Brian Gresko, father, writer, and Slate contributor, shared an essay with the site for a Friday morning slot going into great detail about how he and a longtime friend called "uncle" taught his seventh-grade son how to masturbate.
According to Gresko, some of the tools he utilized included purchasing K-Y jelly and lotion for the 12-year-old, as well as providing vivid graphic novels containing "illustrative tips on how to touch his penis."
Content warning: Some of the details in the article are of a graphic sexual nature.
What are the details?
Gresko began the essay by recalling his experience as a young boy in a Catholic school, learning that masturbation was "wasting the seed" — a notion that shocked him to his core and, according to him, poisoned the way he felt about his body for the rest of his life.
The suburbs of Philadelphia in the late 1980s, he recalled, were an "atmosphere thick with repression."
"Standing in front of a chalkboard with his arms crossed, the priest told us masturbation was 'wasting the seed,' though he didn’t give us any details of what this seed was, really," he wrote. "Nor did he explain that our bodies, like little seed factories, were just starting to gear into production and would soon be in overdrive. Instead, he told us this seed was holy stuff, a gift from God intended for one day impregnating our wives. And he made it very clear: Masturbation was a mortal sin, the kind that sends you straight to hell."
He added that the conversation ended there and that he began to foster an idea that masturbation was shameful, wasteful, and something to avoid discussing — a move that he said eventually sent him to therapy.
"Over the years, I’ve worked against these attitudes in therapy, but this is my base coat," he admitted. "I’ll never be totally free of them. And so, when I was in my early 30s and my partner found out she was pregnant with a baby boy, I worried I’d pass on these inhibitions and tinges of shame. Maybe he’d pick them up, like malignant radiation I was giving off, whether I wanted to or not."
'How do you do it?'
Gresko said, however, that he was lucky enough to foster a family where all topics are on the table for discussion — including masturbation.
"My son reached seventh grade last September," he wrote. "When he was full of questions about masturbation — When do people start doing it? How do you do it? What’s an orgasm like? — we phoned a longtime friend he calls his 'uncle.' 'If anyone knows about tween masturbation, it’s your uncle,' I told him. 'He was obsessed, and did it all the time.'"
Gresko and his son spoke with the unnamed uncle, who told the child that it was "OK to feel all sorts of things while masturbating."
"The experience," he added, "was like calling a sex helpline."
As the school year progressed, so did the child's foray into learning about his body and sexual behaviors.
"Recently, when I went away on a writing retreat for a week, my son put all this talk into action," Gresko wrote. "He brought himself to ejaculation on the toilet. I know this, because the first thing he did afterward was talk to his mom about it. He wanted her to know what had happened and also ask a question: It felt weird, but not great. Was that OK?"
Gresko said that his wife reassured him that because it was his first time, he had plenty of time to figure out "what you like and how you want to do it."
"Later, he called me to tell me about it, and I said the same," he continued. "Go slow, I advised. And whatever feelings you’re having are OK. It’s called playing with yourself for a reason! Have fun."
'Did you ever consider using lubrication?'
Several days later, Gresko said he received a second phone call notifying him that the child "masturbated a second time, too roughly," summoning a drop of blood.
“Did you ever consider using lubrication?” he recalled asking the child.
The child, of course, had not at just 12 years old.
"He’d been going at it like a physical challenge, rubbing and rubbing until he ejaculated," Gresko continued. “'I see it more like a dance between my body and my mind,'” I said. 'Arousal plays a part, not just the touching. Do you fantasize while you do it?'"
The child responded by saying that he wasn't sure what "turns me on."
Gresko said that when he arrived home from trip, he stopped at a local pharmacy to purchase a tube of lubrication and a bottle of unscented lotion.
"After school, I sat with him on his bed and explained that lube would help make masturbation more pleasant, and gentle," he said. "Try both types and see what feels best, I told him. Don’t be afraid to experiment. We looked at the graphic novel 'Let’s Talk About It,' by Erika Moen and Matthew Nolan, for illustrative tips on how to touch his penis."
'Did it feel good?'
Gresko said that with his guidance, his son was eventually to bring himself to orgasm.
"A few nights later, before bed, my son called me into his room," he wrote. "'Dad, if I seemed emotional earlier today, it’s because I was touching myself and I had an orgasm.' He covered his face with his hands, cheeks red, though he had this big goofy grin on his face. 'Why are you covering up?' I asked, remembering my own discomfort around this subject at his age. 'Do you feel ashamed, or embarrassed?'"
The child admitted that he felt embarrassed, but also proud of himself.
“You should,” Gresko recalled telling his son. “Did it feel good?”
He wrote, "He gave me a pure smile."
Gresko concluded the essay by pointing out that he'd been subjected with far too much "bulls*** baggage" that stunted his own sexual growth.
"I wish I could say it’s been healing to witness my son blossom open-heartedly into a sexual being, but the tide hasn’t shifted just like that for me," he admitted. "I’m hopeful, though, that one day I’ll experience such full-body joy without inhibition."