Sorry to disappoint, but this is not a juicy or explicit how-to manual.
Full disclosure: I’m not a guy. Worse yet, I’m a mom.
Ew. She’s going to talk about sex!
Listen, I’m not trying to gross anyone out here. But as the mother of two teenage boys, it’s important to me that my sons’ emerging sexual identities are nurtured in a purposeful way and treated like the delicate, precious entities they are.
Sex is a significant, nearly universal part of the human experience and first impressions can be lasting impressions. Further, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior (thanks, Dr. Phil!), so before my boys have any genuine, partnered behavior under their belts (no pun intended), I want to do what I can to steer them in a positive and healthy direction.
To that end, I lovingly offer these five pieces of advice to my sweet boys, ages 13 and 15, and to any others who may be wondering how to get this particular party started.
1. I urge you to steer clear of pornography—at least until you have some real-life experience to compare it to.
I know you’re curious. I know it’s exciting. I know it’s widely available. But like all first impressions, pornography has the power to leave an indelible mark on your still-developing consciousness around sex, one based not in reality, but on an industry that trades exclusively in misogyny, paternalism, and sexism. (And if you don’t know the meaning of any or all of those words, you’re probably not ready to have sex.)
Of course, I still use the term “hoo-ha” when referring to female genitalia, so who am I to judge?
Before consuming pornography—or, if I’m already too late, before consuming any additional pornography—I highly recommend reading Belinda Luscombe’s 2016 Time Magazine article entitled: “Porn and the threat to virility” (suggested to me, by the way, by my mom…double ew, now Nana is involved!). You don’t have to take my word for it; this article is told from the perspectives of male 20-something consumers of pornography, and chronicles the emotional—and erectile—dysfunction resulting from their use.
And if you’re not into porn, but still genuinely interested in what a real, fumbling, imperfect, first sexual experience might actually look like, check out these two movies: “Say Anything” (1989) or “The Fault in our Stars” (2014). This kind of first encounter is my wish for you.
2. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
On my first date with the man who would become my husband, I slipped my arm through his as we strolled around Maymont Park in Richmond, Virginia. He immediately and exaggeratedly flexed his biceps and made this hilarious, “What?!? That’s just my arm” face. I found the entire gesture completely endearing. It said, “I, too, am vulnerable in this situation. I want so much for you to find me attractive. I hope I’m man enough for you.”
Back in college, I remember a vaguely-chubby former boyfriend regarding his body in a full-length mirror. He stared at himself for a moment, sighed deeply, and said, “I’m a potato.” Another suitor, all 5’ 7” of him, said of the preponderance of tall men at one of my family gatherings: “Y’all could give a guy a Napoleon Complex.”
We all know that confidence is attractive, but I’ll tell you boys a little secret: so is vulnerability. I would even go a step further and argue that the very presence of vulnerability (voicing insecurity about one’s looks, for example, or naming one’s desire to be loved) is, in itself, a pretty good indicator of confidence.
Brené Brown says of vulnerability: “Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” Please, bring your humanity, your courage, and your vulnerability to your all of your relationships, and most especially to the intimate ones.
3. It’s critical from the outset that you understand the meaning of consent, both for yourself and your potential partners.
I like Planned Parenthood’s acronym FRIES, which reminds us that consent is Freely given, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.
Please give some extra mental attention to the phrases “freely given” and “enthusiastic;” you’ll notice there’s zero room in there for intimidation, intoxication, or coercion. Talking someone into sexual activity—wearing them down with repeated requests, making them feel guilty or like they’re letting you down, or implying that the relationship itself is on the line—is not the same thing as having an honest conversation about what each of you is ready for.
Both you and your potential partner are allowed to not want to have sex, to not be ready, to proceed slowly, to be imperfect, and to have absolutely no idea what you’re doing. You are allowed to desire an actual connection with another person, despite cultural stereotypes that equate masculinity with emotional detachment and sexual aggression.
If it seems like someone wants to kiss you (or do anything along the long and varied continuum of sexual activity), and you also want to do this thing, fabulous. We talk a lot (and should) about women being pressured into sex, but we don’t talk as often about the myth that all boys welcome any kind of sexual activity they can get.
Please, my precious boys, do not allow your first experiences to be acts you felt pressured into. Don’t let fear of what some girl—or your friends—might think guide your behavior as you embark on this important journey. Lead exclusively with your heart, and your gut.
You’re also allowed to wait, like, years and years and years. So many years.
4. At all times, and in every kind of relationship, be authentic.
If you imagine your sex life (once it actually gets going) to include multiple partners and a sh*t-ton of experimentation, that’s great. You do you. Just be sure your partners are aware of your behavior, or at the very least are not misled to believe that they are the sole object of your affections.
In fact, authenticity is a good rule of thumb for every facet of your life, not just your sexuality. If you feel inclined to lie, deceive, minimize, or skip the details of some aspect of your behavior, you probably need to rethink that behavior. Hiding, covering, and pretending—from poor grades to poor judgement—is no way to live. Know that there will always be partners who will gladly meet you in your authenticity; there’s no need to be anything other than exactly who you are.
5. Don’t ever sell yourself short.
Even if you are short. Even if you carry some kind of marginalized identity or physical characteristic—whether obvious to the naked eye or completely hidden—that you believe reduces the number of potential partners out there. I urge you to reject a “this is the best I can expect” mentality. Each and every one of you is deserving of love, respect, intimacy, and physical affection.
Now, if there are times in your life when all you’re interested in is physical intimacy and you’re perfectly happy to relinquish love, respect, or an emotional connection in order to get it, that’s fine. I don’t understand it—that’s not how I roll—but it’s your life and I truly want you to be happy.
But please, don’t forego something you truly desire just because you don’t think it’s possible for you, or don’t believe you deserve it.
Because you absolutely do.