Blame it on microwaves or those darn mini-skirts, but puberty is now hitting boys at age 9. Though erections happen throughout a boy's life, starting in infancy—when those hormones start popping up, so does something else. During math class, when talking to the school hottie or just sneezing —whoop, there it is! Besides fighting the urge to emerge between ages 11 and 15, a growth spurt isn't the only kind of spurt he'll be experiencing. So, what's a parent to do when stiff socks start showing up in the laundry?
We can all imagine how embarrassingly straightforward my family dinner table conversations will surely be ("Honey, don't forget your Sassy Booty Formula for your date!"), but I respect that parenting is an individual effort. Use this column to light your abstinence-only fire if you'd like, but I can't deny that when it comes to young people and sex, I believe honest communication and information is best. Whether or not you give your kid information about sex, they will find it (chances are, it'll be wrong) and the risks of STDs/pregnancy will still exist (they just won't know how to deal with them). Nevermind that several studies have found that teens who pledged virginity during abstinence-only sex ed classes ultimately had STD rates similar to other young people and were less likely to use protection when they eventually did choose to have sex—if you don't talk to your little guy about his little guy, you could be causing him much undue stress.
With puberty comes a lot of emotional and physical changes. Throw in a randomly appearing hard-on (never thought I liked baseball that much!), reccurring wet dreams ("did I pee the bed again?") and the nagging urge to masturbate, and you've really got a wrench thrown in it. One close friend told me that when his mom finally gave him a talk after finding a hidden stash of Victoria's Secret catalogs, beyond feeling embarrassed, he simply felt an overwhelming sense of relief that he wasn't a freak who would ejaculate himself to death!
I recently helped another mom put together a masturbation goodie bag for her 13-year-old son. Before you alert the elders, we didn't hook the kid up with some Playboys and a call girl. The mom felt awkward, but wanted to help her son, who had complained that his penis had been hurting. When she asked if he'd been playing with it a lot, he was like "No duh." Not wanting to shame her son's developing sexuality (hurray!) she decided to help make his job easier. She got him a variety of male masturbation creams (I recommend Boy Butter and Stroke 29) and a collection of condoms with the forward-thinking hope that if he used condoms first on his own during masturbation, he would be more inclined to use them as protection when he decided to have sex later.
Whether you send him a smoke signal or stuff a bag with lube and latex, the important thing, as a parent, is to talk about it. Harmful masturbation rumors range from "It'll blind you!" to "Masturbation = Unibomber!", when, in reality, masturbation is a healthy exploration of sexuality which, if shamed into oblivion, can cause more relationship problems than masturbation itself ever could. Besides relieving stress, feeling good and being fun, masturbation puts us in touch with our sexualities, whether we're just budding at 13 or going for round 1,000 at age 40.
Instead of sitting down for "The Talk," have a series of talks. Trying to cover ever-changing topics like sex and sexuality in one sitting is overwhelmingly unrealistic. While you may need to bring it up, take your cues from him, keeping in line with your kid's individual maturity and curiosity. Answer questions honestly, following up with research if needed. If you're uncomfortable, offer direct resources he can check out solo. Scarleteen.com is the best online teen sexuality resource, and has hard-on helpful blogs like "A round-up of 'I get an erection when' questions" or "The penis size and shape lowdown." Finally, give yourself a break. No matter your age, talking about erections is... hard.