This originally appeared on The Good Men Project. Republished here with permission.
JD Roberto wishes he could avoid sending his 5-year-old son mixed messages about his sexuality.
The most hands-on, intimate, and enduring relationship in a man’s life is the one he has with his penis. Yes, ladies, you might be tired of hearing about our junk, but we’re tired of hearing about Fifty Shades of Grey, so we’re even. My manhood and I have been through a lot together and after these many years some small amount of the razzle-dazzle has gone out of the relationship. Don’t get me wrong, we still have fun and share quality time together but, like any long-term relationship, I spend significantly less of my free time dwelling on my penis than I once did.
Not so for a 5-year-old boy. Right now, Z is in the early, puppy-love, romance stage of his relationship with his own anatomy. Anyone that’s ever been in love knows this stage—the giddy, delicious, phase where you just can’t keep your hands off each other; where you find yourself unconsciously reaching out and touching each other—even at odd or inappropriate times. Well, that’s where we are right about now.
And the truth is, I struggle with how to handle these moments with my boy. My main goal is to help him be at ease with his body and learn that there’s nothing shameful or dirty about nakedness. I want him to be un-self-conscious and confident, educated about his anatomy and, eventually, fearless about his sexuality.
I’d also like him to stop thumping the flesh piñata in the middle of the grocery store.
And herein lays a troubling parenting contradiction. How should a smart, attentive little boy make sense of the following statement from his father: “Hey there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, it’s natural and it’s totally fine and just don’t ever do it anywhere other people can see you doing it.”
No matter what version of that logic I use, Z looks at me, like, “You’re shitting me, right? It’s either OK or it’s not OK, dude, make up your mind.”
And he’s right. I’m giving him dramatically mixed signals and I don’t know any way around it.
We run into the same issue when we go swimming with the 7- and 9-year-old girls next door. These young ladies are, understandably, more body conscious than they were just a few years ago. Z, however, thinks nothing of stripping off his swim suit and marching over to his towel to dry off. How do I explain that there’s nothing wrong with being naked, just don’t do it here in front of the girls. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but people will laugh and point at you.
Yes, we have had the conversation about private things versus public things and—as much as he can at this age—he understands the difference. But it remains an area where he complies because he’s been told to, not because it makes sense. I’m really not a fan of the “do it because I said so” school of parenting. I know that if I give my child reasonable, fair, logical rules to live by, he/she is more likely to do what I tell them. There’s something very powerful for a kid about understanding WHY the rules exist.
When it comes to nakedness and his privates, I feel like I am lying to him. I am trying to sell him on an idealized vision of the world where we’re all comfortable with our bodies, and sexuality in American society isn’t a dysfunctional collision of Puritanism and porn. But that vision doesn’t line up with reality, so I am forced to say, “Your body is beautiful, but don’t show it to anyone. Your penis is natural and healthy, but go in your room and close the door if you want to touch it.”
I feel like a good father needs give his son clarity and I’m not doing that right now. Z is going to have a life-long relationship with his body. The last thing I want to do is make it any more complicated that it needs to be.
JD Roberto can be found 5 days a week as host of The Better Show, a nationally syndicated daytime talk show seen around the country. Game show fans known him from shows like The Price is Right and Shop ‘Til You Drop, plus reality shows like Outback Jack, Are You Hot? and E! News Live. His writing has appeared in Parents Magazine, Huffington Post, the Los Angeles Times and on theBump.com. Check out his parenting blog at The Hands On Dad and follow him on twitter @jdroberto.