How to Talk to Boys about Sex

This podcast will focus on boys, consent, masculinity, hook-ups, love and porn—and how to open up conversations with boys about these topics that will help them to become more informed boys and better men.

Special Guest: Peggy Orenstein

The pervasiveness of hook-up culture, ubiquity of locker room banter, accessibility of internet porn, media steeped with distorted images and wide acceptance of the “man box” or “bro culture” participation is having complex and negative effects on our boys.  And as pornography has become a new kind of sex education that most boys are privy to by the tender age of 11 and sexual assault showing itself as a more commonplace occurrence, it is time for a change. As squeamish as it may make us, we’ve got to get talking to boys are sex. About consent. About empathy, porn, intimacy, media, misogyny, arousal, LGBTQ, connection. This, as you all know by now, is not just one talk but a series of little and bog discussions along the way. It is not just for Moms or just for Dads- this is for all of us. When we unravel the hidden truths and put high beams on the realities of young male sexuality and culture in today’s world, we create a provocative paradigm-shift that can help us move forward to raising more-informed boys and better men.

Peggy Orenstein is the New York Times bestselling author of Girls and sex, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Waiting for Daisy, Flux and Schoolgirls. A contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, she has been published in USA Today, Parenting, Salon, the New Yorker and other publications, and has contributed commentary to NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Her new book has come out to glowing reviews and is called Boys and Sex, Young Men on Hook Ups, Love, Porn, consent and navigating the new masculinity. She lives in Northern California with her husband and daughter.

The podcast provides:

  • A discussion of masculinity and the man box
  • How porn is impacting our boys, their development and their relationships
  • How boys regard hook-up culture and why it’s detrimental
  • Why it’s important for parents to talk about sex with boys in the LGBTQ community
  • How to discuss consent with boys
  • What boys really want in their relationships

Important Messages:

