JD Roberto wishes he could avoid sending his five-year-old son mixed messages about his sexuality.
The most hands-on, intimate, and enduring relationship in a man’s life is the one he has with his penis. Yes, ladies, you might be tired of hearing about our junk but we’re tired of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey, so we’re even. My manhood and I have been through a lot together and after these many years some small amount of the razzle-dazzle has gone out of the relationship. Don’t get me wrong, we still have fun and share quality time together but, like any long term relationship, I spend significantly less of my free time dwelling on my penis than I once did.
Not so for a five year old boy. Right now, Z is in the early, puppy-love, romance stage of his relationship with his own anatomy. Anyone that’s ever been in love knows this stage—the giddy, delicious, phase where you just can’t keep your hands off each other; where you find yourself unconsciously reaching out and touching each other—even at odd or inappropriate times. Well, that’s where we are right about now.
And the truth is, I struggle with how to handle these moments with my boy. My main goal is to help him be at ease with his body and learn that there’s nothing shameful or dirty about nakedness. I want him to be un-self-conscious and confident, educated about his anatomy and, eventually, fearless about his sexuality.
I’d also like him to stop thumping the flesh piñata in the middle of the grocery store.
When it comes to nakedness and his privates, I feel like I am lying to him. I am trying to sell him on an idealized vision of the world where we’re all comfortable with our bodies, and sexuality in American society isn’t a dysfunctional collision of Puritanism and porn.
And herein lays a troubling parenting contradiction. How should a smart, attentive little boy makes sense of the following statement from his father: “Hey there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, it’s natural and it’s totally fine and just don’t ever do it anywhere other people can see you doing it.”
No matter what version of that logic I use, Z looks at me, like, “You’re shitting me, right? It’s either okay or it’s not okay, dude, make up your mind.”
And he’s right. I’m giving him dramatically mixed signals and I don’t know any way around it.
We run into the same issue when we go swimming with the 7 and 9 year old girls next door. These young ladies are, understandably, more body conscious than they were just a few years ago. Z, however, thinks nothing of stripping off his swim suit and marching over to his towel to dry off. How do I explain that there’s nothing wrong with being naked, just don’t do it here in front of the girls. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but people will laugh and point at you.
Yes, we have had the conversation about private things versus public things and—as much as he can at this age—he understands the difference. But it remains an area where he complies because he’s been told to, not because it makes sense. I’m really not a fan of the “do it because I said so” school of parenting. I know that if I give my child reasonable, fair, logical rules to live by, he/she is more likely to do what I tell them. There’s something very powerful for a kid about understanding WHY the rules exist.
When it comes to nakedness and his privates, I feel like I am lying to him. I am trying to sell him on an idealized vision of the world where we’re all comfortable with our bodies, and sexuality in American society isn’t a dysfunctional collision of Puritanism and porn. But that vision doesn’t line up with reality so I am forced to say, “Your body is beautiful, but don’t show it to anyone. Your penis is natural and healthy, but go in your room and close the door if you want to touch it.”
I feel like a good father needs give his son clarity and I’m not doing that right now. Z is going to have a life long relationship with his body. The last thing I want to do is make it any more complicated that it needs to be.
Read more on Body Image on The Good Life.
Image credit: Chris Penny/Flickr
I just teach my son that it’s a private (sacred sounds too corny but something like that) thing.
i think they read our emotions and reactions as well as our words, so as long as we deliver the message with kindness, love, and without anxiety, then they’ll just say “Oh, ok, Mom/Dad. Can we play basketball now?”
tell him to be proud of it and that sometime we have to do what we don’t like
Thanks for all the feedback and comments. I think some folks may have taken it all a bit seriously – there’s nothing unhealthy about Z’s discovery of his penis nor am I taken aback by it. But I had never thought deeply about the contradiction we impose on kids in this area. On the one hand, we want kids to be entirely at ease with their bodies so we tell them naked is good and healthy and beautiful – but we’re still obligated to the social norm that hides all things genital from the world. So most of us end… Read more »
It really is a matter of consideration. We don’t expose ourselves to others not because it is shameful, but because we don’t presuppose that anybody is interested in seeing our bodies, except perhaps those we are in romantic love with, and the fact is most people don’t want to see our bodies. So why do they look, because the norm is to be clothed. Our attention is drawn to the unusual and since walking in public naked is not the norm our attention is drawn to it and most times, with certain exceptions, the viewer’s reaction is disgust and discomfort.… Read more »
I just tell my son that we don’t need to share everything with everyone. I remind him that he is handsome, beautiful, smart, and kind. I also remind him to wash his hands and not to put his unwashed hands in the bread bag or cookie jar. (LITERALLY.)
