Father and son talk masturbation

Originally Published: February 26, 1999
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Dear Alice,

I am sorry if I seem maybe over-worried or so but I have a situation that I am not sure how to deal with and I need someone's help. I am a forty-two-year-old male, and I am not into masturbating. I am not sure why. As a kid, I was taught it was a bad thing to do and I was always afraid. I have two sons, one fourteen and another nine. I was getting ready to go to work the other day and I walked into the bathroom and my oldest son was sitting down on the toilet masturbating. I was deeply shocked and my son was deeply embarrassed. I did not know what to make of it. I did not know what to do about it so my son and I had a discussion alone about it. He said he has been masturbating for awhile, maybe a year, about everyday. He says it is something to him that is hard to drop, and sometimes it causes his penis to hurt, sting. He is not circumcised and he said he noticed that he had been getting red tiny veins on his penis and he was worried about it. I did not know what to do about it because I am circumcised and that has never really happened to me. I feel I didn't handle the conversation well because I was shocked and I don't know what to think of it. He seemed worried about it. Can masturbating affect his penis with the symptoms he has? What should I do or think about it? I wish I wasn't so inexperienced about this subject, and my son does not wish for me to talk to anyone about it, so I have turned to someone I don't know to spare his embarrassment. I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer this because I don't know what to do about it. And I am quite worried about it. Thank you.

D

Dear D,

Worry NOT. Your son's occasionally-stinging and veiny penis is almost certainly due to the friction and pressure he applies when he masturbates, and not to any health problem or irreversible damage he's caused himself over the past year. Suggest to your son that he loosen his grip when he masturbates with his hands, try some lube, and use mild soap when in the shower. If he's right-handed, switching to his less-dominant left hand (or vice-versa) can also minimize or prevent the irritation and discomfort he's feeling. This advice goes for both circumcised and uncircumcised guys of all ages.

The above implies what you probably know already: Alice believes that masturbation is normal and healthy at any age, while respecting one's choice not to masturbate, for whatever reason. Talking about sexuality with kids, partners, health care providers, and/or others whom you trust, as opposed to putting up walls of silence, secrecy, and shame, is another belief Alice holds dear.

You're an awesome dad! You and your son were embarrassed by your "discovery;" you're not so comfortable with masturbation; and, you didn't know whether it was causing him physical harm. Yet, you mustered the courage -- and, hopefully, the calm -- to talk about it rationally. You may not think the conversation went very well, but Alice bets that your supportive actions, plus your willingness to get answers without embarrassing him further, helped him a lot more than you realize. It sounds like you didn't yell at your son, punish him, or tell him that what he was doing was bad, despite the fact that your father or mother might have done this had he or she walked in on you. You're a model of what to do in these situations, and remember that your first conversation doesn't have to be the last on this topic.

For more information to use in future father-to-son chats, read some of Alice's Q&As about masturbation and penis veins/bumps in her Sexuality and Sexual Health archives.

Alice