Kids masturbation talk time?
March 20, 2009 8:08 PM   Subscribe

Help me talk to my son about masturbation!

My son just turned eleven. Over the last couple of months he's spent more and more time bathing. He'll try to take a bath several times a day if I don't stop him. I've asked him about cleanliness and whether he worries about body odors. He says he just likes baths but he's also really nervous about the topic and doesn't want to discuss it for very long. Blushing and staring at his feet are usually involved.

The consensus in our household is that we believe he's stumbled onto masturbation. Normally I would not care but I think it's a waste of water to run a bath every time! I don't want to discourage his sense of discovery but I would gently like to inform him of the concept of lotion and such without mortifying him. He clearly doesn't want to talk to his mother about this, and I respect that. I can't ask his father to talk to him, however, because he is the shaming sort and thinks it a sin (we are divorced). The only other consistent male in his life is my partner if many years but I'm afraid sending him in for me might make my son die a little inside.

My son and I have a very open door relationship. How can I handle this? Leave a big bottle of lotion in the bathroom? What are my options?

Throwaway e-mail is
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (52 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Just limit the number of showers per day and time per shower as you see necessary. If it's not enough time for him for such activities, he'll learn to switch to his bedroom or wherever he can manage to find privacy. You're doing all you need to do to be a good parent by not shaming/judging him. Trust me, he'll adjust.
posted by bluejayk at 8:13 PM on March 20, 2009

You don't actually need to address masturbation head-on, if you think you'd rather save that conversation for another time. You can just say something like "I know you like your privacy, but all these baths are wasting water. If you'd like to be alone with your thoughts just close the door to your bedroom and I promise I won't barge in without knocking."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:13 PM on March 20, 2009 [40 favorites]

He's eleven — have you had the general sex talk yet? You can tack on an aside about how some people masturbate, and the ways boys usually do it. It doesn't need to sound like it's directed at him. You can keep the tone to more of a "hey, here's some general information."

If you really can't imagine mentioning it even as part of the more general conversations about sex you're hopefully having already or going to have, there's always the book route. Some books for preteens about sex include a section on masturbation. You should probably look at a few in the library or bookstore and decide which one discusses it in the way you feel is appropriate. I have been told that The Guy Book: An Owner's Manual by Mavis Jukes gets a few votes. You might want to get him a book even if you're going to have the talk.

If you want him "equipped," you can pick up some generic stuff like a package of socks and some undershirts and include a bottle of lotion and a box of tissues; just keep all the stuff in one grocery bag and hand it to him sometime with "I was at the store earlier today and picked up some new stuff for you, go take this up to your room."

On preview, Inspector.Gadget's suggestion is excellent.
posted by jeeves at 8:29 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Please! do not talk to your son about masturbation EVER. My childhood habit resulted in stained sheets and I am certain this fact did not escape her notice. I can think of little else that I am more grateful for than the fact that my mother never acknowledged her awareness of it.

Schedule a check up at the doctor and ask him to talk to your son. Speaking as someone who has been an educator of middle-school-aged students for some time, I assure you that teens feel closer to their parents NOT when there is "openness" about private topics, but a sense that privacy is an acknowledged needs. If you so much as mention masturbation to him, you'll start the process of his hiding lots of personal things from you. Please, please, please don't say a word.
posted by jefficator at 8:34 PM on March 20, 2009 [18 favorites]

Seconding the "don't talk to him about it ever" sentiment. Seriously. There is nothing you can teach him that he can't learn with less emotional trauma from a faq on the internet.
posted by bunnytricks at 8:39 PM on March 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

He doesn't need your help to figure it out. Really, he doesn't. Really really really. Inspector is 100% right. What he needs is privacy, not someone to buy hand lotion and tube socks for him.
posted by fritley at 8:45 PM on March 20, 2009 [5 favorites]

As a guy who went through this when I was younger, I will third that I am so grateful it never came up.

Don't check his internet browsing history, don't walk in when the door is closed, don't "pop in to say goodnight."

That age is a delicate time and guys need their privacy to experiment. Just let him have his fun and if you do have an "encounter", just laugh and don't bring it up unless he does.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:48 PM on March 20, 2009

Normally I would not care but I think it's a waste of water to run a bath every time! I don't want to discourage his sense of discovery but I would gently like to inform him of the concept of lotion and such without mortifying him.