I grew up in a different time. My parents gave me a hard time about masturbating no matter where I did it. They always made me feel it was somehow wrong. (A friend told me that what he learned from his parents taking that attitude was that if something was wrong, it would probably feel really good; so what other wrong things could he do? I didn’t go that far.) Anyhow, I still developed a relatively healthy attitude about Mr. Johnson (who somehow always asserted himself, so to speak). As for my own three sons, I just said that it… Read more »
What I told my sons was their penis was just that – THEIRS and theirs alone. It is offensive to other people to try to “share” something that has not been asked to be shared. Keep it your pants unless you are asked otherwise – and then be VERY selective with whom you share yourself with. Your rights STOP where another person’s begin. And this “penis love” thing – yeah, that’s a little creepy for a man(boy) to have. Now a “vagina love” thing, I can understand that.
I am confused…are you saying it is odd or creepy for a little boy that just discovered his penis to be obsessed with it?
The key word here is “obsessed”. I don’t think anyone should be “obsessed” with anything. Acknowledgement of body parts – yes. Obsessed -no.
I don’t know if I can agree with that. In the later stages of life, I would have to agree with you that nobody should be obsessed with anything. However, Thor (comic book fan, seemed like a fitting name then) has been with me through everything. I love my mom, dad, wife, sister…all my family. But when on military duty or while alone, it was always Thor that was with me. Bump in the road with dating…Thor to the rescue. When I was a kid, I was obsessed. It was something I had just discovered and it was AWESOME! So… Read more »
“And this “penis love” thing – yeah, that’s a little creepy for a man(boy) to have. Now a “vagina love” thing, I can understand that.”
Yeah, what’s that about?
I don’t know. It seems to me that the contradiction Roberto sees in the way he talks to his sone about his penis is one he is projecting onto the situation. He writes: “I am trying to sell him on an idealized vision of the world where we’re all comfortable with our bodies, and sexuality in American society isn’t a dysfunctional collision of Puritanism and porn. But that vision doesn’t line up with reality so I am forced to say, ‘Your body is beautiful, but don’t show it to anyone. Your penis is natural and healthy, but go in your… Read more »
There’s also just the practical lesson: you can do more things in life if you have both hands free.
I also like the advice about trusting that it’s still going to be there. No one’s going to steal it….
I am a single mom and I remember the panic I felt at this time in their development. I merely told my boys that this was ‘private time’ behavior and that they were free to have at it all they wanted as long as it was in a private place like their bedroom or bathroom. I never had issues with either of them stripping off after that discussion (different times for both as one is 19 and the other only 12). They have both developed rather healthy beliefs/ attitudes toward their sexualities and bodies… though I do still have to… Read more »
J.D. – Great post. Thank you. The ManKind Project helps men look at this paradox and break out of the trap of shame that so many of us carry from the dysfunctional culture that you so aptly describe here.
I saw this past weekend one of the best baseball players I ever coached… Years ago she could hit, she could field, she could talk trash, she had it all… A very non- confrontational baseball player; she was uninterested in softball at 8 or 9. All the coaches loved her. And yet there was something just a bit off about her presence on the field- finally it dawned on me, she never touched her package. With my boys I would just ask them “Is it still there? Who do you think is going to steal it?” When they got older… Read more »
Sounds like it’s the 7 and 9 yo girls that have a problem and not your son. At 5 there is nothing wrong with “stripping off his swim suit and marching over to his towel to dry off”. At least here in Ireland, when I take my 5yo son and 8yo daughter to their swimming lessons, in the showers they both strip off their swimsuits and most other kids do too.