A Feminist Raising Two Boys Has “The Talk”
By Ijeoma Oluo
“Ok bud, it’s time to have The Talk.”
I’m nervously looking at my 12-year-old son. The moment he hears “The Talk,” all the color drains from his face. He knows what’s coming. He’s almost as tall as I am, but at this moment he looks small, like a baby. I’m regretting this conversation before it even starts.
I’m not going to talk to my son about the birds and the bees — he has the Internet, he knows what goes where and how babies are made (thank gawd for that); he even came home one day the year before to tell me everything he had learned about the female reproductive system before I reminded him that as the owner of a female reproductive system, I was quite familiar — “It’s absolutely fascinating,” he said.
I’m going to talk to my son about porn. We’re talking about porn because I happened to receive an update from an adult chat site he was frequenting on his iPhone. As my brain was trying to make sense of the fact that the kid who still drew pictures of dragons all day was also looking at pornography and trying to talk to strangers about sex, I realized that we were going to have to have a talk that was quite different than the one my mom had with me or my brother in the early ‘90’s.
I had once assumed that my son’s dad or his uncle would be the one to have this talk with him. They would sit him down while fishing or bowling or some super-dude-like shit and would have a lighthearted chat about changes to their bodies and what to do when you get a boner in class.
But I was 20 when I had my son and my view of the world, and men, was quite different then. Raising this beautiful boy for the last 12 years had given me a new awareness of the pressures on boys as they become men, and how very early harmful and hurtful messages are being forced upon them.
Then I thought of how many times I had heard my son’s dad belittle his then-wife. I thought about the mudflap girls on his truck. I thought about his “I love boobies” shirt that he once wore to our son’s school recital. I thought about when his dad and I were married and he hid my vibrator because he was afraid that I’d like it more than him.
This conversation is too important to be left to men.
“First of all, I’m not mad that you were looking at porn. It’s totally natural for boys to want to learn about this stuff at your age — “ I catch myself, “-Girls too! Girls like porn just as much as boys, don’t let anybody tell you otherwise because — ” He’s wincing so I stop. Okay, maybe this isn’t the time for him to learn all of that.
I take a deep breath and gather my thoughts. What are all of the things a responsible feminist parent should tell her son? He needs to know that it’s okay to be curious about sex and the female body. He needs to know that I’m not assuming anything about his sexuality based on the type of porn he’s looking at. He needs to know that it’s absolutely NOT okay for him to be talking with strangers on the Internet, especially about sex. He needs to know that bringing any of these images to school can get him in huge trouble.
I’m rattling these off while trying to seem reassuring as my son winces occasionally and nods encouragingly to speed me through the process.
“Okay, one more thing,” I say, slowing down a bit, “I know that you don’t want to hear this but it’s really important so I really need you to listen to me here.”
“Okay, okay, Mom,” he says, and actually seems a little interested.
“What you’re seeing in these videos isn’t sex,” I say.
He looks slightly confused but doesn’t say anything, likely aware that he wouldn’t be able to stop me from explaining further if he tried.
“What you are seeing in these videos is all fake. Yes the penises are real, yes the vaginas are real — but what they’re doing isn’t sex. It’s a play. Just like nobody recites a monologue as they die, nobody has sex like this — at least not good sex.”
I take a deep breath. This is the worst conversation ever.
“Okay, these videos are just what some dudes wish sex was like. It’s all fantasy and camera angles. There are some things in porn that just plain don’t work — like, it’s against the laws of physics, you’ll break something. But a lot of porn is made by dudes who never ask what women want, for dudes who never ask what women want. It doesn’t make the porn bad, per-se — but it definitely means that porn is not your instruction manual for sex.”
Oh man, this is so awkward. Ugh.
“Look, I’m not telling you this because I think you’re ready for sex. You aren’t, at all. I’m telling you this because I don’t ever want you to think that women will automatically want you to do these things to them. I don’t want you to think that you can ever try to be physical with a woman — whether it’s a hug or sex — without her permission. And I don’t want you to think that you’ll ever be good at sex if you never ask a woman what she wants. This isn’t just about the sex, the way these guys talk to these women — that’s not how you talk to a human being that you respect. I’m telling you this because you’re at that age where you are going to be watching a lot of porn and I’m going to have to pretend that I don’t know you’re watching a lot of porn, and this stuff sneaks in your brain and pretends to be truth if you aren’t watching out.”
My son is nodding. Is he interested or terrified? It’s really hard to tell.
“Mom, like, I’d totally not be able to do any of those things without asking first. I mean, there are some strange things . . .”
Now we’re both about to die from embarrassment.
I smile, “You say that now, but it’s scary to ask. It’s scary to talk about sex with other people — even people you are going to have sex with! So I just want you to think, every time you see these videos, ‘I need to ask before I try that.’ And don’t be surprised or upset if she says no, okay?”
“Yeah totally,” he quickly says, hopeful that this conversation is done.
I run through the list in my brain again . . . did I cover all the important things? Condoms? He knows about those, that’s been covered before . . . okay I think we’re done.
“I think we are all done here, bud!” I say brightly, “If you have any questions you can ask me okay? I’m totally here for you. But um, if you don’t want to, because I’m your mom, I totally get it — ”
“Um yeah, I’m probably not going to Mom, no offense,” he affirms.
“Yeah, that’s cool. Just remember what I said okay? And you can always ask your dad or your uncle if you have more questions.”
“Okay Mom, can I go?” he asks.
“Yep, you’re free,” I say. As he gets up I add, “But please, bud, get a little better at hiding this shit. I know we’re cool, but think of how uncomfortable you’d be if you found my porn.”
“Ugh gross, Mom,” he says and leaves the room.
This story first appeared at Medium.