You will maim him emotionally if you discuss masturbation with him. Please. Don't.

Perhaps, to show how much you respect his privacy, you can install a lock on his bedroom door and tell him that he's at the age when he is entitled to privacy, and promising that you will not breach that privacy. Don't mention sex or sexuality -- just tell him he is entitled to some privacy.

If he is old enough that he is discovering masturbation, he will figure out lotions on his own. Trust me, you don't have to tell him that.
posted by jayder at 8:50 PM on March 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Rock and a hard place, for sure (pun intended). My parents opted for the Life Cycle Library. It's a good way to get valuable information to your son without having to directly broach the subject yourself. I actually learned the "real deal" from these books back in the 70's and then quickly and often rejected my parent's offers of "Do you have any questions? You can ask us anything". I was like, "Nope, no questions, RUN AWAY!!!" It wasn't until years later that I stumbled on the Parents Guide that came with the set. No wonder they were always asking if I had any questions. They had a cheat sheet!
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:55 PM on March 20, 2009

Seconding the "if you've gotta, enlist his pediatrician" approach.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:42 PM on March 20, 2009

If he doesn't know how by now, teach him how to do his own laundry, including bed linens. Two birds, one stone.
posted by adipocere at 9:47 PM on March 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

Absolutely untrue that you will scar him emotionally if you talk to your son. If you confront your son, yes. But if you suggest, in a vague way, that it's a thing people do, that it's not a bad thing, and that perhaps he should read this book (whichever that may be) to find out important information to keep him safe and healthy in the long run, he will suffer a case of embarrassment, which he will then get over. Then, a healthy limit on baths, a bottle of lotion in an easily swiped location, and ample sources of Kleenex in the house ought to take care of the rest of the problem.

And absolutely untrue that he will magically figure out the right way to do it all by himself. I did it very wrong for way too many years...
posted by darksasami at 10:30 PM on March 20, 2009 [3 favorites]

Another vote for the Don't Talk About It side. It's a private thing. There are no safety/health issues. You can enforce a limit on baths, adressing your real concern, without squicking him off. Tell him wasting water is expensive and bad for the environment.

Have a general purpose sex ed talk, or give him a book if you think he's at an appropriate age, but please don't tell him what to do with himself. An adolescent male's capacity for experimentation in this regard is one of the most powerful forces in nature, he'll figure things out on his own.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:45 PM on March 20, 2009


The answers seem to assume that the questioner is the mother. Yes, having "mum" talk to you about that stuff is wierd.

I kind of wished that my dad told me about masturbation and how to do it properly. Definitely don't bring it up in context of taking showers 3x a day, but rather a father's "hey, you're growing up. You know, rubbing your dick and getting off is something that just about everyone does. Most people do it by wrapping their hand around their dick and sliding the foreskin over the glans.... &c&c"

With the obligatory; "you don't do this in public," and "do it gently otherwise there can be problems down the road" and "it feels better if you can have a girl who wants to do it do it for you" and "you know about semen and eggs, right..." &c&c.
posted by porpoise at 10:46 PM on March 20, 2009

Look, if you're "sure he'll figure it out on his own," then don't be surprised when your little kid sticks his dick in a pool water pump or something. Talk to him about this. It's a day of embarassment, then it's over. No big fucking deal.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:08 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't talk to him about this. I think you can talk about girls, smoking, drugs etc but not this. There are boundaries. I say this as a male who would have died - quite possibly contemplated suicide - if my mother had ever decided it was time to have 'the masturbation' talk with me at that age. Or any age. She is 60 and I'm 34 and we have never discussed my adolescent sexual habits and we never will. We have never discussed hers. And we never will.

It's something most boys figure out by themselves and amongst themselves over time. He is only 11. By the time he's 13 he'll be a professional. Trust me.

As for wasting water I completely agree with you. I live in a drought affected area and its a terrible waste of water. I would limit the baths but feign complete ignorance as to their purpose. Very soon he is going to realise that the baths are actually indiscrete. He may even put two-and-two together and realise that his indiscretion is what is upsetting you and so he will consider alternatives.

