SEX WORRIES of TEENAGE BOYS (Jan, 1959)
SEX WORRIES of TEENAGE BOYS
DR. KIRKENDALL is Professor of Family Life Education at Oregon
State College. Author of “Sex Education as Human Relations” and many other writings, he is recognized as one of the outstanding authorities in the field of sex education.
This article is the first in a series which Dr. Kirkendall will write from time to time on sex worries and concerns of adolescent boys. The information was obtained through a combination research – counseling procedure which Dr. Kirkendall has used for a number of years. He developed a check list of worries and concerns which he has since given to hundreds of individual boys whom he has met in high school and college classes. After each boy has marked the check list, Dr. Kirkendall has discussed the indicated worries or concerns with the boy. Thus the information and illustrations in the article come from dealing at firsthand with the problems of adolescent boys. Dr. Kirkendall received financial support for his study from the E. C. Brown Trust.
by Lester A. Kirkendall, Ph.D.
IF you have an adolescent boy in your home, or if you know one, you can be pretty sure that there are a number of questions about sex which he would like to have answered.
You can also be sure that these questions are ignored in the occasional school programs in sex education, as too touchy and delicate to handle.
It is still more likely that those who handle such instruction are unaware that these worries and concerns even exist, for they arc certainly seldom mentioned by the adolescent.
Many boys are concerned about some features of sexual development or functioning. “Why do I have an erection when I wake up in the morning?” “Is my penis the right size?”
Others worry needlessly about some kind of sexual conduct. “What are the consequences of masturbation?” “I have been in-volved in sex play with a boy friend. What should I do?”
Many wonder whether they will know what to do in future intercourse or whether they will be able to satisfy their wives.
Some are disturbed by thoughts or dreams about sex or by unexpected erections. They are afraid that such occurrences mean that they are oversexed or immoral.
Before discussing these problems, we should recognize this: Practically no boys or girls* are so well informed or so poised that they have escaped all perplexities. This would be next to impossible in a society such as ours. In very few homes can a growing boy or girl get enough information so that they can always be certain and secure about their sexual feelings and development.
Even if they had such a favorable atmosphere in their home, playmates coming from homes where different attitudes existed would likely introduce conflicting views, doubts, and uncertainties.
Many adults fear that discussions with boys on sexual matters such as those to be mentioned in these articles will arouse morbid curiosity and result in harmful experimentation. The truth seems to be exactly the opposite.
Denial of information leads to morbid curiosity and experimentation, whereas open, frank discussion settles questions and frees the individual for attention to other things. The issue is not whether such matters are talked about but rather the spirit in which they are discussed.
It is natural that worries over aspects of sexual maturation should be very common in the early teen years. In this period just preceding and just following the changes brought about by puberty, both boys and girls become very conscious of body changes. Athletic performance has a high social value and the average American boy is quite conscious of those physical abilities which will insure success or produce failure in athletic efforts. He will test his body for these capacities, give attention to their cultivation, and be proud if he possesses them.
In the same way, evidences of physical sex maturation are watched with keen interest, and most boys will compare their progress with that of their friends. Is it any wonder that many boys worry about their sexual physiology and development in these years?
First, various of their friends are coming into puberty, so the average boy hears talk, most of it uninformed, about bodily changes which occur or are supposed to occur at this time.
Second, most boys transfer from elementary school to secondary schools just at the time puberty is approaching. In these schools physical education programs and athletics require most boys to undress and bathe in groups. Here each boy, perhaps for the first time, sees many other boys about his age in the nude. These boys will range in development from the individual who is fully mature to the one who has not yet began to show the first signs of puberty.
In such a situation the boys steal glances at each other, formulate judgments about what is normal, and raise questions about themselves. One of the most common questions relates to size of the penis. In one group of fifty boys, 31 indicated that they either were, or at one time had been, concerned about the size of their organ. The limp penis is not the same in size from boy to boy or even from time to time in the same boy. A boy whose limp organ appears larger or smaller than those of other boys may work himself into a state of worry over size. He reasons, wrongly as it happens, that each male experiences proportionately the same enlargement of the penis in an erection. He, therefore, concludes that he must be smaller or larger than is desirable and begins to wonder whether this will have particular significance for him.
This concern is reinforced by comments he may hear about the importance of genital size. Generally speaking, he is led to believe that the larger the size of his genital organ the “better a man” he is. He may hear that a large-size penis is supposed to enhance sexual satisfaction in intercourse. He also hears that skillful technique can offset the disadvantages of small size. Thus in a welter of conflicting views and statements a boy becomes less and less sure of what is correct.
