My son is going to college next year and my heartstrings are pulled knowing what is ahead of him. The good, the bad, the exciting, the scary. I want the best for him and I also want to protect him and arm him with as much information as I can shove at him in the coming months. My mind moves from manic desperation to frozen overwhelm when I think about time whizzing by me.

Of course, I’ve been trying to unload my advice for years. Having counseled and taught so many college kids and having raised three bonus male teenagers, I feel like I have a wealth of information to give him. Too much.

But I realize that so much of my parenting starts with fears. My fears. What could happen to him. What will tempt him. What could hurt him. What mistakes he could make.

And, boy, is it off putting to him. What teenager thinks those warnings apply to them?

So what do you do? I wanted to have ‘sit down’ meetings with him with well thought about topics and statistics, I thought about writing a cute book for him with quippy quotes and sage advice, then I had a conversation with him in the car and it changed everything for me.

After 17 years, I realized that day some of my best parenting happens in the car. I couldn’t figure out why but then noticed that, like an animal, not making direct eye contact helps avoid the stand off and power struggle. I don’t care if he is looking at me or not and if I give him control of what songs we are listening to he is focused on playlists and not social media thus avoiding another annoyance.

So we get to talk. Really talk.

And he shares with me his day, his thoughts flow more freely and organically and I get to throw in a few questions and tiny bits of advice within moments of just experiencing him. If it is a tough topic, we can let the drive distract us during silences and if we get upset with each other, we are forced to figure it out without the option of leaving a room or slamming a door.

Still, there we are. Driving. Sharing. Connecting.

During this drive, I asked him ‘what is it like to be raised by a sex educator?’ After the comments you’d expect from a teenage boy, he said “Actually Mom, I think the most important thing you taught me was not only what it means to respect women and treat them well, but also that I should care how I am treated by a woman.” Whoa. I didn’t realize I was teaching him that but wow. It touched me deeply. You know those moments when you can’t tell if you are the world’s worst parent screwing up your kid irrevocably or not? I have tons of those.

But that moment was a good one. A moment my son gave me a wake up call in-between “Let Me Clear My Throat” and “Thunderstruck” jams in the car.

Our conversation went deeper and the tone changed dramatically. I really heard him and I understood for the first time how profoundly important it is for me to arm him with empowering, soul filling information rather than flooding him with negative fears.

So I wrote him a letter to go deeper into this conversation and to reflect my revelation of how to reach him on such a complicated and difficult topic. I’m sharing it with you for two reasons because he said I could and because a lot of my work, focuses on women and female sexuality but I have a real heart for men too. I’ve always had good guy friends and throughout my life found myself tight with groups of men-fraternity sweetheart, girlfriend to male band, theatre casts, football team tutor and speaker, and mother to four teenage boys. I like men. Through this experience, I have had the privilege of meeting good quality men who are female-positive and want to support women in the best of ways and with the right motives. But they are under-estimated and often not educated on how to put these desires and wishes into action. I’ve also seen that when they do try it is often unnoticed, not acknowledged nor respected. This shuts them down, slows progress and adds to the problem we see in our society.

I know they are a huge part of the solution to our sexual climate but we need to shift our mindset in engaging them in this discussion.

I want to raise good men. I want to support positive men. I want to celebrate their strength, their good intentions and the beauty they bring to the world. This is where I started.

Dear Son,

When I held you in my arms for the first time, I was thrilled, scared to death and had no idea what was ahead for me. For us. As I look forward to our last year before you head off for college, I am filled with similar feelings. I am so excited, I am slightly terrified and I have no idea what is in store for either of us in this next chapter. What an incredible canyon ledge to be standing on together!

You are a beautiful soul. You live life to the fullest and you have changed me in ways I could never have imagined. I am so grateful your soul chose mine.

As you head into a new phase in your life, I want to remind you of a few things I want for you that aren’t easy for me to say. I know it should be comfortable because I’m an expert in sexuality and I can talk to anyone about anything related to sex. As much as I don’t want this to be the case, the game changes when I’m talking to you. So I’m starting off this important talk and handing you this letter in one of my favorite places with you. We dance in the car, we sing in the car, we talk soul to soul in the car. And I’m giving you my sexual credo in the car.

 Here is my sexual credo to you in this next phase of life:

I want you to know that although when I look at you, I will always see my little boy who filled his pockets with treasures of rocks and sticks, I know you have grown into a young man. And I know part of this growth is that you are now a man aware of his sexuality. We’ve talked a lot over the years about what NOT to do and what I don’t want for you. Today, I want to share what I DO WANT for you.

I want you to have a magnificent sex life. And although I admit I want it to be exactly how I define it at the exact time I say with the person I pick for you (because I think I know best), I really do want to support your decisions and desires because I know you are armed with a very important skill. The ability to make a decision that aligns with your values and dreams and to live with the intended and unintended consequences of those choices. I believe in you. As a young man. As a sexual being. As my son.

I want your sexual experiences to enrich you. As a person. As a man. As a soul driven, force of nature. It takes intention, restraint and purpose to bring this level of sexuality into your life. You may feel different from others when you are younger but you will be light years ahead of your peers if you put this into practice in your life.