(And please don't buy him a book on the subject either. Buy him a book on the state of the world's fresh water resources instead).
posted by evil_esto at 11:09 PM on March 20, 2009

a father's "hey, you're growing up. You know, rubbing your dick and getting off is something that just about everyone does. Most people do it by wrapping their hand around their dick and sliding the foreskin over the glans.... &c&c"

I had non-communicative parents who never talked about sex, so this may make me extra sensitive to this stuff, but OMGNO.
posted by rhizome at 11:12 PM on March 20, 2009 [7 favorites]

The answers assume the questioner is the mother because the asker stated "I can't ask his father to talk to him" in the question. Unless the son has two dads who got married and divorced with one dad that thinks masturbation is a sin (but not homosexuality apparently) I think assuming the asker is the mother is a fair assumption.

That said, consider offering to hook your son up with a lock on his door for privacy and perhaps getting him a gift basket full of soap, bubbles, shampoo, and lotion for his baths and general purpose usage. Have a talk about how he's getting older and you understand privacy is probably going to be more and more important to him but that he should also be open with you and that if he wants to talk about girls and growing up with you you can handle it. Perhaps throw in a tale from when you were his age about a boy or girl you liked or maybe even your own puberty experiences if you're daring!
posted by Green With You at 11:17 PM on March 20, 2009

Oh, and there's also an episode of Rosanne that deals with this exact subject with DJ. Heck, here's a link.
posted by Green With You at 11:21 PM on March 20, 2009

From the original poster:
First of all, thank you for all of the help. I'd like to clear up a couple things: I am a woman and his mom. I absolutely had NO plans to talk to him myself directly. As I said in my post, I know he doesn't want that at all. In the absence of graphic, humiliation I was hoping to find out how to give him a clue subtly. I liked the indirect conversation suggested by Inspector.Gadget but should his stepfather say it in passing?

The best solution I can see at this point is curtailing his baths, telling him casually (not in the same convo) that he's allowed to shut his door for privacy now that he's older, leaving a bottle of lotion in the linen closet without comment and giving him copy of The Guy Book soon.

I'm listening to the advice here very closely. Thanks.
posted by mathowie at 11:33 PM on March 20, 2009

Don't say anything more, there is no "casually" possible. Your young man knows that you know what he's doing in the bathtub, but he's so infatuated with his orgasms that he's willing to announce to the household that it's bathtime again just so he can do it two or three more times.

Just let him do it without further comment; the planet will survive the shock to the water cycle and hopefully he will figure out how to lube up his hand with spit or lotion and start to do it in the comfort of his own room soon enough. Most of us do.
posted by longsleeves at 11:53 PM on March 20, 2009

If I was feeling weird about talking to my kid, I would buy a copy of Changing Bodies, Changing Lives and sort of "accidentally leave it out" where it is hidden in a way that he will find it without realizing it was planted there for him. That way he can sort of self-educate. Once the bait has been taken, have a very brief exchange where you ask him to conserve water, entirely unrelated to the fact he's found his penis.

My parents never talked about sex. They were nice Iowa Lutheran hippies, if that is possible, who were a little embarrassed to hold hands in front of their kids. I learned my sex ed from the copy of Changing Bodies, Changing Lives in the TAG room. Of course, then 8th grade came along and my teacher dad had to conduct my sex education class. Boy was that awkward! Good times, good times.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:03 AM on March 21, 2009

Has he got any slightly older male cousins or friends at all? This is where older non-parent role-models come in.

I got all my useful hints and tips - including learning the value of discretion - from a cousin who was 4 years older than me on a family vacation where he and I shared a tent set up in the backyard for a few nights when the beach-house was full of adults.

Then I followed up with my own research in the school library and talking to friends my own age.

No adult authority figure (including my dad) ever tried to be "helpful" and leave books obviously aimed at me "just lying around". I'm grateful for that because I was never that stupid. I'm also grateful the pointed off-hand (if you will pardon the pun) comments on the subject were also not a feature of my family discourse. In the same way I noticed my sister had tampons in the bathroom from when she was 11. But I never mentioned it. I didn't want to embarrass her and in a way it was none of my business even though privately I was like "OMG my little sis is a woman"!

I think you can have very non-hung-up, open, tolerant and trusting family relationships without crossing over some of these commonly accepted and unspoken boundaries.
posted by evil_esto at 12:52 AM on March 21, 2009

Normally I would not care but I think it's a waste of water to run a bath every time!

