“Hey, Dad, do men have hormones?” my 11-year-old son piped from behind his sports magazine.
The question pierced my soul, tensed my muscles; within me adrenaline gates lifted, pouring paternal anxiety throughout my body. Jerking to an erect sitting position, I dropped my spoon, which first rang loudly at the cereal bowl. As it hit the floor it shook, drum roll-like, anticipating my response. I had to answer. My son was waiting for an answer. From me.
About hormones. About male hormones. The silence tensed my tongue.
This is it. The time is now. I had prepared. This was the milestone. It was “the first sexual inquiry.”
This is not how I planned it. I had hoped it would come while he and I were alone in the woods, in the spring, perhaps in a park, but at least outside, in nature, with reliable props, lifelike flowers and animals. I had hoped for a cow and, yes, selfishly, for a bull, too.
Now here I was at breakfast, unshaven, half awake, vulnerable to interruptions from the wife and a younger brother.
But I had prepared. In depth. I was ready.
I reached for the fallen spoon, the entire speech dissolving in my throat a question stumbled out.
“What was that, son?” I asked under the table.
“Hormones. Do men have hormones?”
I know the answer is yes. I know the facts behind the yes. I am a sex expert. As a therapist I spend my days listening to men and women talk about the most intimate sexual feelings. But with my sons, I feel the whole world is listening for me to say the wrong thing. I do not let the world down.
“Yes, they do. Indeed, they, me, we, you — men, I mean — do. Yes. Many glands secrete hormones, such as the thyroid, the adrenal, the pituitary. I suspect you are asking me about the reproductive male hormones. These are called androgens, the most important of which is testosterone, which produces male characteristics and male behavior, many of which begin right about your age. The male is different from the female, as we see in animals, and all of nature. Two important elements are needed in all of nature to keep us alive, I mean, going, I mean the species going. These two watchacallits are the egg and the seed. The seed is where we men come in. Take the flower and the bee for example, if it weren’t ...”
“I know that. We had it in school.”
“Yes, but did you discuss the changes that often scare young boys, hair growth, change of. ...”
“Yep. We did. I just wanted to know if men had male hormones like this woman here.” He pointed to a masculine-looking woman runner in his magazine. “The article talks about women with male hormones. I wondered if men have them, too. No big deal, Dad. See ya.”
He was out the door. My mouth open, my sex ed speech frustrated, obsessions, like a firecracker string fused by fear, popped in my head. I’ve ruined his sex life.
I gave him too much information. Not enough. The wrong kind. Erroneous.
What happened to my memorized speech about the thrill, joy, inestimable pleasure of sex and sexual curiosity?
Perhaps he’ll never be curious again. What if that’s his last sexual question?
I have pushed him down the road of asexuality. He will turn into a pervert, a member of a minuscule minority, the non-consumer. With no interest in sex, he will be untouched by 90 percent of all advertising.
The torture is interrupted by a flash to my own beginning sex lessons: McGraw, Ross and I are studying the most explicit sexual material available, the Sears catalogue. Pooling our data and misinformation, we study undergarments and imagine places and acts we have never seen or heard about. The result is a laugh a minute plus an urge to giggle that lasts all week, and attacks during study hall.
In place of today’s sexual explicitness, sex ed courses and guilt-producing experts exhorting parents to pounce and pound on every opportunity to communicate with one’s child, our parents united in using one tool in matters sexual: silence. This sexual mutism ignited our imaginations. Our sexual vocabulary did not include androgens, testosterone, or even egg and seed.
As I pick up the sports magazine with the linebacker-size female hurdler grimacing at me, a second magazine falls from the pages. There, before me, is last winter’s swimsuit issue, open and folded to a flat crease to pages of bikini beauties. Relief. My son’s hormones have redeemed my dull speech. I silently hope he is giggling with his friends somewhere.
Raymond E. Lovett ( www.raylovett.com) is a psychotherapist and writer in Dorset.
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