When raising boys you can never be off guard on the toxic side of our cultural jokes that involve occasional sexism or the fact that it’s always taboo for older boys to show their vulnerability.
But, most toxic of all, is the pervasive threat of porn culture. I have always been strict about not allowing screens in bedrooms or giving them phones or tablets before the age of 11. Despite this, the two were exposed to pornography when they were eight years old. One was shown X-rated material by a school friend with access to an upstairs computer (my son immediately told us), and the youngest grabbed a family iPad and typed “Sex” and some basic anatomical terms in the search bar: spot gunk immediately (so his brother immediately bought it).
I decided that the best answer either way was to have the kid sit up and talk candid – and, yes, embarrassing – about how remote these scenes were from romantic relationships. In other words, I was explicit about the emotional side of sex.
Since then, I’ve been that boring, sex-hector mom: speaking candidly about the mechanics of sex, while emphasizing lessons in love. TV series Sex education gave me the opportunity for another lecture. I watched it with my boys and dissected the storylines afterward, giving brownie points for great discussions about informed consent, gender identity, self-pleasure, and sexual inexperience.
But I was outraged by some scenes (including the first bedroom scene in Episode 1) which showed young women in ecstasy, despite the sex being all male, porny, and pushing, with free shots. of trembling breasts. Yes, I’m that mom – the one who talks about the need for foreplay and female pleasure – much like Gillian Anderson’s character in the drama.
Likewise, when I heard one of my sons call the other ‘pussy’, which means wimp, I immediately sat down both to ask them why the hell they would use a synonym for female genitals like derogatory term. Which led to a heated conversation about the C word, from Elizabethan street names to DH Lawrence.
But the biggest lesson of all came from this week’s news. I shared the terrible stories of rape culture in school with my sons, both as an uplifting tale and a call to arms. It is not enough to avoid such behavior yourself, I told them, you have to be an ally of your girlfriends and intervene when other boys behave like idiots – this is the updated gallantry for the 21st century.