If it's the water you're worried about, then just limit his baths. I have two teenage boys and for a while there the hot water was being used up faster than the hot-water heater could keep up with it. Like you the wasted water was my only concern, so that was the only thing I brought up.

I can't tell from your post or followup what kind of "talks" about sexuality you've had with your son before, if any. I've been talking with my boys since they were small about this stuff, so it's all very easy and natural now. It's important that kids know they can talk to you --- you can't just all of a sudden say when they're teenagers "son, you can always talk to me" because that's guaranteed to be awkward. But masturbation is only one aspect of your son's sexual awakening, and there's a lot of scary stuff out there that kids need guidance on. Recently my 15-y-o asked me why porn was misogynistic (he had "accidentally" encountered some "popups" when he was doing a search "for something else"). We also recently talked about the "sexting" case in Pennsylvania, which led to a larger discussion about legal/societal responses to sexuality. They're heavy subjects, but the conversations are short & to the point. I just answer questions honestly and try to give my opinions without judging. It helps if we are doing something else at the time --- driving somewhere, preparing dinner, folding laundry. The last thing I want is for my son to associate any aspect of his own sexuality with his mom. But these days a lot of natural urges have dire, lifelong consequences and I would rather he be a little bit embarrassed temporarily by something I say, than for him to be affected permanently (negatively, legally, physiologically, etc.) by some "youthful indiscretion."

As for the masturbation itself, I don't see any reason to mention it or give him lotion/tissues. Make sure those things are available in the linen closet or under the sink or wherever, and he'll find them on his own. As someone else suggested, it's a good time to teach him to do his own laundry anyway, and knowing that he's the one changing his sheets may free him up to masturbate there instead of in the shower.

It sounds like he's got a loving mom and a supportive stepdad. Don't underestimate how much that in itself will affect your son. If he's seeing a loving respectful relationship on a daily basis, then he's got a great start.
posted by headnsouth at 1:03 AM on March 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

I think people who think he'll be "emotionally scarred for life!!!" if you talk to him about this are out of their minds. Still, it would probably be embarrassing, but getting one of these books for him might be a good idea. You don't need to be all sneaky and "leave it out" for him. Just give it to him and tell him to read it.
posted by delmoi at 1:33 AM on March 21, 2009

Delmoi, embarrassment (which could become shame, denial, resentment, hatred) catalysed by your parents, about sex, at age 11 is potentially emotionally scarring... for life.

I've had 2 glasses of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc but I'm not out of my mind. A lot may depend on the personality of the kid in question.
posted by evil_esto at 1:49 AM on March 21, 2009

Seconding Inspector.Gadget. Don't talk to him about masturbation, talk about the right to privacy.

Tell him casually that now he's older, he has the right ask other people to respect his space. Make it a coming of age thing, but with absolutely no embarrassing puberty-ish connotations. Talk about the non-masturbatory reasons why he might want private time - writing a letter to a friend, dancing goofily to his favourite song, being alone with this thoughts. Maybe tell him about that embarrassing time your Mum caught you singing into your hairbrush, and say that you want to be a cool parent and respect his right to be alone sometimes.

Then let him choose an 'I want privacy' symbol. It could be a closed door, a hotel-style doorknob sign or even a weak latch. Respect this symbol like crazy. Seriously - don't knock, don't ask what he's doing in there, don't ask when he'll be finished and definitely don't barge in. Once he starts trusting that privacy really does mean privacy, the baths might taper off on their own. And yeah, keep nondescript 'supplies' in the linen closet and never comment on how much gets used. You sound like a great mom.
posted by embrangled at 2:04 AM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

leaving a bottle of lotion in the linen closet without comment

No, do not leave a bottle of lotion around for him, it's terrible for masturbation and you'd be indirectly giving him awful sexual advice. Either get KY or nothing. Otherwise do what Inspector Gadget said and call it a day.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:14 AM on March 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

You know, some things, pardon the pun, one needs to handle on one's own.

Just address the water issue, and let the figuring out of everything else be on him. Books on growing up may be generally helpful but I agree with all above who say that this is a topic you do NOT need to bring up with him.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:30 AM on March 21, 2009

The direct approach.
posted by Caviar at 5:38 AM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

No, do not leave a bottle of lotion around for him, it's terrible for masturbation

Well that's just great, I've been doing it wrong all these years.