Know intimacy in all its form-emotional, intellectual, physical, spiritually. Seek it, give it, learn about it, talk about it, practice it.

I want you to experience pleasure and sexual connection outside alcohol and drugs. Be free enough with yourself, be confident enough in yourself to not HAVE to drink in order to access those desires. And expect that in your partners too. With care and compassion, hold off until you both are sober and able to consent fully and to feel pleasure without abandon. Respect yourself and your partner to wait until you can both be fully present and consenting.

 I want you to take accountability for your sexual actions, your sexual decisions, and your sexual mistakes. Apologize when you need to, change things when you must, learn so you don’t repeat and move forward.

I want you to remember to explore all areas of your sexuality—not just sex acts and orgasms. Understand the deep connection with spirit when you connect with someone sexually. Think of relationships. Vulnerability. Body image. Fantasy. The sexual response cycle. And so much more.

Wear a condom. Always. Or several. At once. (okay not really on that one but you get my point) Without exception. Keep a fresh supply. Walk away from someone who would let you not use a condom unless you are in a long term, committed relationship. I want you to know this isn’t going to be easy sometimes but if you commit to this and know why, it makes those moments so much easier.

I want you to know that just because sex may be ‘offered’ to you, you don’t have to accept. If you decline, do it with compassion and care. Same goes for sexting.

I want you to know you may experience sexual trauma too. Our society doesn’t give a lot of space for men to acknowledge this experience but I want you to know, unfortunately, you are not immune to the possibility. Be careful, be mindful and seek help from me and professionals if you do experience trauma.

I want you to not care about numbers. Low or high numbers. It isn’t about your numbers, her number, his number. It is about purpose, experience and meaning.

Part of being a good lover is taking care of your health. Do testicular exams regularly. Check all your outer sex organs so that you can know quickly if you have a new lump or bump or weird looking something. And seek medical advice outside of Dr. Google. Don’t be afraid of prostrate exams. They can save your life. Know your penis may not act how you want it to all the time. You are more than your penis performance.  If this happens to you, pay attention to why it isn’t responding how you want it to and take action to change it to the best of your ability-seek help with a medical provider or therapist without shame, seek medical advice about possible medication interactions, don’t drink and sex or maybe your penis is paying attention to some red flags that your heart or head isn’t paying attention to.

I want you to remember that intercourse and orgasm aren’t the only aspects of sex that are important. There are so many other things that are incredible in the world of sex and sexuality.  

I want you to know that kissing is often underrated. So is holding hands. And laughing. Do all three.

Masturbate. I want you to have a healthy view of self-pleasure and to make sure it is an important part of your life that you aren’t embarrassed by or feel ashamed of. Although you should be mindful of privacy and timing, masturbation is normal and a great thing for pleasure, for health, for stress relief, for soul connection.

I want you to know that asking for consent is sexy. It is powerful. It provides a level of safety for your partner and you that takes pleasure to much deeper levels. I want you to ask for consent and I want you to be asked for consent by your partner.

I want you to know I don’t think porn is horrible. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of most of it for you at this age but I more importantly I want you to understand what you are signing up for when you expose yourself to it. It isn’t real in any sense of the word in most cases. Porn isn’t a primer on a how to be a good lover, how to experience pleasure or how to give it to someone else. Be mindful that it doesn’t take over the only way you know how to become aroused during solo time. But I get it. I get the interest and I get the curiosity. Just monitor how much you look at it, why you look at it and what it is teaching you. And avoid the big Wal-Mart type porn clearinghouses. If you are going to look at it, look for sites that are realistic, interesting and positive.

Examine sexual agency in your life. Know your values. Know what you want and don’t want. Know how to communicate it. And revisit all of these things often. This is a concept not well known yet and I want you to teach your friends and lovers about it.

I want you to know that one thing with one person will be amazing but not so great with another. Chemistry, experience, emotions, perceptions, stress, and 1000 other things come into play. Although we bring each relationship and sexual experience into the next one, let each sexual relationship stand on its own.

I want you to not  feel the pressure of wanting to have sex all the time or whenever someone else wants to. A man’s sexual desire waxes and wanes as much as women’s does. There are many men who don’t want to have sexual connection as much as their partners and this is okay.

I want you to know that what you do and who you are outside the bedroom directly affects who you are and what you experience inside the bedroom. It goes in reverse too. Who you are in the bedroom informs who you are outside of the bedroom too.

You do not have to try everything all at once with one person or with many. You have a lifetime ahead of you to explore your sexual self. Your hormones are leading you in one direction, let your heart and soul have an equal voice.

Seek pleasure in ALL areas of your life. If you know what brings you pleasure and how to seek it in your life outside the bedroom, the road to pleasure through communication and freedom will translate in your life inside the bedroom.

I want you to know that however uncomfortable, however hard, however embarrassing it may be, you can come to me for help, for advice, for support, for a hug, for a listening ear. No matter what. I may not respond perfectly and I may lead with my first foot of fear but give me a chance to get it right with you.

If you can’t come out and say it, write it to me or use our code phrase “I need to go for a car ride with you.”

I love you beautiful son,

Your fallible, sometimes awkward, often embarrassing Mom

Juliana Smiling with hands