I live in a world surrounded by males. With six brothers and no sisters, four sons and no daughters and a husband, you could say that I have been well and truly punished for all the terrible things I’ve said about men in my life.

Occasionally I reflect on what life might be like if I had a female kindred spirit, someone to accompany me shopping.  Let’s face it, it’s not cool if you are a teenage boy to be seen in any women’s fashion store. That’s not to say that boys don’t like shopping, but it’s mostly sports shops, electronics, bikes and of course, the trendy surf shops.

So I sigh and wander past all the girly things like makeup and shoes and jewellery and wait for the day when I have a grand-daughter to share those experiences with. Yeah Right!!!!

Being the only female in our house means I have a greater role to play in educating our sons about the fairer sex. However, I believed that my husband should take the lead role in teaching them about just plain sex. But it still hasn’t happened in a formal fashion.

The boys’ only trip away to discuss the birds and the bees was exactly as Celia Lashlie describes it in her book; they took off for the grand weekend and came home to tell mum that the mission was accomplished, when in fact nothing slightly resembling the facts of life was discussed!

It seems the eldest two are still too embarrassed to discuss these personal matters with either parent, although I am well aware that they know a lot more than they are letting down. Our third son is the inquisitive one and in fact can’t get enough information.

The onset of puberty in our eldest has provided our family with many hilarious moments, although I don’t think our eldest sees the funny side. Josh has taken to spying on his elder brother looking for the obvious signs of puberty. I have been subject to graphic descriptions of where and how the changes are occurring, other than just the obvious pimples on the nose.

What comes with puberty is harder to explain and talk about – the issue of teenage male sexuality is delicate but it’s important to make boys aware that testosterone has a major impact on their lives.

The constant physical changes are easier to understand when you realise that somewhere between the ages of 11 and 14 the levels of testosterone rise very quickly to the point that they will be 800% greater than when your son was a toddler. This not only explains the sudden growth spurts but the radical changes in personality – it’s a bit like upgrading the computer and adding some extra ram.

As a parent it is easy to talk about the increase in body hair or the voice breaking, but it’s harder to discuss the emotional changes, particularly when girls go from being “pretty yuck” to suddenly….. well, you get my drift.

Whilst trying to explain this to my boys, I found some good information that helps to describe the three kinds of attraction that they might feel:

LIKE – is more of a mind thing, having common interests,

LOVE – is more of a heart connection, warm, melting, intense feelings.

LUST  – is the danger area, more of a hot achy thing that you can’t go without.

At school our boys get taught all about the biological changes they are experiencing,  but somehow I just don’t see a male teacher being able to talk  appropriately to young men as to how they should treat women, unless he is a really sensitive new age guy.

So it’s really important that as parents we teach boys the importance of self control overall, and that it doesn’t just apply to relationships.

I asked a friend who has three sons of his own and has worked in this area of health how he explains hormones and self control to boys, as I was struggling to find a way to explain it in a fashion that they might understand.  He gave me some helpful Do’s and Don’t’s to share with my sons. It may sound a little corny, but he assures me these are basic messages that work.


  • Don’t allow your thoughts to get carried away.
  • Don’t be overbearing and dominating with females or anybody for that matter.
  • Don’t use your sexual side as an excuse to say ‘oh that’s just the way I’m made as a male.” You actually have a choice. You turn yourself on by the way you focus and think about women – to put it bluntly, don’t be led around by your genitals.
  • Don’t think sex is simply an act – it involves your body, soul and conscience.
  • Don’t be sucked in by the media’s portrayal of sex (i.e movies, videos and music clips).


  • Be gentle, caring, and loving.
  • Be sensitive to all people, including females.
  • Have good friends both male and female.
  • Acknowledge females are beautiful.
  • Acknowledge that you are attracted to them and that is OK.

As a parent, we also need to acknowledge that this is a work in progress.  Teaching respect and self-control will take many years – having an initial talk about these values is just one small step in the right direction.

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Dame Susan Devoy is New Zealand's Race Relations Commissioner, and a World Open champion squash player. She's the former CEO of Sport Bay of Plenty and super-mum to four boys.

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