Hey, Dad, Thanks for the Blow-Up Doll

Folks — Here’s a post by my friend, Tom Henderson, at ParentDish. I admire it and him.  You may too. It’s about how he taught his teenage son about sex and sexism at the same time, with the help of, yes, a blow-up doll. And a Playboy. Just wanted to pass it along. (The story. Not the doll.) — Lenore

27 Responses

  1. I was with him until the bit about the adult toy stores-toys can be a great part of a solitary or partnered relationship-having a few things around to spice up events doesn’t make you a freak, or turn you into someone who exploits others.

  2. I love the post. It’s always refreshing to hear of a parent who’s not afraid to acknowledge their child as a sexual being and is proactive on the sexual education front.

    I also disagreed about the adult stores bit, though, too. I’m happy to live right around the corner from an adult store where I can easily pick up condoms, lube, and toys, none of which are embarrassing or improper to buy. I don’t feel the least bit embarrassed to go in there, and the variety of men, women, and couples I see there don’t seem to be, either.

  3. Even though I think the idea of the talk was rather cool, I admit when the time comes to talk with my son, we’ll be more on the end of condemning ‘Maxim” and its grisly ilk than “adult stores” in general…

  4. I let a comment to the effect of, if it seems appropriate for the son and father at some point in the future, finding a female-positive adult shop and taking the child there.

    Otherwise, great post! We need more fathers and male role models to speak out and speak up accordingly!

  5. I am with the other commenters regarding adult stores. Adult toys and pornography aren’t just for scummy men. Many women (including a few who write for Mother Jones and, oh let’s say peer-reviewed math journals) enjoy them too. After a day at the office and an evening of homework and PTA meetings, it feels good to be a sex object for a while.

    The post reminded me of a recent column by Dear Prudence, also involving a 13-year-old boy:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2245889/

    The parent who wrote in with the question about her son’s fetish seemed only marginally less comfortable with the topic than this dad, but I thought Prudie’s reaction was over the top. Go find a psychologist who works with violent rapists? I don’t think so.

    What do you guys think? What is a “free-range” way of dealing with this 13-year-old “pervert”?

    I would have suggested more sports, more fresh air and family activities, a good thing for any teenager overwhelmed by hormones. As for the fetish, I would have reassured him that it does not make him a bad or deviant person, and that while he may encounter more challenges when finding a partner than someone with more “vanilla” tastes, thanks to the internet and the many niche communities therein, he is not doomed to being alone for the rest of his life.

  6. Somehow, I find this article not worthy of citation on this blog. I applaud the idea of being up-front with kids about all aspects of the human experience, and I too have a 13-year-old son who feels free to ask me just about any question, including the awkward ones of a sexual nature (today, he was questioning how rear-entry could possibly work, since to his eye the parts wouldn’t line up correctly). It is great that the author does not pretend that a 13-year-old could today could possibly be insulated from exposure to sexual material.

    Sadly, however, the author seems to draw a woefully-wrong conclusion as to how to respond to the reality of his son’s impending adulthood. Instead of simply providing informative responses, he instead seems to be trying – in vain, I suspect – to brainwash his kid with a lot of politically correct “porn is evil and degrading to women” drivel, in an attempt to raise a new sort of teenage boy free from the sins of all those males in generations in past who sought anything other than intellectual achievement in their partners.

    This is – debatably – noble and well-intentioned as an experiment in social engineering, but in my view it is very, very far from free-range parenting.

  7. Interesting. I didn’t agree with all of it, but at least he wants to encourage his son to respect women and to be aware of the risk of objectifying them.

    I have daughters, though, and the female side of that discussion isn’t one I’d have with my girls. “Stupid men will victimize you.” I think the dad was wrong to suggest that women have no choice but to be objectified and victimized if that’s what men decide to do to them. He calls himself a “feminist” (which, what does that mean, and can I be a masculist?), yet does a true feminist view women as victims? I’m really uncomfortable with that.

    I had the chat with my baby sister when she was 10. I explained that shallow, selfish boys who didn’t respect her would want her to do things that were not in her best interest, and she’d gain respect by saying “no.” She might make right or wrong choices in the face of that reality, but in neither case did I picture her as a potential “victim.” As it turned out, she never was. She was a good-looking, well-endowed, blond, feminine girl with plenty of freedom, and no doubt boys/men had plenty of crude thoughts. But she never lost sight of what “she” wanted for her future, and she allowed none of these shallow men to “victimize” her.

  8. Lenore: I absolutely think this story is perfect for this site. I love the stories I’ve read here and other sites (“How to Raise a Hero” comes to mind as well: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/?p=2271) that involve raising our children – by example and by direct influence, as in this father’s story – to not just take care of themselves, but to reject group mentalities that victimize others no matter how entrenched and pervasive these institutions may be.

    Also: I love stories about successes with teenagers. I feel we hear far too many negative stories about teens, and it seems many parents in ways large and small give up on their own.