One more thing to blame on my mother, she should have given me KY.
posted by the bricabrac man at 6:36 AM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

I've never found myself wishing my mom had said something to me about it, I think private communion with his penis may be the only thing a boy has, all to himself, and there's nothing to be gained from books or well-intentioned adults that he wouldn't rather discover on his own.
In fact I'll wager he'll find his bath routine impractical on his own, in time. And I wouldn't put a lock on his bedroom door, but any time you see the door closed, just leave him alone.
posted by Restless Day at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, for God's sake, why would you want to do this? 'A waste of water' is a bizarre reason to horrify your son. As forty year old woman, I'm in no position to speak for pre-adolescent boys, but I still feel like I can say on behalf of all of them: "Please Dad, don't talk to me about jerking off. Sincerely, Every Boy (or Girl) on Earth."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:03 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, sorry, just caught that you were his mom. Let me amend this:

"Please Mom, don't talk to me about jerking off, or try to get anyone else to talk to me about jerking off. I'm really doing well on my own. Sincerely, Every Boy (or Girl) on Earth."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 7:05 AM on March 21, 2009

Seriously, as someone who was that age:
Do Not Talk To Him About This.

If your son actually asks you questions about masturbation and sex, then it's a completely different situation, but your son WILL be mortified if you go have 'that talk' with him right now. My mom tried that with me and let me tell you, it was more disempowering and humiliating than anything else.

Don't buy lotion or KY (who needs that, anyway?) and don't buy any of those stupid patronising books, either. If your son wants to look up masturbation and is halfway smart, he's probably already done so on the Internet or in an encycopedia. (I know I did.)

If the water's the issue, tell your son that he needs to take less baths and leave it at that. If you leave anything around, get him some deodorant.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:17 AM on March 21, 2009

if he has internet access, he can find all these clips himself, and a lot more. I wonder if the days for embarrassing talks are over, because they can be acted out on a show like Weeds instead, and your 11 year old son can go to youtube and watch what would presumably be a mortifying situation in real life, in 3rd person instead, and hence react just like the little boy in the clip - thanks, uncle andy.

Then the only thing you need to provide is a guarantee of private time - he needs to be just as sure no one will bother him in his room as he is that no one would come into the bathroom when it's occupied.

Also, does he get sex ed at school? We checked out all the "our bodies, ourselves" type books starting in like 4th grade, because they were made available to the 4-6th graders when we had a general "how babies are made" type lesson in elementary school. From there the girls found judy blume etc, and presumably the boys compared notes in their own way...
posted by mdn at 8:54 AM on March 21, 2009

So you have said you are not going to have a direct talk with him about this and I'm SURE that is the right thing to do.. as stated he will find the more discrete route if you just let him know he is old enough for some privacy.

As for having the overall sex/ed conversation that might be more comfortable for him if it was his step dad. Are they close? Does your son talk about things like girls at all with him (if in fact he's talking about girls yet)... if he does then that might be a good indicator that perhaps the talk would be easier for him if it was his step dad.
posted by Weaslegirl at 9:09 AM on March 21, 2009

Just let him have his fun and if you do have an "encounter", just laugh

Oh God, for some reason the thought of laughing at such a moment just feels so, so wrong.

If I were to walk in on my child (note: I have no child yet) masturbating and they saw me walk in, I would hope I would have the grace to just back out of the room without comment and with a poker face, and then later when there's a solitary moment between us just casually say something about how I believe they may be old enough for greater privacy and how would we prefer to handle that?

Laughing just feels like the wrong thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:53 AM on March 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Seriously? Traumatized? Did you people not have actual childhood traumas to deal with?

Look, normal shit isn't traumatizing for normal folks. That doesn't mean that you have to be blunt about it, but hey, this is something that everyone does and everyone has to deal with, not some secret shame.

"Hey, kid, chill out on the long baths, OK. There's gotta be something you're doing in there that you could do in your room instead, without wasting any water."

Even if he's momentarily embarrassed, well, kids are embarrassed about everything. Might as well be this.
posted by klangklangston at 11:14 AM on March 21, 2009 [7 favorites]

The people on the "don't talk to him about this, EVER" bench are phenomenally short-sighted. There are way more important issues about sexuality down the road for this kid and it's going to be in his best interest for him to know that his mom (a) knows about sex, (b) isn't freaked out about his sexuality, and (c) is willing to help him out if he needs it.

