When I talk with my sons about sex, it pays to be explicit

When you’re raising boys, you can never be off your guard about the toxic side of our culture playground banter that involves casual sexism or the fact it’s still taboo for older boys to show vulnerability.

But, most toxic of all, is the ever-present menace of porn culture. I’ve always been strict about not allowing screens in bedrooms or giving them phones or tablets before they turned 11. Even so, both were exposed to porn by the age of eight. One was shown X-rated material by a school friend with access to an upstairs computer (my son immediately told us), and the younger one nabbed a family iPad and tapped “sex” and some basic anatomical terms into the search bar: cue immediately filth (so his brother instantly shopped him).

I decided the best response in both cases was to sit the child down and talk frankly – and, yes, embarrassingly – about how far removed these scenes were from loving relationships. In other words, I was explicit about the emotional side of sex.

I’ve been that boring, sex-hectoring mum ever since: talking frankly about the mechanics of intercourse, while placing the emphasis on love lessons. The TV series Sex Education gave me the opportunity for yet another lecture. I watched it with my boys and dissected the scenarios afterwards, giving brownie points for great discussions about informed consent, gender identity, self-pleasure and sexual inexperience.

But I was outraged by some scenes (including the first bedroom scene in episode one) that showed young women in the throes of ecstasy, although the sex was entirely masculine, porny and thrusting, with gratuitous shots of jiggling breasts. Yes, I am that mum – the one who talks about the necessity of foreplay and female pleasure – rather like Gillian Anderson’s character in the drama.

Similarly, when I heard one of my sons calling the other “pussy”, meaning wimp, I immediately sat both down to ask them why on earth they’d use a synonym for female genitals as a derogative term. Which led to an animated conversation about the C-word, from Elizabethan street names to DH Lawrence.

But the biggest lesson of all has come from this week’s news. I’ve shared the awful stories of school rape culture with my sons, as both a cautionary tale and a call to arms. It’s not enough to just avoid such behaviour yourself, I told them, you have to be an ally to your female friends and intervene when other boys are behaving like idiots – it’s gallantry updated for the 21st century. 

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