One day, probably sooner than you think, your little angels will become curious about sex.
Masturbating is great. Being curious about what feels good is brilliant, and normal, and natural.
But as a parent, it’s your responsibility to make sure your children’s entirely normal exploration of their sexuality is safe, healthy, enjoyable, and in their own hands. You can do that by buying your children their own sex toys.
Don’t panic. I’m not talking about getting your son a Fisher Price version of a sex doll or presenting your daughter with an eight inch strap-on on her eighth birthday. I’m talking about a starting point, a way to introduce your offspring the concept of self-pleasure.
That could be a masturbation sleeve or a little vibrating bullet when your child starts expressing an interest in sex – something that isn’t scary or intimidating, but is capable of giving them a great sexual experience on their own, without anyone else’s involvement.
That bit’s important, because for too many of us, our first sexual experiences are absolutely awful.
When young people aren’t encouraged to think of masturbation as a normal, healthy thing to do, they look for sexual gratification elsewhere – usually at the hands or genitals of another inexperienced person. Their first time is uncomfortable and disappointing, and they’re set up to accept that this is just what sex is like.
This is a problem for girls in particular, who are less likely than boys to try masturbating thanks to the shame connected to the act (for boys wanking is seen as entirely normal, whereas girls are still battling the stigma of having their own sexual needs), and later, probably as a result of being unable to learn what gets them off early on, are less likely than men to achieve orgasm during sex.
Without early masturbation experiences, the first time young people discover sex is shown to them by someone else – someone who won’t magically know what their sexual partner likes, who’s been influenced by their own experiences, and who could end up delivering a terrible first time. What’s more, if their first sexual experience is with another person, issues of consent and legality come up.
This isn’t about sexualising young people, but accepting that at some point your children will become interested in sex – they need to be educated about ideas of consent and self-pleasure early on to protect them from the potential actions of others. It’s best that their education comes from a conversation with a parent.
Back in 2009, Dr Laura Berman, a relationship therapist and sex educator, spoke on an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show about the benefits of providing sex toys to teens, explaining that talking to kids early and handing over vibrators offers the benefits of helping a girl learn her way around her own body and acting as a possible deterrent from sexual activity outside of masturbation.
Dr Berman noted that it’s important for girls to understand orgasms – and to know that they don’t have depend on anyone else for sexual pleasure.
When teenagers aren’t taught about masturbation – how to do it, what feels good, that it’s normal – and given the tools to try it, they reach for whatever objects they think might do the trick.
When I was at school I heard of girls exploring their vaginas with hairbrushes (the handles, thankfully, rather than the bristly bits), electric toothbrushes, bananas, and, most worryingly, a shot glass (any kind of fragile glass in the vagina is a terrifying idea).
For most of these girls their experiences were just that – funny first-time masturbation trials that weren’t that exciting. But putting objects into the vagina that aren’t designed to be in there can lead to all kinds of worrying consequences, ranging from a nasty infection thanks to the bacterial balance caused by masturbating with fruit, to severe abrasions and injuries that require hospital treatment.
Even if a girl doesn’t hurt herself masturbating with something that’s not designed for masturbation, it’s unlikely she’ll have a pleasurable experience brilliant enough to make her think fondly of self-pleasure forevermore.
My shaky attempts at masturbation were dismal enough to put me off any self-love sessions for years. I hadn’t been taught about the clitoris, I didn’t have any understanding of how the vagina worked, and I thought thrusting my fingers in and out would be enough to leave me writhing in pleasure. It was not.
If I’d had a sex toy and been given the essential ‘here’s the deal with masturbation’ chat that came with it, perhaps I would have learned about orgasms and my own body a lot more quickly. Perhaps I wouldn’t have gone on to have disappointing sex with no way to express what I needed.
It’s a parent’s responsibility to bring up masturbation and give young people the tools they may need to do it safely, because if they don’t, they’re failing to equip their children for a positive relationship with sex.
As sex education barely mentions pleasure, it falls on parents to bring it up – and to bring it up early.
Masturbation is the only truly safe form of sex, and the type of sex that’s legal and healthy for people to enjoy at a young age. Parents should be encouraging it, rather than pretending it isn’t happening. And your encouragement of masturbation should include a total eradication of shame and awkwardness around having a wank, alongside education of how it works.
Buy your child a beginner’s sex toy for the purposes of masturbation. When? Probably earlier than you think – anecdotally, I’ve heard of a lot of people masturbating for the first time at age 11 – but you should be able to chat to your children and suss out if sexual pleasure is even on their mental radar.
Buy them the sex toy and give it to them – or take them along to pick out their own – and explain that whenever they’re curious and want to try things out, they’re completely free to use their own sex toy.
You can explain about the basic anatomy of the genitals, explain that gentle touch can be a better place to start than aggressive thrusts and a strong grip, and explain that while experimentation is great, there are certain things that shouldn’t be used for masturbation (sharp things, things that can get lost, abrasive things, food objects, objects that belong to other people, etc, etc).
It’s essential to have that chat and back up your ‘I’m totally cool with you masturbating’ stance by giving your children the tools to try. Because it’s deeply uncomfortable for a child to have to ask their parent for help, it’s scary to go into an Ann Summers for the first time on your own, and all the shame and fear is what leads to kids furtively seeking out things around the house that they can use.
If that all sounds a bit too awkward for you, have a serious think about why.
Do you not want your children to masturbate, ever? Do you want them to have an unsatisfying sex life? Don’t you want to make sure they explore what makes them feel good in a healthy, safe way?
We need to be talking about masturbation with our children. Handing them a sex toy so they can do their own experimenting is an easy way to start the conversation.