  9. […] Hey, Dad, Thanks for the Blow-Up Doll « FreeRangeKids […]

  10. […] Hey, Dad, Thanks for the Blow-Up Doll « FreeRangeKids […]

  11. When I was about that kids’ age, I found a stack of Playboys in the woods. It was rain-soaked and the pages were stuck together and you could barely make out some of the pictures, but I treasured it under my bed for a few years. I still remember the centerfold, tactfully standing behind a fishbowl that covered the main part.

    When I got to college, I was amazed to discover how many other guys had similar experiences. It’s one of the male rites of passage in our culture, or at least it was back then.

    Today, alas, is a different world. Instead of a beautiful naked girl artfully standing behind a fishbowl, the internet provides our children with all the most explicit and horrific sexual fetishes, in video and probably soon in 3-D. I can’t imagine how a young boy could resist that world, or how he could immerse himself in that world and still grow up with a healthy attitude toward sex. Which is just one more reason why we need to make sure our kids are outside playing instead of spending their time on computers!

  12. […] Hey, Dad, Thanks for the Blow-Up Doll « FreeRangeKids […]

  13. […] Hey, Dad, Thanks f&#959r t&#1211&#1077 Blow-Up Doll « FreeRangeKids […]

  14. I was totally with this guy until, like most of the PPs, he went off on a tangent about how no self-respecting person would ever be caught dead in an adult store. One needn’t look far, at least in major cities, to find sex- and female- positive sex shops that lots and lots of feminists, who surely respect women and themselves, shop at. I don’t really think this dad harmed his kid by going a little too far (IMO), but I could imagine his more aged son coming across a partner who was a feminist and yet consumed porn or visited sex shops and questioning the validity of all that his father told him.

    To a PP: Dan Savage responded to that Dear Prudie column and I completely agree.

    ” CONFIDENTIAL TO EVERYONE WHO ASKED: If the mother of the 13-year-old boy with the latex-glove fetish had written to me and not to Prudie—and she probably didn’t write to me for a reason—I would’ve advised her to leave her son alone, told her that fetishes aren’t mental illnesses, and suggested that her son might be feeling “horribly embarrassed and guilty” about his fetish because HIS MOTHER IS HOUNDING HIM ABOUT IT. And I would’ve told her that any wife or girlfriend who wouldn’t indulge her son’s kink—once he’s an adult—wouldn’t be worthy of his time or affections.”

  15. I don’t agree with a lot of what the author says.

    I support the author’s talking openly with their child about sex. I further support their gifting of a Playboy magazine (though I’m a tad weirded out by the doll, but to each their own). My husband and I have talked about dealing with these sort of issues with our future children and we are both of the opinion that any sons we have should be introduced to Playboy, because we feel that it’s a high quality periodical with educational articles. And yes, there are naked women in it. So what? I have never felt threatened by the fact that men want to see me (or any other woman) naked. Rather I feel it empowers me. Please, oh please think I’m a ditzy blonde sex symbol, it makes it that much easier for me to take your poker money.

    I can think of perfectly valid reasons for a normal adult (male or female) to go into a sex store. In fact, I question why the author would never have done such a thing with his partner. Has he ever actually asked her about her desires, or has he assumed that she has no interest in expanding her sexual horizons because that would be degrading? I have gone with my husband and friends to strip clubs. My husband actually isn’t into them, but I was curious. However, if he did want to engage in the worship of the female form (prurient or otherwise), I certainly wouldn’t think him less of a gentleman. The way he acts towards me is what is telling, not how he looks at random women he’ll never see again.

    Perhaps it’s because I’m not a self-proclaimed feminist like the author. Feminists believe in equality, and he’s welcome to raise his sons to that belief. Meanwhile I will teach my daughters that they are far superior to any silly male. Let boys think with the assets god gave them and don’t be afraid to use those you were given to get what you want.

  16. […] Hey, Dad, Thanks for the Blow-Up Doll « FreeRangeKids […]

  17. 13 huh? I hope s/he checks back in 6 years to tell us the results. That is not an experiment I will be repeating.

    I am not a fan of feminists, most of them miss the fact that the greatest advancer of womens’ sexual equality is not gloria steinman, but Fabio.

  18. I am all for being open about sex, but for crying out loud, why demonize porn magazines and adult stores?

    Consenting adults go to sex shops all the time to find things to play with in the privacy of their own bedrooms. Nothing wrong with wanting to be creative with your partner.

    The women who pose in the porn magazines are adults capable of making their own decisions. They CHOSE to pose nude. Pretty funny how feminists are all for the right for women to make their own decisions yet turn around the trivialize women who chose to do something they dislike by saying “They are being exploited.” Not like they were thrown into a potato sack and dragged to Playboy Mansion.

    Sorry for turning this into a mini-rant, but connecting these kinda of mags and Hefner with pedophilia is just silly. Come on, sure they are as young as his great-grandchildren, but they are still adults. Besides, why would pedophiles be interested in seeing naked bodies of adult women? Actually, how come we don’t see the same complaints in regards of magazines for women or gay men?

