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We have always been rather physical with our son. He likes to cuddle, get his back rubbed and his head massaged, he likes to wrestle and playfight. Now that he is getting older (10) he sometimes gets a starting erection when cuddling. I feel I should say or do something, at least to prevent he says something innapropriate about it to other kids, or god-forbid, he does something innapropriate to other kids.

However I have a hard time figuring out how exactely. I want to say that:

  • I love him
  • A inflating willy is a natural reaction when a boy likes someone and feels happy in their presence
  • It is really intended for when he is more grown up and meets a girl he falls in love with
  • It is socially innapropriate to show it to someone else or have them feel it if they are near you.
  • As with nudity, it is annapropriate in most situations for most people to see you nude, only in some cases and some people is it perfectly okay.
  • And like nudity, other people who see or feel it accidently should politely ignore it and quickly look/move away.
  • It is kind of innapropriate to have a stiffy when cuddling with your mom, so we should then move away from each other a bit.

Thank you all for being my rubber duck*. Did I miss anything? Any pointers to make this conversation less awkward?

*This is a programming/thinking technique where you explain your problem to others and thus see it more clearly for yourself.

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  • How have you handled / discussed spontaneous erections before? The physical reaction per se shouldn’t be new?
    – Stephie
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 17:09
  • Are you the mother or the father? How open have you/other parent been with him about sex previously? These are clearly not his first erections. Do you believe "[an] inflating willy...is really intended for when he is more grown up"? Does that mean he's wrong or abnormal if he has erections before then? If others should politely ignore it, why are you not following your own advice? How do you approach this without making him feel guilty? When does Sex Ed get taught at school? Too many questionable comments without enough background. Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 20:12
  • @Stephie not discussed before no, i think at this age the context is different because he is maturing.
    – Koinc
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 6:13
  • @anongoodnurse I think we have been quite open but we have not covered everything yet. He knows where babies come from, but we have not discussed erections. He knows he is in charge of his body and other cannot touch him without his consent.
    – Koinc
    Commented Oct 24, 2023 at 6:23

3 Answers 3

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I think you’re on a good track with your thoughts so far. Your list covers multiple categories, but what you probably want to focus on right now is etiquette.

The physical reactions (whether involuntary or caused by any kind of stimulus) are not really controllable, and likely to get worse for a while thanks to puberty, but there is a socio-culturally acceptable norm how to deal with them - not unlike sneezing etiquette. I would recommend treating the topic in that vein. And speaking from experience, dealing with body odor is likely going to be the next on your agenda in just a few years.

If sexual topics feel difficult to tackle, note that in the past, you have likely dealt with multiple similar issues already. For example I would guess that your son at ten knows not to touch/grab the breast of a woman (likely including mom’s) while doing so was fine when he was an infant. So at some time between then and now, you taught him the acceptable behavior. Likely without batting an eye or any fuss.

An additional remark: I am not sure a “big talk” is a good idea here. You may want to address the issue whenever it comes up (no pun intended), with just a small correction or gentle hint how to behave. Assuming you are male, it should be easy to say “yeah, that can happen, I just do [appropriate behavior].”

I recommend separating etiquette from other, related aspects like sex ed (depending on what schools teach, you may want to supplement additional information you consider relevant), relationships, bodily autonomy etc. most of them you clearly have on your list already.

The appropriate behavior with peers - which you mention as a particular worry - can be a kind of follow-up once the basic etiquette is covered and clear, and here a little conversation may be good.

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You need to do some proper sex education, rather than trying to tackle this in isolation.

  1. Get a book on the topic and go through it with him. Hopefully you've done this already at an earlier age, but maybe now is the time to start filling in more of the details and putting it in a wider context.

  2. Talk about your general expectations about sexual behaviour. As part of this, you can bring in the issues you mention, as well as others, like masturbation. You might also want to cover porn: he's going to come across it sooner or later, and probably sooner.

(BTW, adolescent boys get random erections at all sorts of times, not just in intimate situations)

Then, as a separate thing at a different time, say that he's getting too old for cuddles. Don't link it to erections, just say "too old". But lots of hugs are fine. Maybe make the cuddles shorter over time, gradually becoming more of a hug, rather than just stopping them dead.

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    I want to upvote this post, but I sincerely disagree with the last paragraph. Nobody is too old for cuddles. The frequency will taper down as time passes, but when one of my teens needs physical proximity for emotional support, I am not going to deny them because they are “too old”.
    – Stephie
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 15:04
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    1. Are cuddles reserved for sexual activity? (I.e. are you too old for cuddles?) The desire for physical touch is extremely strong in neurotypical people. To stop abruptly sounds punitive and likely to cause son guilt/confusion. 2. Without knowing what type of relationship the parents have with their son (i.e. are they very open about things sexual?), advice for the OP may be absolutely mortifying to the son if the OP is the mom (better coming from Dad.) Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 20:04
  • These are good questions. The son is finding cuddling with his mom arousing, which is likely to become a serious issue in the future. Of course cuddles aren't necessarily sexual, but the son isn't finding that. OTOH you are both correct that physical touch is also very important, which is why I mentioned hugs. I've changed that from "occasional" to "lots". Causing guilt was exactly the reason I suggested separating the end of cuddles from talking about sex. Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 8:42
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I find honesty is best. I had three sons. And when these things happened to us, I just talked to my boys. I explained that it's normal, they've done nothing wrong. But there is a time, place, and correct behavior for exploring the wonders of their bodies. And that isn't with other people.

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