By Ololade Hector-Fowobaje
Recently, my 11 year old son not knowing about erections asked me one morning, “Mummy, why is my penis hard and sticking out?” He can come to me and ask anything because I won’t ever laugh at his questions, I will always answer his questions and never show shock or displeasure about whatever he asks me which are all very important in effective communication with children.
Plus, I had started age-appropriate sex-education with him years back, so he would find it easy-peazy to ask sexuality questions as puberty sets in.
I said to him, in a calm tone, eye-to-eye, “It’s called an erection and they are perfectly normal.” I explained that the penis is filled with more blood from his body at this time. Boys get erections (a stiff penis) at any age, but during puberty he will start having them more often and it happens to all boys and men too.
I told him he’s at that puberty stage now and it shows he is developing properly. I further explained that puberty is the time when his body grows into a man’s body. Puberty starts with a change in one’s hormones and because of a change in these hormones released from the brain, boys’ testicles start making testosterone.
Testosterone is the main hormone that starts the changes that takes place when boys go through puberty. Boys may start puberty as early as age 9 years or as late as age 14. Usually, it takes 3 to 4 years for a boy’s body to make the changes to a man’s body.”
How does one know when puberty has started?
The first thing you may notice is pubic hair. Soon after pubic hair starts growing in the area around the penis, the penis will get longer and thicker. The testicles will also get bigger. The testicles make semen or sperm too. The testicles are in the scrotum, which is the sac of loose skin below the penis. As a boy matures, the scrotum will hang lower and get looser. Hair will grow in the pubic area, underarms and on the legs. Body odour may develop so a shower often and the use of a deodorant will become necessary.
A boy’s voice will change. This takes awhile. Before the voice gets deeper, it may go through a squeaky period. Boys may get embarrassed by it, but it usually doesn’t last more than 6 months. Testosterone will make their muscles bigger and stronger even if they don’t increase their physical activity. Towards the end of puberty, there will be a growth spurt. Boys may grow 4 to 6 inches taller in one year. Beards will start to grow. Hair may also grow on the chest, stomach, and back.
So, I told my son, “Your erections are perfectly normal and all part of growing up. Do you understand? Any other question?”
He said, “Yes. What do I do when it happens when people are around? It’s embarrassing!”
“Peeing, focusing your attention on something else or doing a different physical activity, like running or taking a cold shower, can help make an erection go away,” I replied.
A friend and her son had a similar conversation and her son added that he also feels like that when he sees people kissing on TV. If your child says a similar thing when you have this chat, don’t be shaken, rather take the information you give him a notch higher. Say, his body is also preparing him for reproduction as a father someday, that it’s a natural feeling to have. However, do tell that he should do his best to avoid situations that will trigger such feelings because there is a time for everything.
When we give children factual yet age-appropriate information on their sexuality, they will be informed and have the right frame-of-reference to draw from when faced with inevitable questionable and misleading information from their friends and the media. Without correct information, children get unnecessarily anxious and put themselves at great risks. Remember, sexuality education is a calm-toned, factual, informative and persuasive teaching aimed at helping a child understand his body and the changes he is going through, and ultimately shaping his sexuality values.