I certainly don't think that there needs to be a conversation on the level of, "Son, let's talk about technique". But something along the lines of "It looks like you like to have a lot of private time these days, but you can't keep taking this many showers because it wastes a lot of water. You know, I know kids your age generally are starting to figure out some things about your bodies and I'm guessing that's up with you. I know this probably feels pretty embarrassing to talk about but I want you to know it's totally fine/it's healthy, also that it's totally OK for this to be part of your life that's private and none of my business--that's part of growing up. I also know that kids your age start to have lots of questions about body changes and growing up and sometimes are kind of unsure about talking to parents about it, so I got this book to make sure you have a place to check out the facts." Preferably while you're driving in the car so he's a captive audience and you specifically have your eyes on the road during this speech.

Maybe embarrassing as hell for a kid, but if a few years down the line he knocks up his girlfriend or gets an STD or otherwise gets in over his head in some way regarding his sexuality he won't be mistaken that his primary parent is completely ignorant and incapable of helping him deal. I think that's a conclusion that MANY kids draw, and for those who do get beyond their depth in something it is devastating to feel like parents can't possible know what it's all about.
posted by Sublimity at 11:29 AM on March 21, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm a lady, and when I was of the age to figure out the workings of my lady-parts, I took umpteen showers a day since we had one of those shower-massagers with the movable nozzles.

I was so nutso about getting caught, that I would wait until my parents left the house so they wouldn't hear me.

If my parents had EVER said ANYTHING about this, it seriously would have messed me up in the head.

And yes, I had totally normal conversations about my parents about sex with other humans, but for some reason, masturbation was a total no-fly zone. There's nothing that would have possibly embarrassed me more than my parents saying something about my bathing habits - and we lived in one of those "draining the hot water heater" situations.

Seriously, he'll grow out of it and the planet will survive. Puberty sucks. Let him have his baths and thank g-d he's inside experimenting with himself and not, say, outside huffing air freshener.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:39 AM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

A lot of people are saying it would scar a kid, but I haven't heard reference to someone who was actually scarred. If scarring is so inevitable, surely that person exists?
posted by samsm at 12:45 PM on March 21, 2009

OP: I liked the indirect conversation suggested by Inspector.Gadget but should his stepfather say it in passing?

Depends on their relationship. How do you think he'd take that convo from his stepdad? Does he have "you aren't my dad!!$%!" issues with your partner?

I'd just like to add something for you to consider, either in your approach to the conversation or what books you decide to get for him. One thing that can be lead to more enduring mental scars than "masturbation talk from the parents", is stuff like this...
With the obligatory; "you don't do this in public," and "do it gently otherwise there can be problems down the road" and "it feels better if you can have a girl who wants to do it do it for you" and "you know about semen and eggs, right..." &c&c.
... if it turns out that your son is gay or bi. The word girl will stand out as if writ in flashing neon. The heteronormativity will supersede all other information and will break his little heart.
posted by CKmtl at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

Mr. Tristeza here:

How many of the male commenters here had such a talk with their mothers?

Yeah, I thought not.

OP, your boy is separating from you. He just needs privacy. On his behalf, I beg you not to mention the excessive "bathing" any more.

I don't think the water is really the issue here . I think it may be dealing with the fact that this is something your boy must deal with on his own. It cannot include you. And it is a transition to a state of being that is not particularly attractive - the adolescent male.

I can only speak as a heterosexual here, so allow me to assume that for the sake of convenience.

During this process you will be supporting him in many many ways that make no sense to you. There will be driving him places so he can do nothing but hang out with his buddies and do almost nothing - except look at girls. There will be fashion magazines in the house that go missing. There will be clothes he doesn't need, including tuxedos that don't fit. There will be parties you'd really rather he avoid. There will be all sorts of walking, biking and driving ridiculous distances at ridiculous hours (and probably too fast or too slow). There will be the cost of endless, endless communications. Finally, there will probably be a hideous young girl you loathe from the first moment and predict - correctly - will break his heart but to whom you must, nonetheless, be nice.

This is not a part of his life you can plan. It is something you must endure.

