Male culture makes instilling healthy sexuality in our sons more difficult

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I saw my first naked woman when I was 9, thanks to a kid named Jimmy, whose father had a collection of Playboy magazines under the bed. While his parents were at the grocery store, Jimmy yanked out a copy and with practiced ease flipped to the centerfold.

“Your mom has one of these,” he said, pointing between the legs of Miss August.

“No WAY!” I said, unwilling to accept that my mother could possibly have anything on her body that, in my mind anyway, looked like a piece of our cafeteria meatloaf. I left soon after, convinced that Jimmy had shown me a magazine of female freaks. When our class began studying the human reproductive system later that spring, Jimmy turned to me and winked when Mrs. Flunkem used her ruler to point out the vagina being projected onto the chalk board.

“Your momma,” he mouthed.

Years later, that feeling of embarrassment was something I was determined to spare my own sons. The truth is, women are much more aware of their bodies and sexuality, and at a much younger age, then men. The male culture communicates about sexuality in much the same way it does about sports: through stats and stories. Anything deeper than that, and the shoulder punching begins. However, it was important to me that my sons not only understand the physicality of reproduction and, unlike me, never find themselves shocked by a vagina, it was just as important that they understand sexuality is not a statistic or story to be told — it’s how we communicate love beyond our words.

*shoulder punch* 

The process of helping my boys understand this began early, and by example. My wife and I are both affectionate people. We hold hands, hug each other, lay together on the couch and always kiss each other goodbye when we leave, and hello when we get home. Our boys see me expressing my love physically and verbally every day. They also see me do dishes, cook, fix the car and stack wood. I do everything I can to send the message that being affectionate takes many forms and isn’t a sign of weakness — unlike the primary message they get from movies, music and much of social media. I want them to understand that their sexuality isn’t just about sex. It’s about communication, and having the confidence to express themselves through their words, their actions and intimacy. Culturally, the idea that manliness means being in control is something that is constantly being reinforced.

Men are the decision makers. The action takers. The aggressors.

While I certainly want my sons to be capable of all of these things when necessary, I also want them to recognize when it’s not. That applies to everyday life as much as it does their sexuality and, ultimately, their relationships. The more they can step away from defining themselves and their sexuality in a stereotypical way, the more of their true selves they will be able to share with someone else.

I’m a volunteer firefighter and consider myself capable of handling most situations. At the same time, I recognize when my wife might have a better perspective. Especially when it’s a situation involving my sons and a new dent in the family car. On the surface, this dynamic might not seem to have much to do with the subject of developing a healthy sexuality. However, being able to recognize and accept your own faults and limitations is part of that willingness to share your true self — and ultimately true intimacy. Both are important ingredients to a healthy sense of self and sexuality.

My boys are now 16 and 17. As any parent will tell you, understanding what goes on in the minds of teenagers is sometimes like learning a foreign language. And by “foreign” I mean Martian. But whenever I see one of my sons walk ahead to open a door for their mom, or confide in us about something personal, I know that at least some of what I hope to instill in them has sunk in.

As fathers today, we have to compete with a lot more than Jimmy and his Playboy magazine when it comes to making sure our sons develop a healthy sense of their sexuality.

The best way to do that?

Be an example.

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(I recently began following The Good Men Project, which is a site devoted to sharing information, stories and insights into what it takes to be a good man in today’s world. This column was prompted by a call to men regarding what they’re doing to instill a healthy sense of sexuality in their sons.)

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60 thoughts on “Male culture makes instilling healthy sexuality in our sons more difficult

  1. “The best way to do that? Be an example.”—Yes! Same-sex role models are so important, and sometimes I think even more so for boys, because although the message is out there that girls can be anything they want, sometimes boys are held to misleading norms about what being a man is. Much of that does indeed have to do with popular culture. So kudos to you for being such a great role model for your sons. My husband is too. It’s a blessing I never take for granted.

    Wonderful post.

