Boys and Masturbation

I'm a single mom with a 13-year-old son who started masturbating about a year ago. He keeps hiding his semen-stained pillow in the closet. Is it normal for him to do this and how should I go about talking to him about it?

--A Parent Soup member

I am so glad you found our site. First, rest assured that your son is normal. Masturbation is common and not harmful. In the olden days, it was frowned upon and rumored to have dire results. These days we know that there's nothing dangerous about it. In fact, it allows sexual release without risking impregnating a girl.

You mention being a single mom, which can make it difficult to broach sensitive subjects with your son. All mothers -- married, divorced and single - feel uncomfortable talking to their sons about sexual matters. It's so much easier talking to daughters! As we say in our book, The Roller Coaster Years: Raising Your Child Through the Maddening Yet Magical Middle School Years, girls have menstrual cycles just as we do, so talking about body issues and moving on to sex and romance feel natural to mothers. Puberty for boys can include topics that women have no experience with -- wet dreams and ejaculation and fantasy -- what woman isn't uncomfortable with that? The only one more uncomfortable than you about these sexual issues is your son!

Begin your conversation with your son by talking about hygiene. Mention that boys have wet dreams, which can stain their bedding. Request that if he has stained bedding that he put in the laundry. This should make him feel less shameful about the pillow.

Meantime, get our book and start reading our chapter on sexuality to get some more ideas on how to talk about sexual issues. A good book for your son about these issues is It's Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. This book is all about changing bodies, growing up, sexuality and health, is written with boys and girls in mind and has funny pictures and lots of good information. It's important for both boys and girls to know how those of the other gender are changing as well.

It's important to talk about masturbation and all the other issues with your boy. This is a perfect opportunity for you to explain your own value system and behavioral expectations. If you ignore his silent questions, he will turn to his friends, obtaining often less than accurate information. So accept this discomfort as a parental responsibility and talk to him anyway. Good luck!

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