The boy you knew is being replaced by an awkward, somewhat repulsive creature. You just have to ignore the creepy parts. It's something we all of us men go through and we have to believe that you don't see it happening, because it's pretty embarrassing.

You're losing your baby and unless you are a very strange person that is not going to feel right.

As a practical matter, find a pretense to tell him - for completely different reasons - that you are developing a new policy for his room - more responsibility, more privacy. Give him a some extra cash to pick up some things for you at the drug store - tell him he can get some stuff for himself while he's there.
posted by tristeza at 3:29 PM on March 21, 2009 [5 favorites]

Did everyone here only experience adolescence as a John Hughes movie?
posted by klangklangston at 7:50 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Give him a some extra cash to pick up some things for you at the drug store - tell him he can get some stuff for himself while he's there.

This is an eleven year old boy. How is he 1) supposed to know what to pick up, and 2) have the stones to actually do it?

Look, poster, unless you find someone to talk to your kid about sex, you're setting him up to be ashamed of it for years. You don't have to do it, but kid needs to have someone who he feels comfortable going to, and he needs to know that masturbating isn't going to send him direct to hell. Better if a parent figure did it, but if you can't bring yourself to it, then find a male figure he looks up to.
posted by TypographicalError at 11:28 PM on March 21, 2009

Did everyone here only experience adolescence as a John Hughes movie?

Remember that time you asked me to tell you when you were being an insesitive jerk who is tone deaf to normal human toleration of other's feelings and opinions?

You're doing it now.
posted by longsleeves at 1:23 AM on March 22, 2009

Ugly brutal fact, some of you may be unaware: If a boy is circumcised, he really ought to use some kind of lube for his personal fun. I'll allow it is more likely he isn't, as that seems to be the norm these days. For those less fortunate, dry strokes encourage a lack of sensitivity that can make the real thing difficult, years later. I'm too old to have learned any of this from a book, and have no clue about such things. I'm only speaking from experience.

And for goodness sake, don't provide tissues for this! That will only serve to encourage using something you'd rather he didn't, like sheets and towels. Paper towels do the job. Tissues stick and fall apart and make a mess.

A lock on his bedroom door sounds like a good idea. Especially so if the parental units are accustomed to entering without warning. I had a lock, and it still gave my mother (card-carrying bitch) the opportunity to surmise why it took me SO long to open the door, and make a nasty comment, in spite of my herculean effort to distract on the issue. At least, by that time, I had such a lack of respect for her that it was nothing more than typical, gratuitous nastiness.

While I don't think a conversation about such things needs to be traumatic, I also couldn't say how to make certain it isn't. OMG, it's sex, you know? How does the human race manage to keep going? Oh, that's right, we like sex. It's just something that freaks too many of us out.

But I'll tell you another personal story: I had problems with this. It didn't want to work right, for me. But that didn't prevent the urges. For about 9 months I was, essentially, completely insane, living in hell. I've never heard of anyone having that problem. It doesn't always come naturally.
posted by Goofyy at 8:48 AM on March 22, 2009

"Remember that time you asked me to tell you when you were being an insesitive jerk who is tone deaf to normal human toleration of other's feelings and opinions?

You're doing it now.

Remember that time you asked me to tell you when you were making up stories again because your underlying argument was hysterical nonsense? Yeah, about that.

Look, everyone saying that the kid would be mortified, that it would have scarred you for life, well, the problem is that that didn't happen. And you're ignoring the advice of folks who did have these kinds of talks who aren't damaged or weird or scarred for life. Anyone who would truly have long-term emotional damage from this, not just a momentary mortification (perhaps twice as embarrassing as that time your parents tried hip slang in front of your friends), well, you've got other dysfunctions and neuroses that seem to have ganged up on you to the point where you think you'd be traumatized by something that is, ultimately, no big deal. I mean, Christ, my (public) elementary school started the sex ed classes in fourth grade. It's more important that the kid know that this isn't any big deal, you're not going to freak out about it, and while it's not something that anyone else really wants to know about, it's nothing to be ashamed of.

Now, sure, a lot depends on the relationship that mom has with the kid and the kind of relationship that she wants to have with the kid. But parents don't have to be uptight weirdos just because yours were.
posted by klangklangston at 11:18 AM on March 22, 2009

Now, sure, a lot depends on the relationship that mom has with the kid and the kind of relationship that she wants to have with the kid. But parents don't have to be uptight weirdos just because yours were.