A large penis may also cause a boy to fear that he will experience some kind of difficulty in sexual intercourse. Bill W., who was about to marry, was upset with this problem. When undressed before other boys his organ appeared definitely larger than the average. Ever since physical maturity his friends had ridiculed him about this. He had been told repeatedly that he would “wreck” any woman he married.
Now, about to marry, Bill had told his fiancee of his concern and she had absorbed the fear also. She was questioning whether or not she should marry Bill, for fear she would be too small in genital size to engage in intercourse with him.
It was not too difficult for an experienced counselor to reassure Bill and his fiancee. First, Bill learned that he probably varied from normal less than he had thought. When he found that Dickinson* gives the average length of the erect penis at five and a half to six and a half inches, he was reassured, for he was not very different. Rather than lengthening and enlarging, his penis did little more than to stiffen when it became tumescent.
Next he was helped by learning that difficulties in marital adjustment due to differences in genital size occur very, very seldom. Awareness that couples could find ways to adjust to such differences was even more helpful.
Boys who are worried about genital curvature are relieved to find there is no evidence that this interferes with sexual functioning or performance. Kinsey’s data indicates that a definite up-curvature is found in fifteen to twenty per cent of all individuals.
While I know of no other authentic information concerning the frequency of curvature, I have come across it frequently-, enough in my study of worries to convince me that upward curvature, or some deflection to the right or left is fairly common. In the sampling of fifty boys previously mentioned, eight marked this as one of their concerns. Others in the sampling might have possessed this anatomical feature, but never worried about it.
Some boys are worried about other features of their genital anatomy, which because of the lack of information assume frightening aspects. Thus a boy may worry because one testicle hangs lower than the other, or because he can feel protuberances on the testicle, over the prominence of veins as they stand out on the penis and/or the testicles. He may feel that a sticky, colorless discharge at the tip of the penis denotes a disease. Actually, all of these are perfectly normal features of development.
A few boys feel concern over a soreness and slight swelling around the nipples which they experience about the time they enter puberty. This is due to an over-activation by hormonal secretions of the glands around the nipple, and it usually lasts for just a short time. This brief period may produce some real mental anguish, however.
One boy who was cancer-con-scions because of the recent death of a grandparent was badly frightened for fear he might have cancer. Another boy thought that such a development came only with pregnancy. He wondered if a boy could become pregnant in some way he didn’t understand. The lat-ter fear seems so ridiculous that it is hard to believe it actually occurred.
The difficulties of allaying teenage sex fears should not be minimized. In the first place, attitudes surrounding sex are so inhibiting that when a youth has a serious question to ask he is often too frightened to bring it out. Secondly, if questions are raised, the adult usually has too little information to be helpful. How many parents, for example, could help a boy who wanted to know what caused him to have unexpected erections at school?
Many parents commonly try to provide literature which they feel will answer whatever questions the teen-ager might have. This is good to the extent that the literature is realistic and appropriate to the boy’s level of development.
The trouble is that most of the literature, which is supposed to be suitable for a certain age, is not really suitable for that level.
Still another weakness in relying on literature is that a boy’s problem is often connected with some particular occurrence or experience, and so is unique. The generalized literature, therefore, will not relieve the boy’s worry.
One teen-ager, for example, evidently began masturbation just at the time his genital was starting to increase from its small-boy size to adult size. This growth took place quickly and rapidly. The boy was frightened, and attributed this growth to the fact that he had practiced masturbation. He commented that “I thought I had stretched myself all out of shape.,, A second boy told this story: “When I was about fourteen, I was operated on for appendicitis. At that time I had never had an ejaculation and I knew nothing about seminal emissions. The second night after my operation I awoke from a terrible nightmare. Something was wrong about my genitals. I reached down and put my hand into a sticky substance. I was terribly frightened at this. I figured something had gone wrong with the operation. However, I dared tell no one.
“After I was out of the hospital I continued to have these occasional discharges. I feared the doctors had mined me, but still I could talk with no one. Finally I got up enough courage to talk with one of my boy friends. When I told him what was bothering me he laughed, and said he had been having the same experiences. However, his father had discussed sexual maturation with him and he was aware of what ‘wet dreams’ were. It was a tremendous relief to find after I had talked to two or three other friends that they were having similar experiences.”
This, then, implies two things. First, we need adults who have information and a real capacity for talking with young people about their real sex problems and concerns.
Second, we need an acceptance of sex as a legitimate topic for discussion. This would result in enough openness that, when questions arose among young people, they would feel free to bring them out. Once they did so, they would find adults well enough informed to give them the help they need. This certainly should not be an impossible goal, but we are still a long way from reaching it.