The Boys' Growing Up in the Lord

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Question

Dear Mr. Hamilton,

I want to start by saying thank you for talking with my son about his concerns and fears of this problem he is facing. He is my only son. Each one of my children hold a very special place in my heart and I consider myself to be the luckiest person in the world to be the mother of amazing children. My son is the sweetest young man. He has always held a special place in my heart. He is a lot like me in so many ways as far as our personality goes.

Mr. Hamilton, my children mean so much to me and it scares me because I'm not really sure how to go about addressing this issue that my son is experiencing. As a young girl, I had a very hard childhood. I moved to a different school nearly every year. My mother had a number of husbands and I was sexual, physically and emotional abused by two family members at different times in my life. At one point my mother put me into the state system, not because I was a problem child but because she cared more for men than her own child. But being put into foster care was the biggest blessing ever because that was were I found God. I realize that I could not have grown up to become the person I am today without the love and guidance from God and the people he put into my path. I had to grow up very early in life and see and experience things a child should never have to see or endure in their life.

This email is not about me or the things I endured but about my precious son. I love him and his sisters with every breath I take. I live for them. They are my whole world, my universe. As a women, I understand how I felt as a young girl growing up and experiencing my hormones and things of that nature but with my son it's all new to me. This is the first time that I've ever had to deal with my child experiencing these feelings. With him being my only boy, it scares me to death. I'm very protective of my children. I watch their behavior and actions as close as I can without smothering them. I realize they are growing up and, as their mother, it's my job to see they are guided in a responsible, loving and understanding way. I want my children to know they can come to me or their father. We want them to know that, no matter what, we love them and support them.

It breaks my heart that my son feels like he is a bad person for looking at young ladies. He is far from a bad person. He is loving, compassionate, understanding, fun, smart and he is a peacemaker. It scares me that I will fail him and not direct him down the right path. The church that I go to, is a big church. My son does not want to go because there are so many people who attend. My husband says that what our son is feeling and going through is very normal for a young man his age. I don't doubt this, but I worry about handling it in the best way. I realize that pornography is a bad thing, at least in some ways. I don't want my child to feel he is bad in anyway. All my life I have wanted children and God blessed me with amazing children.

We try to keep a stable home and support our children in everything they do. We try to guide them along the way, while watching them grow into amazing young people. You hear of all the terrible things happening around the world. I realize we can not shield them from everything, but we try to keep them as innocent as they should be. If there is anything we can do as his parents to help him through this time in his life, please, please let me know.

I thank you again for talking to my son. I don't want to let him down or not protect him.

Is this normal what my son is going through?

Have a wonderful, blessed day. I look forward to hearing from you.


Answer

It is good to talk with you. To let you know a bit more about me, I am the father of four sons who are now in their twenties -- all faithful members of the church. I have two grandchildren so far and look forward to more. I've been preaching since I was 16 and I have been preaching here in Nebraska for the last 18 years. As far as advising people about life issues, I kind of fell into it, though I'm sure the Lord had a hand in steering me into doing it. But I could talk about that for hours; let's talk about your son.

What your son is going through is very typical for teenage boys. The big problem is that in past generations pornography was a problem, but it was also hard to get a hold of. The arrival of the Internet in the 1980's made access to pornography too easy, but even then parents could keep some control over the access point -- the computer. Today cell phones give the potential access to pornography to everyone and at all times of the day. Some of the issues I've been having to address I sure my grandfather, who was also a preacher, would never have imagined.

Among the many changes during adolescence, the brain rewires itself from child-like thinking to adult-like thinking. This rewiring can lead to obsessions or compulsive behaviors. For some reason it happens more often in males than in females. This is why we keep things like cigarettes and alcohol away from teens -- it is far too easy for them to get trapped by them. And the same thing happens with pornography because it triggers the sexual pleasure centers of the brain. Boys tend toward visual pornography. Girls tend toward verbal pornography, such as romance novels.

Boys have an additional problem in this realm because the male body, starting at some point in puberty, starts producing semen. That production is continual for the rest of a boy's life. The problem is that the glands that produce and store the semen can only hold so much. Eventually it has to come out. I usually explain this by comparing it to the need to urinate. As the bladder gets full, people realize that they need to find a rest room soon. If they ignore the signal, the demand increases to the point that it keeps intruding on their thoughts. Ignore it much longer and it is going to come out whether you are ready or not. In males, as the seminal vesicles get full, the male feels his desire for sex rise (which is really confusing to a teenager who never experienced sex). If it is ignored, it gets more demanding -- to the point that sex constantly intrudes on the man's thoughts. It feels almost like your going nuts over sex. Ignoring it further and something will eventually give in the form of an ejaculation, whether the guy is ready or not.

In young males, the seminal vesicles can fill daily. Older teens and in the mid-twenties are typically on a twice a week cycle. As a man ages, the rate of filling slows down.