  19. Paige,

    “Savage Love” was where I first read about the Dear Prudence column as well. I would not say I completely agree with Dan. It does sound like this young man is a bit consumed by his fetish and could use some help channeling his energy elsewhere. I also think that it is quite likely, once he is an adult, that he will meet women he is otherwise very compatible with who might just be too weirded out by his fetish.

    People who are vanilla, heterosexual and otherwise in the mainstream do have it easier when it comes to finding a suitable partner. But this does not give us a right to try and “reprogram” those who display interests outside the norm, no matter how good our intentions.

  20. @MichelleTUHF

    Third Wave Feminists agree that woman’s right to choose include the right to choose to pose nude for Playboy/Maxim etc.

    One of my favorite blogs is Feminsting and I regularly see discussions there about sex, sexual freedom, porn and how that all intersects with feminism.

    It is an unfortunate truth that some women are coerced into sex work because they feel they don’t have any options or are in an abusive situation. Then there are women who are involved with sex work because they like it and feel empowered by it.

    See this link-International Sex Workers Rights Day.
    http://www.feministing.com/archives/020240.html

  21. Krolik,

    I would agree with that assessment, and that the main issue is that the parents need to be able to address some of his specific inappropriate behavior without turning the whole situation into a pathologized shame-fest.

    As for the “wouldn’t be worth his time” part, I thought that was phrased poorly. What I take from that statement is that he needs to have the confidence to ask for what he wants in his future relationships, and not push it aside as unimportant or even unacceptable just because it’s “weird”.

  22. I would like my son to learn to respect women in this way, and to consider it ungentleman like behavior to consume pornography or visit strip clubs. I see it as an *act* of respect to the woman you are dating/married to or will one day be dating/married to to refrain from these things. It’s not “brainwashing” — it’s transmitting your personal values to your children, and most parents attempt to do it, though the values differ from parent to parent. Those are values I would like to transmit to my son, though I feel I have very little hope of doing so in this world. I do not think it is the “politically correct” position as one previous poster suggested; I have found it is a very unpopular position to take, that it is considered a blind feminist position (despite the fact that it is also feminist of another variety who brought us such wide-spread open sexualization of women in the first place). that it is considered prudish, or that it is considered naive.

  23. Here’s an article about sex education is Holland and Britain http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/the_way_we_live/article5208865.ece

    It’s interesting to see how other cultures handle it – since we’re all the same species….

  24. Sky —

    Perhaps I’m just more laid-back than other women, but I have no issue with my husband watching porn, and not just from before we knew each other. I’m not personally into it, but frankly, it’s given him some ideas that has kept intimate life from getting boring.

    I agree with you, though, that if the article’s author is “brainwashing” his son by expressing his views and trying to instill his values on his son, then we all are “brainwashing” our kids when we do the same thing. Personally, I don’t agree with some of his specific points of view, but I agree with him overall — the only dangerous topic is the unspoken one.

    I think there’s a difference between your point of view and his that makes his more along the lines of the “politically correct” stance. Your values suggest that porn is “wrong” (in a manner of speaking) because it disrespects the man’s current or future partner(s). While I don’t necessarily share that view, it’s a respectable one.

    The author’s reasoning, however, is “because it exploits women,” as if to say that all of the women in Playboy or Hustler or even the ones in some of the dirtiest, kinkiest videos one can find on the Internet are being forced to do this, when that’s simply not the case (at least the vast majority of the time, I’m sure someone could dig up a handful of instances where the woman actually did it against her will, this is the Internet, after all). Adult pornography isn’t child pornography. Adult porn is created under the consent of those involved (and for the “legitimate” businesses, they’re also quite regulated and the workers get tested regularly), whereas child porn is exploitation, because the child is almost always coerced into doing such things, thanks to the rank difference between children and adults.

    Yes, there are women who have gone into the various sectors of the sex industry (generally prostitution, as far as I know, though) out of desperation, but I’m of the opinion that a lot of people go into the military for similar reasons. I’m of the opinion that part of the reason why the former is more “dangerous” than the latter is because there’s only a handful of places in the US in which prostitution is legal and, therefore, regulated. Legalize it, regulate it, and the women who choose prostitution out of desperation might be able to make a reasonable career out of it, or at least live to get on her feet and make a career change. Not glamorous or necessarily something to be proud of if you don’t want to make a career of it, but at least it’d be honest.

  25. The problem with porn, I think, is that it can distort the view teens have about sex, leading to confusion and disappointment when they have sex themselves. A lot of it is meant to be fantasy and over-the-top, but teens don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. Porn is fine for adults, but should be used in small doses before one becomes sexually active. That’s my take on it, anyway.

    Also, the commodification of sex, while old as the hills, really bugs me. When I’m enjoying some intimate time with my wife, I don’t want some random pose or moment to remind me of the latest Budweiser commercial or billboard. It might not be objectifying women, but it’s objectifying sex, and sex deserves better than that.

  26. Basically, the dad was stimulating the boy by showing him porn, then telling him that if he likes it, he’s degrading women and is a bad boy. I think parents should talk to their kids about not getting pregnant and respecting their bodies. However, when it comes to teens exploring their own sexuality, I think parents should back off. It’s an invasion of privacy.

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