I have a 12 year old boy who has recently started to masturbate. We have a good relationship, but we haven’t yet talked about sex or sexuality. I want to make sure that he knows he can always talk to his parents about this and think it’s time to talk about safer sex with him. How can I talk to him about sex without embarrassing him or making him feel ashamed about his body and sex?

co-authored by Ashish Darji

Masturbation in adolescence is a natural exploration of one’s sexuality. It is common to see young adolescents start exploring masturbation around the age of 12 in Western society (and even earlier in other cultures). It seems that you are aware that your child must feel comfortable enough with his parents to talk to you about the sexually related experiences that he’s going through. An important part of parenting is to help guide your children as they grow so that they can make the decisions that are right for them. Open, clear, and honest communication between the child and parents is something that can help facilitate healthier decision making as the child gets older.

A child’s mind is very perceptive and receptive to minute emotions that parents elicit. Adults often don’t realize the influence they have over adolescents; they should use their power for positive youth development.[1] Feelings of shame and guilt can really stunt the sexual growth of adolescents.[2] A child’s home should be a space for open communication pertaining to the subject of sexuality. The most important thing that you can do is to meet your son at his level and view the world from his perspective. Be compassionate in that regard.

Open communication is central to healthy sexual development. No topic should be ‘off limits’ to talk about at home. As a parent, it’s important to communicate to your son by not simply making empty promises about open communication or saying things like “it’s okay to talk about anything” without following through. There is a vast and noticeable difference between saying you are allowed to talk about anything and actual honest and authentic communication, both verbal and non-verbal.

A child’s sexual development is proportional to that of his parents.[3] That is where he will learn the majority of decision making when it comes to sexuality. Your son may need you to approach him at his level of communication. Use what you know from your own experience and learning and be compassionate in answering his questions and supporting his sexual curiosity, to the point where his sexuality makes sense and fits in with his world view.

Discovering your sexuality as an adolescent can be a wonderful journey and open communication can help facilitate that. As a parent, you can help mitigate sexual risks through open communication about sexuality.[4] Open communication will do more than help your son navigate his own sexuality, it will also allow him to be more aware of the risks he may face in the future, such as unplanned pregnancies and contracting sexually transmitted infections. According to a study on parental monitoring and communication, constructive parental monitoring and effective parent-youth communication can play an important role in preventing risky behaviour during early to middle adolescence.[5] In the Netherlands, the societal and cultural narratives around adolescent sexuality are liberal and open minded. As a result, Dutch youth enjoy the benefit of having the fewest number of unplanned pregnancies and lowest rates of sexual infections.

Open communication about sexuality, social anxiety, intimacy, and sexual satisfaction are very closely linked.[6] When masturbation is considered by both the child and parents to be a healthy response to sexual development, it will benefit the child in many ways. Your son will have lower levels of social anxiety, greater intimacy and sexual satisfaction in the future if he is able to adopt and embody an honest and authentic dialogue about his sexuality.

Masturbation in adolescence is a complicated subject to navigate and must be approached with care as a parent. As a parent, you should first be aware of the intricacies that come with masturbation and how it affects the person both physically and psychologically. To allow your son to expand his sexual awareness properly, examine your parenting style so as to not impose any feelings of guilt or shame around sexual expression. Authentic and open communication between you and your child is the most important facet that will help your son navigate his way through any questions that he may have. It’s in your interest to inform him when he is seeking that knowledge.


[1] Clary, E. Gil, Rhodes, Jean E. (2006). Mobilizing Adults for Positive Youth Development: Strategies for Closing the Gap between Beliefs and Behaviors. The Search Institute.

[2] Aneja, J., Grover, S., Avasthi, A., Mahajan, S., Pokhrel, P., & Triveni, D. (2015). Can Masturbatory Guilt Lead to Severe Psychopathology: A Case Series.Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, 37(1), 81–86. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.150848

[3] Wang, B., Stanton, B., Li, X., Cottrell, L., Deveaux, L., & Kaljee, L. (2013). The influence of parental monitoring and parent–adolescent communication on bahamian adolescent risk involvement: A three-year longitudinal examination. Social Science & Medicine, 97(Complete), 161-169. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.08.013

[4] Looze, M., Constantine, A. N., Jerman, P., Vermeulen-Smit, E., Bogt, T., Parent–Adolescent sexual communication and its association with adolescent sexual behaviors: A nationally representative analysis in the Netherlands – Routledge. doi:- 10.1080/00224499.2013.858307

[5] Wang, B., Stanton, B., Li, X., Cottrell, L., Deveaux, L., & Kaljee, L. (2013). The influence of parental monitoring and parent–adolescent communication on bahamian adolescent risk involvement: A three-year longitudinal examination. Social Science & Medicine, 97(Complete), 161-169. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.08.013

[6] Montesi, J., Conner, B., Gordon, E., Fauber, R., Kim, K., & Heimberg, R. (2013). On the relationship among social anxiety, intimacy, sexual communication, and sexual satisfaction in young couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(1), 81-91. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-9929-3