When raising boys, you can never wonder about the toxic side of our cultural playground joke that involves the occasional sexism, or the fact that older boys are still taboo to show vulnerability.
Most toxic, however, is the ubiquitous threat posed by porn culture. I’ve always been strict about not allowing screens in bedrooms or giving them phones or tablets before they turned 11. Even so, both were exposed to porn by the age of eight. One was X-rated by a school friend with access to an upstairs computer (my son told us right away), and the younger grabbed a family iPad and typed “sex” and some basic anatomical terms into the search bar: keyword dirt immediately (that’s how his brother bought it right away).
I decided that the best answer in either case was to sit the child down and speak openly – and yes, embarrassingly – about how far these scenes were from loving relationships. In other words, I explicitly mentioned the emotional side of sex.
Since then, I’ve been this boring, sexually hectic mother: I speak openly about the mechanisms of intercourse and focus on love lessons. The TV series Sex Education gave me the opportunity to give another lecture. I watched it with my boys and then dissected the scenarios, giving brownie points for great discussions about consent, gender identity, self-pleasure, and sexual inexperience.
But I was outraged by a few scenes (including the first bedroom scene in episode 1) that showed young women in ecstasy even though the sex was completely masculine, porn and poking, with unfounded footage of jiggling breasts. Yes, I’m that mom – the one who talks about the need for foreplay and female pleasure – more like Gillian Anderson’s character in the drama.
When I heard one of my sons call the other “pussy”, which means wimp, I immediately sat down and asked her why on earth would she use a synonym for female genitalia as a derogatory term. Which resulted in a lively 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 horrific stories of the rape culture at school with my sons, both as a cautionary story and a call to arms. It’s not enough just to avoid such behavior yourself, I told them, you have to be an ally of your girlfriends and step in when other boys act like idiots – it’s gallantry updated for the 21st century.