    • Thanks so much, Carrie. You’re so right about the message cutlure sends boys in what “defines” a man, and it’s only gotten harder to prevent thanks to SM. I appreciate you recognizing that, as well as your husband 😉

  2. Awesome! Our culture needs some good dads willing to bravely go where no man has gone before….. No wait, that’s not quite the right quote. Ah well, just the same it’s lovely when boys can learn about masculinity from someone other than TV and video games and assorted odd experiences under the docks with a Nat’l Geographic and a bunch of twinkies. Oh wait, you didn’t say that either. Perhaps I should just punch someone in the shoulder and be on my way…..

  3. Great post Ned. I think current “pop culture” notions of masculinity lead to a lot of broken boys who are afraid of their emotions and feel the need to present a mask in order to fit in. And changing that starts with parents recognizing it, and showing different ways.

  4. As a father of a 16 year old boy (he has a long way to go before I will be comfortable calling him a man.. mainly because experience has taught me that he has a lot more to learn), I really appreciate the way you communicated this topic. Why? It’s clear you aren’t relying on conversation, see the value of example. Talk is easy and, in most father/son relationships, fairly ineffective. Example is far more difficult than talk, also something experience is teaching me NOW.

    Excellent blog, my friend.

    • Thanks, Steve. And you’re so right about “actions speak louder than words.” Especially with teenagers, who already get talked AT all day from teachers — the last thing they respind to is more talking at home. I was blessed to have a stepdad who was an example in action. It was something that stuck with me, and something I hope will carry on with my sons. Or I swear, I’ll give them a good talking to…

      Again, thanks my friend 😉

  5. I remember my first time. It was in a car and I threw the condom out the window. We were smooching when the cop tapped the window. I rolled down the window and he was smiling. I said I was sorry and he said get a hotel room and walked away. I always thought I saw the condom stuck to the bottom of his shoe. Squish is a word that comes to my mind.

  6. Thank you for leading the way by being an example. Popular culture sometimes makes me want to run and hide. I’ve tried to raise my sons (13 and 17) along the same lines. They’re good kids, and now that my oldest has his first (serious) relationship, I can see by his actions that I didn’t do too bad. He treats his girlfriend with respect.

    We need more dads in the world like you.

        • I’ve come to realize what we try to instill in our kids isn’t always something we see in them when they’re at home, but when I hear from others how good our kids are when they’re out and about, I know it’s working 😉 I had a parent tell me the other day how great it was to have them overnight because they are so polite and always clean up after themselves.

          “Are you sure that was MY child?” I wanted to ask. But instead I just smiled and said how nice that was to hear 😉

  7. Hey Ned, I like everything you say here. I do have a question though. How do you define “healthy sexuality”? You drop “healthy sexuality” a lot in your post but don’t ever elaborate on what that means. Healthy sexuality seems to be up for debate in culture doesn’t it. How do you inform yourself on what “healthy” means in regards to sexuality and how do you teach that to your kids? Do you use scripture as a base for how you define “healthy sexuality”? Or do you use science? Or something I can’t think of? I get the sense that you feel you were not taught healthy sexuality, and I get the sense that you try to teach healthy sexuality. So if you were taught wrong initially, and now teach correctly, what source do you now use to inform yourself and your children about what “healthy sexuality” really is?

    • Hey Jared, those are good questions, the answers of which I left open because I think everyone has their own interpretation of what’s “correct” and uncorrect, healthy and unhealthy. I can tell you my father and many of the men in family were womanizers, verbally and/or physically abusive, and alcoholics. I witnessed how devistating it was on their relationships, and how it was often the result of their inability to empathize and communicate. This lead to a one-dimensional level of sexuality incapable of extending beyond the physical. The result was an endless cycle of frustration and abuse — of themselves and others. To me, “healthy sexuality” really has to do with developing the confidence enough in yourself to empathize, be honest and know how to communicate how you feel so that the relationships you foster can be fulfilling on an emotional AND physical level.

      Those who don’t are more liekly to repeat their mistakes and never be in the kind of relationship that is truly healthy — for themselves and the person they are with.

      I hope that helps answer your question, Jared, and I appreciate your thoughts!

  8. “Men are the decision makers. The action takers. The aggressors.” My husband’s way of showing love is to be the fixer. It’s taken time, but I’ve learned to tell him when there is something going on that doesn’t need to be fixed, just for him to be my witness and hold my hand. You are modeling so beautifully for your sons, how to be an emotionally healthy man, stepping away from stereotypes like the macho man and being hu-man.