  • If we are going to help boys, we have to talk to them about sex, intimacy, masculinity and gender.
  • We can learn so much about ourselves and about our culture when we talk to young people about these rich topics.
  • Definition of masculinity has barely budged over the years.
  • Use “precarious masculinity” or “fragile masculinity”- less of an attack on boys than “toxic.”
  • Boys have females as friends, deserving of place in classroom- but masculinity definition still hasn’t changed much. Athletic, chill and aggressive at the same time, dominant, sex as conquest, sex as status seeking—emotional suppression (big one).
  • Learn to put up wall, not to cry. Heart of book- vulnerability. Taboo, wrestle with it. Cut boys off from vulnerability- Brene Brown- secret sauce to holding relationships together. Cut off capacity to have mutually satisfying relationships that we want them to have.
  • Porn: So difficult when you go into a sexual experience having seen it—it takes away your ability to have discovery on your own terms- and see through fresh eyes without preconceived notions. Destroyed. Hijacks their imagination. Sad.
  • Curiosity about sex is normal and healthy. Masterbation is normal and healthy.
  • 2007: Pornhub dropped the paywall. Allows everything to be accessible anonymously and free.
  • Masturbation with porn: They go through the free stuff—is it you or Uporn- who is going to educate your kids about sex? Pull up 8 clips and toggle back and forth until they find the thing. What’s the impact?
  • Some boys realize they hit rock bottom and have to stop.
  • Some boys feel that they were harmed by porn.
  • Many boys will say “I know the difference between fantasy and reality.” But how? They haven’t even kissed anybody yet.
  • Media affects our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions even when we think it doesn’t. College guys who watch more porn are
    • more likely to think its images are real.
    • more to want to act out more aggressive actions in the bedroom.
    • less satisfied with their partner’s interactions,
    • less satisfied with their performance
    • less satisfied with their partner’s bodies.
  • Many boys are wrestling with this. In big and small ways. Are they affecting their personal relationships? Shame about genital size. Affected who they were attracted to. Affected what they thought female pleasure would be (and found out how wrong they were).
  • Porn is new and much more of a pressing conversation now but the fact is that main stream media is an issue too- and we must discuss. Reinforced. Male sexual entitlement. Female sexual availability. Male sexual dominance. Female sexual submissiveness.
  • Music impacts how boys see girls too. You are driving around town and hear some version of “F*^k that b*tch and quit her.
  • We are doing such a good job with girls now—so much work on recognizing the media impact on girls. We provide a counter narrative. Critical lens to resist crass, commodified media messages. And we say nothing to our boys. And they are growing up in the same stew.
  • Porn convo: What would you whisper in Mason’s Dad’s ear when he sits down on the couch after finding out his son is watching porn? You have to stop here and talk about what’s real and not real. And that this is giving a skewed picture of what human sexuality is, what people actually want and do. Point out what’s missing. What’s inaccurate. How it treats women. How it inaccurately shows what most women respond to and like and enjoy. Doesn’t show any sense of connection, sensuality messiness, playfulness, passion- it’s an abstracted view of what sex is.
  • Gather information: Info on Peggy’s website for high schoolers. Essay from Scarletine. Positive, pleasurable sex ed. Give to 14-15 year old. What’s real and not real. And why fantasy in porn is skewed towards aggressive violence. What about the racism? What about the violence? What about the fat shaming?
  • Don’t shame our boys or girls around porn.
  • Boys can read the porn chapter.
  • Porn discussion. Physiology. What is super arousing and what is actually pleasurable, wanted, desired. Sometimes extreme images might provide a genital response- but that doesn’t mean that you want it.
  • Emily Nagoski: Simultaneously is sexual and objectionable, it can turbo charge arousal. Vs. something you actually want. This might be eye-opening. Fear and anxiety. Understand it.
  • Mason story: End. Finally had intercourse. “What did you want your first time to be like?” Conversation- what they wanted, know, feel- connected conversation. Magically it worked after that. “I can’t be physically vulnerable with somebody unless I’m emotionally vulnerable first because the body is a vulnerable thing and you can’t learn from a screen.”
  • Ideal presented to them is hot sex with a cold heart- no feelings. Catching feelings like it’s a disease. But this doesn’t fit with who they are.
  • Porn- people of younger kids (videos-educational).
  • Hook-up culture: Assumed that a physical relationship comes before an emotional relationship. Normalized path to relationship. Actually less likely to turn into relationship. College-> hook up culture. Prioritizing as sex as status seeking. Presented as fun. But girls and boys and ambivalent. Girls angry. Boys admit- not really fun. More of a validation and a story you get to tell your friends the next day- it’s not about good sex.
  • And yet they complain that it’s terrifying to send a morning after text! No idea of what the other person is thinking.
  • Boys averting eyes. But boys say they don’t know what the other person is thinking. Rather avert your eyes than take the tiny risk of saying hello to your partner from the night before. Vulnerability. Ironic since if they connect it might lead to the thing they actually want!
  • Problematic that we don’t educate boys about reciprocal, pleasurable sexuality.
  • Average number of partners for 4 years on the college campus is 7 (not all intercourse).
  • Wyatt and Nate. Nate asking about hook up culture. Wyatt had convo through Peggy. Personally authenticity. How doing something that isn’t who you are will kill your soul. Boys helping other boys. What if you could create space where boys could have these honest conversation about the man box and what they could do instead?
  • Parents of kids who identify LGBTQ- must talk to them about sex too! Lots of social identity acceptance but still not talking about sex.
  • On Grinder. Torso photo on app- anonymous sex. Our gay boys putting themselves in harm’s way.
  • Must discuss with LGBTQ what sex involves. And we have to know ourselves. Can’t shroud in mystery over there. Not about reproduction and we get uncomfortable. How can we provide social situations that are more age appropriate? Important! If we don’t provide that, they are going to engage in unsafe behavior. Many adults are thankful that this convo is being brought up. Gay boys provide a model- how to navigate consent: What are you into? (Dan Savage talks about this).
  • Consent: Not yes or no answers. Discussion. What are you into? Girls socialized to NOT say anything about this- makes conversation difficult. Doesn’t create the type of relationships we want them to have and they would want to have.
  • CONVOS: Convo starts before sex- to broaden emotional range. Name emotions beyond anger. Lose capacity to name emotions. Things get funneled to anger. Talk about consent. Discuss definition and consequences. Gender dynamics. It isn’t “a talk.” It isn’t about mechanics. Broad convo about media. Promote health. Discuss man box and how to can sabotage wellbeing and ability to have relationships. Long game. Want young people to have personally fulfilling and mutually satisfying relationships.
  • Adult men- you don’t need to be perfect- but be part of the conversation. You can make a difference here.
  • Enlist help from other adults if needed! Even if you have a great relationship! Show up without fear- scaffolding a new kind of relationship that is based on mutual respect.

