I know, I know…it’s almost too weird to even think about. But you remember being a teen. You remember the sexual feelings that could be so strong, whether or not you acted on them. So if you’re the parent of a teen, you have an idea what’s going on for them, even if, you know, it’s just weird….
So maybe it’ll help if we talk not about your teen, but about teens in general. Okay?
Most teens have a lot of sexual energy. Most teens—in fact, most humans—masturbate. That’s normal, fine, not a problem. More than that, self-pleasuring benefits teens, and not just because it’s an outlet for their sexual feelings. Solo sex teaches young people all sorts of things that can make their eventual sex lives better.
Self-pleasuring, or solo sex, helps teens learn about their own bodies. They figure out what feels good to them and what doesn’t. They learn that pleasure doesn’t come only from penetration (which helps offset what they may see in porn). They may learn that sensual pleasure can come from parts of the body other than the genitals. They attend to the physical sensations in their bodies rather than any distracting “shoulds” they may have in their minds.
All this leads to more self-knowledge and better communication with their eventual partner. When the time comes that they have sex with a partner, they’ll know that sex should feel good and what that means for them. They can be fuller participants in their own sexual experiences.
For girls in particular, learning solo about sexual pleasure offsets cultural messages (especially from porn) emphasizing males’ pleasure and ignoring females’. Girls who know what sensual and sexual pleasure can feel like will be less likely to put up with a partner who doesn’t care about their experience.
No Action Required
Well, almost none. The essential thing for parents is to avoid creating shame about sexual feelings or solo sex. So silence can be just fine.
Even better, though, is very small action. Occasionally—maybe once a year during the preteen and early teen years—when there’s no one else around, you might say something positive about masturbation. Don’t be heavy-handed about it, and don’t expect a response. Just normalize a normal human experience.
For instance, try something like:
“So, this is awkward, but I want to make sure you know: It’s completely normal to touch yourself any way that feels good.”
“Years ago, people used to think there was something wrong with masturbation. Kids were told ridiculous things like playing with yourself would make you go blind or damage your adult sexuality. Of course, none of that is true and there’s nothing at all wrong with touching any part of yourself.”
“I think it’s good for teens to explore their own bodies and figure out what feels good to them.”
“I think it’s important for girls to learn about their own bodies long before they decide to have sexual experiences with someone else.”
“I heard a funny term for ‘masturbation’ the other day: ‘____’ That got me thinking about how many different expressions people use, like ‘jerking off,’ ‘getting yourself off,’ ‘beating the meat’…. What others can you think of? What do people say these days?” (Boys are likely to know more slang terms than girls, who tend to talk less about self pleasuring.)
If your kid groans or tells you to knock it off or walks out of the room red-faced, that’s fine. They don’t need to say anything back; self-pleasuring isn’t something you have to have a conversation about. Your goal is just to make sure they know it’s normal. Then give them the privacy to figure things out for themselves, in their own good time.