When we think about the classic parent and teenage boy sex talk, we picture a biological sort of talk – body parts, that sort of thing. But there is a rather different kind of talk that is perhaps more important – about sex and boys’ behavior with girls.
“So how did it go with you and Susanna last night?” asks Jonas of his friend Brandon.
Brandon gives a high five to his friend.
“Alright!” says Jonas.
Through the media and through their own teen culture, today’s teenage boys are exposed to a view of boy/girl relationships that is very insensitive.
“So how do you feel about her?”
“She’s really nice. I can talk to her about stuff. I can be myself around her.”
Not a conversation that many teenage boys are going to have.
Boys get the message that sexuality and relationships with girls is about to what degree you can come off as a stud. More about manipulating girls. More about control, than about sharing experience. Definitely very insensitive to the feelings of girls. Not all boys are like this, not all messages are like this. But they hear the above on a regular basis. And unfortunately there is a lot of insensitive, hurtful boy with girl behavior that does go on.
Is there anything that parents can do? Let me propose a talk that maybe all parents might want to have with their teenage sons. Perhaps for many boys it is unnecessary. Many teenage boys are caring, appropriately respectful of girl partners. But many – even many who are basically good and caring kids – can nonetheless act in ways that are more hurtful than they realize.
The point of having the talk is simple. You want to know that your teenage son has heard – unequivocally – that certain behaviors are unacceptable.
This is so even for teen boys who are nowhere near being sexually active, or are not socially advanced. It is nonetheless the world of which they are very much a part. Perhaps not currently active participants, but certainly watchers.
Who should give the talk – father or mother? It doesn’t matter. Either is fine, but just one is probably best. When? Anytime. Just do it.
They may not be overly receptive.
“Garrett, we need to have a talk.”
“Oh, God, what is it this time? The drug talk, again?”
Don’t worry. Plow ahead anyway.
What should you say? There are many points that you might want to make. Below I offer some suggestions as to what I thought were important. But you are the judge of what you want to say.
When a girl says “no,” you must always assume she means “no.”
If a girl is in a state where she has a diminished capacity to think clearly—especially from drinking or drugs—it is not okay to have sex with her.
If a girl agrees to be alone with you—where no one else is around—that does not automatically mean that she is agreeing to have sex with you.
Put downs of girls, especially about their bodies, is always not okay. You may think it is “only teasing,” and that you mean no harm - but girls always hate it.
Never hit a girl or in any way get physically violent with her. There are no circumstances where this is okay. Even if they hit you, do what you can to escape. Do not fight back. Leave.
If you find yourself getting very mad with a girl, leave.
If you have been drinking and get in an argument with a girl, leave. (This, especially, is where serious violence can occur.)
If you are mad at a girl and are standing right in front of her and are very close to her, back away. You may know that you are not going to physically attack her, but it is always very threatening to a girl. It scares her.
If you are in a relationship with a girl and you are very bossy with her—about who she hangs out with, how she dresses, wanting to know exactly where she is at all times - this is seriously bad. Either back off or end the relationship. Girls do this too with guys – in which case if you are in such a relationship, ask the girl to back off or you should end it. But understand that girls’ possessiveness does not have the same potential threat of harm behind it as it does with guys.
If you have sexual intercourse with a girl, use a condom. If you don’t, you risk pregnancy and contracting an STD.
You may feel that all guys are supposed to want to have sex, and are supposed to jump at the opportunity to have it. But you are allowed not to, especially if – for whatever reason – you are not comfortable with it.
That does not make you any less of a guy. It can even be that some girls may be more interested in having sex with you than what you feel you are ready for. You are allowed to say that. (This is a tough one for guys to feel okay with – the social norms are so stacked against them. But it is good for them to hear.)
What goes on between you and a girl is private. (This one also may be real tough for teenage boys to follow, but it is important for them to hear.)
Will a talk like this have an effect? Maybe.
“This is all stupid. I never would do any of that kind of stuff, and besides I totally already know everything you just said, so you’re wasting your breath.”
But the good news is that – despite what it might seem on the surface – they hear every word you say. It is in their head. It is a lot better than if you don’t say anything.
Anthony Wolf, Ph.D. is an author and clinical psychologist for children and adolescents. He is the author of several books, "I'd Listen to My Parents if They'd Just Shut Up: What Not to Say When Parenting Teens" (HarperCollins 2011).