An Open Letter to My Son about Sex

Your greatest challenge will be to honor the erotic feelings and desires that will come up inside you while also staying fully present and respectful.

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Photo credit: RAYUL on Unsplash

By Janis Whitlock

I simply cannot be quiet anymore. Amidst the silence that has always surrounded sex even when the billion-dollar industries it fuels scream loudly in your ears (and mine!) day and night, I must speak to you in a voice you can hear. I’ll not embarrass you by having this conversation in your presence, I can already feel the strangled mix of emotions that arise in you when the topic comes up at all. I will respect your privacy by saying what I have to say to you in this way, so you can have your feelings without witness.

I ask of you only one thing: that you read my letter from start to finish. I cannot scream as loudly as the pictures and jokes and sly games that mark the passage into the sexual aspects of boyhood in this culture. I have to speak in a normal voice and I have to request, as your mother and a woman who has lived nearly 50 years on this planet, that you simply read what I need to say all the way through.


First, I want you to know I like and have always liked sex. The feelings and touching that goes along with all of it is fun. Flirting is fun, wondering what might happen, even if nothing ever does, enjoying the simple way it feels to be touched by someone I am attracted to, is all good. Wild sex or soft slow sex or whatever kind of sex I am in the mood for has always been nice and I would wish only the very same for you. But, I am rare in many ways. I am one of the few women I know who has never been really hurt by sex. I was never raped or held in any way against my will. The closest I came to a compromising position was with a guy I was dating who would not stop pestering me to have sex one night after a date until I eventually gave in. It was very much not enjoyable, but I knew that I could have simply walked away and I did not. I learned a lot from that experience, though, including how to never make the same mistake again, so it was a good lesson learned in the long run. You may have some of those too.

So, all in all, my sex life has not been anything like you have probably already seen on movies or in porn clips or whatever is passed off today as sex for the cheap thrill it brings. I have loved most of my partners and definitely felt connected to everyone else (except one — story for another time). This was both a choice and probably easier to pull off in my youth since there were so many fewer ideas floating around about what sex was and how it is done and what it is supposed to look like than you have. I had to use my heart, my head, and my body to figure my way through; it worked well for me.

It will be much the same for you; even in the crazy pornified world, you are growing up in. You may have to work a little harder, though, to make it that way since the movies you watch and the fast and easy porn you have undoubtedly already seen is pretty much impossible to avoid these days (one had to really seek that stuff out when I was young). So please listen closely to what I will say next, I need you to hear me say all of it:


There is nothing you have seen that I have not seen or do not know about. I am not a fool and I am not blind. You do not need to protect me from what you know. And, most importantly, there is nothing you have felt inside yourself that I have not felt myself and /or have seen or felt in the men in my life. No person on the planet (well, none that I know of or have ever met) can avoid the strong sexual feelings that come up when they see sexual pictures or movies or, in many cases, when they see naked or otherwise sexy bodies. These feelings can be especially strong for boys and men. I remember these feelings as a teen and I recall both the force they had and the feeling of being overwhelmed at times. That gets easier over time, but having those feelings come up is normal and healthy; it means you are human.

Your greatest challenge will be to honor the erotic feelings and desires that will come up inside you while also staying fully present and respectful. This is a tough one — particularly in this time and particularly for boys and men who are relentlessly sold the idea and lots of things to go along with it that women are things when you want and need them to be. So many of the movies you watch and all of the porn you will ever see will convey this one way or another — each person is an object, there is no real connection between them, and the only important thing is that you receive sexual pleasure (giving is never taught at all). Telling you this is a way to get you to buy things for the “high” sex offers. Your desires become to tool to getting you to consume. It is clever because the marketers know it works for most people since even the images produce drugs in your body that make you want more. It is absolutely critical and is the mark of true manhood, that you both understand this and learn how to enjoy and cultivate your sexual self without using another person solely as a tool; even if she seems to be saying that this is okay. It really is not. Similarly, no person has the right to make you a tool for their sexual pleasure; no one wins anything this way, it simply ends up feeling cheap. I do not expect you to be a saint and I do expect that you will have to make a few mistakes along the way, but I am here as your mom and as a woman to tell you that getting this lesson is one of the most important things you will ever do as a man and as a human being. And, it has never been harder to strike this balance than it is now, so please let me or your dad or stepdad or anyone else you trust know if you ever want advice about how to do this. It is normal to want and to have those feelings of wanting to overcome everything else; just ask yourself to not be lazy in this way.