Notable Quotables:

  • “When the #MeToo allegations came out, there was a mandate to reduce sexual violence. It provided an exciting opportunity to engage boys and young men in deep conversation about sex, intimacy, masculinity and gender. We need to know what’s going on in their heads if we are going to help them make the best choices.” 
  • “When we cut boys off from their capacity for vulnerability, empathy and compassion, we cut off their capacity to have the very kinds of mutually gratifying and personally fulfilling relationships that we want our boys and young men to have. That harms them and that harms their romantic partners as well.”
  • “Someone said to me; ‘is it you or UPorn, who is going to educate your kids about sex?”
  • “Porn shows that sex is something that men do to women. Female pleasure is a performance for male satisfaction. A lot of eroticized violence and humiliation even on a very low level and a lot of acts that wouldn’t feel good to most people and especially most women. Absent of any discussion from trusted adults, that’s their sex educator now.”
  • “Media affects our thoughts, feelings, beliefs and actions even when we think it doesn’t. College guys who watch more porn are more likely to think its images are real. They are more to want to act out more aggressive actions in the bedroom. They are less satisfied with their partner’s interactions, less satisfied with their performance and less satisfied with their partner’s bodies.”
  • “We don’t have the luxury of remaining silent about porn. And I know you’d rather poke yourself in the eye with a fork than talk to your son or daughter about porn- but we can’t NOT do it.”
  • “We have done such better work with our girls. We have done so much work in recognizing the harm that media messages inflict on our daughters. We work from the time that they are tiny to create a counternarrative for them so that they will be armed with a critical lens that we hope will help them resist those crass, objectified, commodified harmful media messages and we say nothing to our boys. And they are growing up in the same stew—and if anything, it has turned up higher- and we think that magically they’’ come through that with no problem. It is doing our boys a disservice.”
  • “I’ve come to this conclusion that if catching feelings is like a disease then to protect against a disease in sex like gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, then you put on a condom. If you want to protect against catching feelings, you have to put on your emotional condom. And that is alcohol. Alcohol is not just a lubricant for hook up culture, it is dependent on alcohol. Lisa Wade- “compulsory carelessness necessary to engage in a hook up.” Anesthetize self against feelings and accountability.
  • “In hook-up culture, the majority of boys and girls are ambivalent. It teaches them more about what they don’t want than what they do.”
  • “A hook up is more about validation and a story that you can tell your friends the next day. It’s not about good sex.”
  • “We need to better educate boys about positive sexuality, pleasurable sexuality and reciprocal sexuality.”
  • “A hook up will give you a warm body, a war story, an adrenaline rush- but it’s not going to give you good sex or the tools you need to have good sex or create the emotional connection that you want. Know this going in. And with boys, it denies the fundamental capacity for love.”
  • “What if we could create space where boys could have these honest conversations with one another about what was real and what was false about the man box pose and what they could do instead and open up a broader vision of how they could conduct themselves and relate and be in this world and in their social life? How would that support who they are and change who they could be?”
  • “I think the conversation with boys has to start before sex. We have to start by helping our boys stay connected to their vulnerability, compassion and empathy and broaden their emotional range.”
  • “This is all about the long game of wanting our young people to have the kinds of relationships that are mutually gratifying and personally fulfilling. We want our young men to become the men that we know that they can be- to become their best selves.”
  • “Enter the conversation where you can, when you can. Just start it.”

Enter the conversation where you can, when you can, says @peggyorenstein about talking to boys about sex, porn and toxic masculinity. Listen in on #talktokids podcast- you don’t want to miss this!
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YES!! We need to better educate boys about positive sexuality, pleasurable sexuality and reciprocal sexuality. ~@Peggyorenstein on #talktokids podcast. #sexeducation
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