We love to receive questions from our readers! This week therapist Geoff Steurer, MS, LMFT, answers a question from a mom about satisfying her teen’s curiosity about what female bodies look like while still encouraging him to reject pornography and other sexualized images.
The Question: How to Appropriately Satisfy a Boy’s Curiosity about Female Bodies
I need your advice and recommendations. We have seven children ranging from 19 down to 4 and have read Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids to them. We talk with them regularly about the dangers of porn and what it can do to their minds and so forth, but unfortunately we recently discovered that one of our sons (age 15) has been looking on YouTube for stuff dealing with girls, bras, swimsuits and such. My husband was able to carefully bring up the issue and our son admitted his curiosity. Our son knew it was wrong but curiosity got the best of him. How does a parent properly satisfy the curiosity of their teenage sons’ minds when it comes to what female bodies look like without encouraging an unhealthy behavior?
My Answer: Give Accurate Info without Shaming
You’re smart to care about your son’s sexual education instead of brushing it off as something harmless. Since information is so easy to access at the click of a button, most kids would rather ask vulnerable sexual questions to the Internet instead of to their parents.
Let your son know that what he did makes perfect sense to you. Instead of telling him he did something wrong, make sure he knows that his feelings and desires were right, but he went to the wrong sources. Let him know that you want to help him get answers to questions in a way that will actually answer his questions instead of exposing him to the lies he will find in pornography. In other words, he was doing the right thing in the wrong way.
It’s embarrassing to ask questions about female bodies, especially when you’re a vulnerable teenage boy. Girls are mysterious to teen boys (and many men, for that matter) and he may believe he’s the only guy that has no idea how a bra works or how girls’ bodies look unclothed. Chances are he wasn’t paying close attention during the maturation discussion a few years earlier. Girls are now exerting a different pull on him and so he is ready for a more in-depth understanding of how their bodies work.
He not only needs accurate information, but he also needs to hear your values about relationships, sexuality, and gender. Don’t just dispense dry scientific facts about sexuality. Instead, really find out what he’s curious about and use it as an opportunity to teach him. For example, he may have heard boys teasing a girl at school about a part of her body. Not only can you clarify his confusion, but you can also use this as a chance to help him understand how he should treat girls and their bodies.
Here are some other suggestions you can use to continue this discussion with your son:
- Let him know that his attraction to girls is a rite of passage toward the goal of forming a healthy emotional and sexual relationship with his future wife. Encourage your husband to share his own personal experiences of what it was like for him to become attracted to girls as a teenager and how he’s learned to work with those powerful forces of attraction.
- Find out what his specific questions are about female bodies. You can even have him write them down and share them with you if he’s embarrassed to say the words out loud. You can review the questions with him in person and show him they aren’t bad or shameful to discuss.
- Answer his questions directly and honestly about male and female bodies, including specific questions about sexuality, bras, and other details he may be curious about.
- Show him medical books or medical websites that diagram female bodies, including genitalia. Affirm the beauty, strength, resilience, and majesty of the human body and all of its amazing functions. (Look up Female Reproductive Systems on Wikipedia, or check out human anatomy coloring books on Amazon. This site also has several anatomical drawings of the female body which are not sexualized.)
- You can share tasteful figure drawings with him to show him different body types. These drawings, like statues, display the body as something to be honored and respected. (We found several examples when we searched online for “figure drawing human anatomy”.)
- Make sure you don’t only make these discussions about female private parts. Girls and women are more than a collection of parts. Make sure he learns to value the complete person instead of just zeroing in on certain areas.
- Remember to use anatomically correct words to describe different body parts. Your own comfort level matters when discussing bodies and sexuality. If you’re comfortable and confident, it will normalize your kid’s curiosity about anatomy as something normal and healthy.
- Ask him if he’s struggling with masturbation, especially when he has viewed these pictures of girls. Masturbation powerfully reinforces the images he’s seeing and makes it more difficult to stop the seeking. It creates a reward loop in the brain and body that is more entrenched than simply viewing the occasional image.
There is nothing unhealthy about your son’s desire to seek out answers about what female bodies look like. He’s embarrassed and vulnerable and wanted to save face, so he opted to secretly get his questions answered. There is no need to treat this like he’s made a huge mistake. I encourage you and your husband to make sure you’re having more casual and ongoing conversations that are more expansive than just focusing on pornography.
The author would like to thank Jeff Ford, MS, LMFT for his review and helpful suggestions for this article.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.