Women do not actually enjoy most of the things you see in porn. Actually, most men do not either. Porn is a way to sell you a drug; a whole bunch of drugs your body produces when watching (in particular — dopamine, norepinephrine, testosterone, oxytocin, serotonin — a lot! I can tell you what each of these does inside of you if you like). Sex with a real person that you like does this too, but having this happen with a real person causes you to feel an attachment to a real person; having this happen with porn causes a desire for more porn. Unlike being with a real person, though, using porn, images, or even other real people with no emotional connection present will not ever fully satisfy you. The things you see in porn are designed to get you temporarily high, not cultivate an authentic connection with another or to teach you about good and pleasurable sex with someone you like and would actually want to please or be pleased by.

Most of the men you see are jacked up on drugs to stay hard for hours on end, the women also often take drugs to be able to produce scene after scene; their bodies are there but their hearts and minds are far away. Bodies are aroused by friction and body contact and porn limits that so that the camera angles will get the shots that will best deliver the drugs to viewers. Many of the activities they do are not actually pleasurable (e.g. women do not like men to cum on their faces, many do not particularly enjoy anal sex, and most women do not actually want several men inside of them at once.) These are ploys to get viewers aroused and wanting more; nothing else. A real girl and woman will want you to touch more of her body than her genitals, will like slow kissing, cuddling, talking and touching before anything more serious happens, and will want to feel safe and respected by you; not used by you. Basically, nothing you see there or even in many of the sex scenes in most movies reflect good sex. Don’t mistake this for education.

The very best sex happens in a relationship. Study after study has shown this. For men and women, the best, most pleasurable sex you will ever have will be with a real person and with someone that you feel emotionally connected to and safe with. No matter how it “looks” from the outside, what your buddies say, how hot she is etc.. — I guarantee that the best sex you will ever have will be with a woman you actually really like and who likes you back. This liking and trust will allow each of you to be more honest about what does and does not feel good, what do you do and do not like and the sense of closeness and trust you have before during and after will make the whole thing awesome. This is the best and I wish it for you. The quality of the sex and touch and cuddling alone is worth taking time to really find someone you like!

Appreciating a woman’s prettiness, sexiness, or beauty is sweet but blatantly staring, making comment, jokes or other kinds of overtures feels invasive and yucky. Please pass the word to your guy friends now before they fall into bad habits — women do not like to be ogled. Long stares, looking her up and down, focusing on something other than her eyes or face when talking, making comments or joking with friends as she passes are rude and contribute to girls and women feeling unsafe and disrespected. This leads women to feel like an object rather than a person (hence the term “objectified”). This is true even when she is dressed or acting in a way that seems to invite this type of attention. There are all sorts of reasons that girls and women dress or act in a way that seems to invite this male sexual attention and it rarely has anything to do with really wanting that, or if it does, it has more to do with wanting the chemicals I mentioned above that wanting an actual person. Just because she makes an object of herself to escape her feelings, does not invite you to. Please remember to always be a gentleman in this way; it will make you a great friend to many wonderful women and that is a true accomplishment since there is no more beautiful place than a woman’s heart, honest.

You do not need to protect me from your sexual feelings. I do not mean to say that I expect you to talk to me; talk to whomever is comfortable, only that I am fully aware that you have these feelings and that these may feel a little or a lot confusing at times. I can imagine that even trying to see me as a sexual person feels overwhelming since you are just coming to terms with this in yourself. That is fine and will pass with time. I am totally willing to talk to you at any time about anything; there really is not much that could shock me — as someone who used to teach sex education and as a woman with nearly 5 complete decades on the planet, I have seen it all and I understand most of it. The capacity to feel so close to someone that you wish to merge bodies is an amazing gift here and one I hope you will really cherish and enjoy as you grow up.

I love you with all of my heart and am so happy to be sharing this life with you!


This story was previously published on The Good Men Project.

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