Somewhere along the line every male discovers that he can trigger an ejaculation through masturbation. It not only gives pleasure in the act, but it also provides relief from the demanding sexual urge. The problem that  arises is if a boy is exposed to pornography about this time, the images raise the sexual desire through shock and a boy quickly relieves himself through masturbation. The two separate things, pornography and masturbation, quickly become joined in a guy's mind. And here is where the tendency to be obsessive comes in. When a teenage boy feels the need to relieve himself rise, he impulsively goes for what he knows will give him relief. He searches out porn and then masturbates.

One odd thing that happens with men is that after ejaculating, the hormones driving the sexual urge plunge. For some reason when it is connected with sex with a person you love, it leads to relaxation and sleepiness. When it is connected to masturbation or with someone the person doesn't care for,  it leaves the person feeling guilty. This is noted in medical literature, but the reason for the different response is not known. Add on top of it that your son knows looking at pornography is wrong. Thus, you can start to see why he is so upset with himself.

The usual response is for a boy to decide that he isn't going to ejaculate anymore. He doesn't realize that it is not possible. The pressure builds and eventually instinct takes over. He feels like he has lost control, and in a sense he has to a certain degree. But when it is all done, guilt hits and he just knows it is all his fault so he tries again. Over time it can lead to a boy deciding he is worthless and unable to be righteous.

Sorry for the long explanation, but I think it is important that you understand a little bit what teenage boys go through so you understand that it isn't just your son and there are reasons behind what I am trying to get across to him.

One of the big problems I've run across are adults who knowing that pornography is wrong just assume that the Bible also condemns masturbation. While masturbation is hinted at in several Old Testament verses, it is not condemned as a sin. Ejaculating made a male unclean, just as blood flows made a woman unclean. Breaking the laws of uncleanness in Israel was a sin, but being unclean was not sinful. Thus, because of this confusion boys who talk to some adults are told that they should not masturbate instead being told they should not get involved in pornography. This then leads to further guilt over something a male instinctively does.

What I try to get people to understand is that these are two separate issues. Masturbation and wet dreams are just a part of life for a male. Pornography is a different issue and needs to be addressed separately.

However it happened, your son got hooked on pornography. Why pornography is bad for people is explained in A Look at Pornography and Lies Pornography Tells Men. What I'm aiming for is getting him to separate his need to ejaculate from this sinful desire to look at pornography. If he can get himself to realize that he doesn't need pornography, then he will make great strides in developing self-control. This is important because eventually he is going to have a girlfriend and he badly needs to have that self-control over his body in place before then. Not to mention that pornography warps a boy's view of women and sex, which isn't good by itself.

Right now your son has a weakness to look at porn. I'm guessing that he uses his phone at night to access it. So while he is building up his spiritual muscles, I suggest that he makes porn harder to access for himself by:

  • Placing an Internet filter on the phones and computers. I have that on my own systems just as a matter of course because I know men are vulnerable to this sort of temptation. This isn't perfect. It can be gotten around, but that takes effort and the goal is just to give a guy time to think.
  • I also suggested to your son that he give his phone to you each night. It is a rule that should be in place for all the children. There is zero reason they need to talk to people in the middle of the night.
  • If there are laptops they go with you at night as well. If you have a desktop system or a game system with Internet access, then the power cord goes with you at night.

It is a bit of a pain, but if you make it a matter of course, then it will become a part of the household routine. Do it for your daughters as well and if they have friends spend the night, then the rule goes for them as well. This way no one individual has a special rule just for him or her and the result is good for all.

Reading back through your note, I should mention that shyness is also standard for teenagers and especially boys. It comes from numerous factors: feeling clumsy because the body is bigger, not knowing how to deal with sexual response (physical and mental), changing of the voice (squeaking is embarrassing), etc. I would recommend not pushing, but do insist that your son continues to go to worship because this is what the family does.  The shyness will eventually fade.

I know there is reasonable concern about who is on the other end of this advice -- I deal with those issues as well on a regular basis. I'm happy that you are involved. You may not realize it but whenever a young man contacts me, I try hard to steer him to get his parents involved. The reason I usually get contacted is because the boys see that I'm reasonable, I'm strict, and that I back what I say with Scripture. But in addition, I'm not someone they will likely ever meet and so they can talk about embarrassing issues without feeling like they want to crawl into a hole every time we meet. Usually once I can get a young man over the hurdle of seeing that he isn't the worse person in the world, I can get him to talk to his parents about what is bothering him -- at least the less embarrassing parts.

Thank you so much for emailing me back.

My son is an amazing young man, and I don't want him to lose his way. I'm thankful that he found you and that you are a Christian and have good advice. I will keep in touch just so you know how he is doing.

Thanks again for everything. I feel so blessed to be his mom and want to do everything humanly possible to continue helping him be a godly man.