“Mom, do dogs get boners?” my tween boy asks as he slides into the car next to his younger brother. “Even though they’re, you know, fixed?”
I’ve pulled up to the curb and our dogs are with me, which I’m guessing is what has provided the associative spark. It’s impossible not to laugh, and why shouldn’t I?
“Is that the scientific word for it?” I tease.
He blushes. All three of us are cracking up now. “Well, okay, erection,” he says. “So do they?”
“Yeah.” I cut my eyes at him. “And anyway, are your friends talking about boners these days?”
“Uh, not really,” he mumbles, which of course tells me all I need to know. As I merge into traffic, he and his brother launch into a long and rather graphic description of our dogs’ nether parts.
Can’t say it’s boring, this child-rearing thing.
The conversation is a way for my son to try on new words and ideas, to start to frame for himself the complicated mystery of sexuality. I’m delighted that he feels comfortable enough with me to just ask the question without worrying about what I will think or say. He’s curious and I’m his mom and he knows that when he asks me stuff I often have an answer. So there you go. Boner discussions are definitely new territory, but I’m game.
I mean, Jeez, when I was a kid I wasn’t able to formulate questions like this, much less ask a parent about it. Mister Rogers used to say that girls are “fancy on the inside” and boys are “fancy on the outside,” and for the longest time I didn’t understand what he meant. To me, it seemed like he was just imparting a random piece of info in between visits to the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
Kids are curious about everything, and natural explorers. But it’s still a new thing for me to acknowledge that my boys are sexual beings. I suppose this is because I want to keep them safe in a society chock-full not only of skewed sexual attitudes but also of sexual predators — and because of a primitive belief that maybe if we don’t ever talk about sex, they won’t get hurt. Of course it’s not only impossible to avoid talking to my kids about sex and sexuality, it’s undesirable.
I want to protect my boys from premature, inappropriate sexual exposure. But I also want to give them solid information. I want to nurture their natural curiosity, unblemished by shame, and I want to teach them how to make good choices. There’s got to be a way for my husband and me to support our boys growing sexual consciousness with humor, equanimity, and grace. And what about the fact that sex is playful, too? How does that get in there?
Maybe laughing about how silly the word “boner” sounds is a start.