through a prolonged period of arousal, I assure you. I speak not only for myself, but for every other man everywhere.

        As to the second point: I believe I communicated the same thing to those young women I was speaking to.

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        • Well in the interest of science: When I was slightly older than a teenager there was a young woman I desired more than anything else in the world. On her last night before moving out of state we spent the evening together, and ended up at my place with her too tipsy to drive, but not too drunk to say no, after which she passed out. I was, ahem, literally up all night, too much of a gentleman to take advantage, too much of an optimist to, uh, handle things myself. Alas, she slept til dawn, then awoke, reaffirmed her decision of the prior evening, and drove out of my life forever.

          I can’t say they were blue, but yeah, it hurts.

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