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Ask the Expert: My 13 Year Old Has Questions About Masturbation

Dear Your Teen:

My son is 13 years old. He recently asked what the word “masturbate” means. Then he told me that he has done it once or twice after he looked at porn. He was worried that I would hate him. I told him that masturbation is a normal part of puberty and is not something that would make me hate him. What would be a better response?

EXPERT | Dr. Deborah Gilboa

You handled this first conversation beautifully. Your son needed to hear immediately that his sexual drive is normal, and that of course you don’t hate him.

Masturbation and pornography are two separate (though obviously related) topics that we need to discuss with all of our tweens and teens.

Sexual desire does not usually kick into full strength until puberty or later, but sexual interest and masturbation often begin very early. Certainly your 13 year old masturbating is healthy and normal. Take advantage of your son’s willingness to discuss this with you by giving him these messages:

  • Sexual interest is a normal part of your development.
  • Masturbation should be private so do this when you’re alone.
  • Be safe.

This last message is difficult to discuss. Teens have all kinds of dangerous ideas about what might make masturbation more pleasurable. Explain that masturbation is normal behavior, but only if it doesn’t involve experimentation with strangulation or other games.

Well, now that you’ve considered that thorny topic, what about the even scarier discussion? Pornography is everywhere, and our kids need to hear about it from a young age. Why? Our kids are only “protected” from seeing things they are not ready to see as long as they don’t have a friend with a smart phone. Or a tablet. Or an older sibling with a smart phone or a tablet.

As difficult as these topics are for us to discuss, we need to be our kids’ first and best expert. They will look for information—let’s keep them coming to us so they can get some facts, and our values.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa

Deborah Gilboa, M.D. (a.k.a. “Dr. G”), is a family physician and author of Get the Behavior Your Want  . . . Without Being the Parent You Hate. Follow her on Twitter @AskDocG or learn more at AskDoctorG.com.