    • I think most men, including myself, are instinctively “fixers.” It’s a habit that’s hard to break because it’s in our DNA. Because of the wonderful relationship I have with my wife, I not only came to understand that about myself, but also appreciate that she understands that as well. To me, that’s the epitomy of how a healthy sense of your own sexuality — and not being threatened by vulnerablility — leads to a healthy relationship in life.

  9. The world certainly needs more Neds! Thanks for raising your boys responsibly. And of course you do it in good humour, ‘cafeteria meatloaf’, LOL 🙂

  10. I love this post.
    I think it’s SO confusing to grow up as a male in this culture. So many mixed messages. So much nonsense about what is and isn’t “masculine.” I see my son struggling as a tween, and I know a lot of it is because of all the crap that’s out there dictating what a “man” should be.

    Thanks, Ned.

    • Thanks, Samara.
      And yes, it really is tough to find your identity as a “man” today because there are so many contradictions and, even more so, bad examples. As a parent, you already know how there are so many more distractions out there than there were when we were growing up. It’s no longer just worrying about other kids’ influences at school and maybe the music they listen to or movies they watch. With Facebook and other SM, it’s like your kid is going to school with a class of 300,000 instead of 50 to 100, and they ALL have some kind of influence or impact.

      Being a single mom, you have a unique impact on Little Dude that is unlike any other. And as much as you like to joke about being a “bad” influence, from what I’ve seen it’s the contrary. Keep letting him be who he is and unafraid to express himself and his love. Having confidence in that part of himself is why he is becoming a very good “Little Dude” en route to being a good “Big Dude.”

  11. Great, great post. As a mother of a young boy, I am always questioning how/if I’m doing ‘my part’ the best way. One of my biggest fears of instilling healthy emotions and self-confidence in my son, in particular, is that I worry it will open him up to criticism, bullying, and actual physical confrontations. Thankfully, his father is here to provide the male perspective, intuitively ‘knowing’ things that I don’t and can’t fully empathize with, although I try. [No mom wants to see her kid get beat up; then the gorilla in me will probably burst out!] Let me tell you, too, one last thing, from experience: girls need a healthy male role model in their lives, if at all possible, too. Doesn’t have to be a dad, but a grandfather, uncle, older brother, godfather, teacher, or other mentor. Otherwise, she MIGHT look for that older male role model elsewhere—in celebrities or even other, more damaging (intentionally or unintentionally) places—as I did.

    • Thanks, Leigh. And you’re so right about the impact a male figure can have on a young girl’s self esteem and recognizing healthy and unhealthy relationships. I have two daughters as well (21 and 15), and I am hoping that the love and respect my wife and I share is something our daughters will seek in their relationships — as well as recognize when those things are missing.

      Thanks so much for reading, and doing your part in helping raise a good man. Heck, maybe he’ll marry one of my daughters? Stranger things have happened… take me, for example…. 😉

  12. Reblogged this on Cordelia's Mom, Still and commented:
    I was looking for a post to re-blog this week (’cause I’m pretty much running dry on ideas of my own). I came across two – this one, and one on Aging Gracefully My Ass having to do with the current female trend of shaving one’s nether regions. It was a tough decision, but Ned’s post won out as being somewhat more appropriate for my blog. However, if you disagree with my choice and really want to read about hairless hoo-has, jump over to AGMA’s site (click here).

    Comments are closed here – leave comments over on whichever post you choose to read.

  13. Sweet Ned, I do adore how much you love your wife and your family. It’s one of my favorite things about you and such a good example for not just your kids but all men. Sorry I’m late. I saved this knowing I would come back to it. Knowing I would love it, and it didn’t disappoint. Well written, as always

  14. Keeping an open communication with our children is imperative! They always need to know they have a safe place to ask questions and share personal stuff without being judged or getting in trouble. We can express unease or being unhappy with their decisions, but if they feel they can’t tell us anything, then we can’t expect them to be open with us for the big stuff. My daughter is 28 and she still tells me “almost” everything. LOL! The hard part for me is keeping a straight face!! ha ha! 😉
    Good job dad!

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