I agree, it certainly does depend on the current relationship. Suffice it to say that her current relationship with the kid is such that she is asking strangers on the internet about this. This is fine, it's good to have a wide spectrum of opinions, but suggests that this is not just another step in a long-running sexual-awareness program that she has been cultivating since the boy was young. Thing is, if in fact she is kind of coming out of the blue on this, she has no reference point for what will be creepy, overbearing, welcomed, or rude.

As we are all seeming to be drawing upon personal histories here, "momentary mortification" vs. "hipster slang in front of friends" does not have a given relationship. You can denigrate people by saying that anybody who would be negatively affected by a poorly thought-out conversation about masturbation is a basket-case anyway, but the reality is (or seems to be) that the mother here does not have and can not figure out what a well-thought-out conversation would include. Not knowing the kid, neither do we.

Just because she's not an "uptight weirdo" doesn't mean she won't be an "oversharing weirdo." I know people who were screwed up by their parents being too open about sex just as much as those who were left in the dark through adolescence.
posted by rhizome at 1:26 PM on March 22, 2009

Final update from the original asker:
I'd like to thank you all again for the anecdotes and advice. I was looking for any experiences with having this conversation to see how other people have handled this/ talked about it with their kids/ have experienced this with parents themselves. I try to be as thoughtful and mindful as a parent whose bound to mess up can be.

Communication between me and my son is open and honest; I've worked hard to foster that. We both attend a family therapy group for empowerment and we have regular check-ins. I was a little nervous about this because I wanted to be sure if there was anything I could be giving him, that I was. This site has always been informative and I figured it might be again. It has been.

The dialogue about sex is one I've been having and hope to continue to have with him. He's my only child and I grew up in an all-woman household. I was nervous! He's figuring out privacy issues and I don't want to hinder that by oversharing.

Listening to this thread I did decide to talk to him about masturbation but I steered clear of his own habits. I'm glad I did, he didn't know that was what the word referred to! We talked about it being normal and we talked about his growing need for privacy. I assure you he wasn't traumatized.
posted by mathowie at 7:40 PM on March 22, 2009

Thanks for passing along the update, mathowie. It sounds like it's going all right, which is great.

I was looking for any experiences with having this conversation to see how other people have handled this/ talked about it with their kids/ have experienced this with parents themselves.

Here's a little more anecdata for you:

As it happens, the day before you posted this, my 8.75 year old daughter complained at bedtime that her vulva was hurting. Now, an 8.75 year old girl is not an 11 year old boy, but my daughter has definitely taken a turn toward the body-shy lately, while simultaneously being highly entertained/scandalized by bathroom humor and especially private body parts. I was surprised that she was talking to me about her genitals at all, so I decided that I needed to just be cool as a cucumber about this issue. After asking what hurt, checking it out with a hand mirror (she'd never really seen her bits, by the way, and was rather impressed), and seeing that nothing looked seriously amiss, I asked her if she'd been touching her vagina. "Yeah, a lot," she said. So I casually suggested that she take it easy for a while, that the skin down there can get tender and sore if it's dried out, etc. I gave her a dab of Eucerin to put on the sore spot and apparently all's been well.

Now, "Yeah, a lot" was not what I was expecting to hear, but there it was, and you gotta play 'em as they lay. Would she have been better served if I'd just shut up and refused to talk about it, because clearly (based on her juvenile embarrassment/obsession with butts and boobs and privates) she'd be mortified if I even brought the subject up? Perhaps she is scarred for life that I said, you know, the skin down there is supposed to stay kind of moist like the skin inside your mouth, and it can hurt if it gets too dried out, so here, kid, this Eucerin might make it feel better.

If she's scarred, so be it. She needed my help navigating her girlie bits, and I think I did the right thing by telling it to her straight.

Another anecdote for you: once upon a time in my youth I came home totally drunk and threw up. My mother asked my aunt to ask my cousin to ask me who I'd been out drinking with. I lost a lot of respect for my mother because she didn't have the guts to talk to me directly. As a result, as a parent, I think in the long run it's best to be upfront.
posted by Sublimity at 4:52 PM on March 23, 2009

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