A small Southern town.
Two young boys looking for things to do,
a summertime of freedom spread in front of them,
“What’s ‘molested’ mean?” Riley was washing his bike. I was doing the same with mine. We’d ridden out to the river, making sure none of the older boys were there, and after a joyful romp in the water and then letting the sun dry us off, we’d ridden back. OK, maybe we did a little more out there, more of the sort of thing we’d learned about by watching those boys, but that’s kind of private stuff, you know? We learned something new, however. Being outside with a chance of being caught just adds to the excitement.
There’d been puddles on the dirt road from the early morning rain. We’d had to ride through them. We just did. Now we were washing our bikes. Some of that mud had clay in it, which is why the puddles were still there in the afternoon. That clay seemed to be water-resistant. A lot of it was putting up an objection to being washed off.
“Molested? I think it’s kind of dirty. Somethin’ having to do with sex. Where’d you hear that?”
He stopped washing to move to the shade, taking the hose with him. We were using it to rinse off what we washed, and to run over ourselves now and then, too. We were in our backyard where no one could see us and were working in the same clothes we’d swum in. We’d been skinny dipping, of course. If you were a boy, that’s what you did in that river.
He ran the hose over himself, sort of shivered a little, and sat down to rest. Washing those bikes was hard work.
“I heard two men at the gas station talking. They were talking about those two boys who went missing last week, then showed up again yesterday. One of them said something about them being molested, and one of the men laughed and said, “Lucky boys!”
I knew about that gas station. It was where we got our bicycle tires filled with air when they went soft or to buy a Dr Pepper out of their machine in front. Sometimes, a few old men gathered there just to shoot the breeze. There were a few rickety chairs set outside under one of the elm trees, and you could hear all kinds of things if you were paying attention while filling your tires. I’d learned some words I was careful not to say when Ma could hear. I’d also learned to stay away from those men. Some of them . . . the way they looked at you . . .
I had an idea of what molested meant, but I wasn’t sure. I was going to ask Ma, but then wondered if maybe asking Pa would be better. He sometimes said things a little straighter than she did. She’d talk around things that she said were adult stuff, and I was often more in the dark when she was done than before I’d asked. I think that was her point. Pa usually wasn’t so careful. I asked him about that, too, and he said Ma kinda thought boys were delicate. He winked at me and said we knew better, didn’t we?
So I waited till he came home that night and was reading the paper. Ma was doing the dishes. Riley was spending the night again, just as he did most nights in the summer, and we were up in my room, playing video games. I hit pause and said, “Let’s go talk to Pa.”
Riley set down his controller, and we rumbled down the stairs and went in and sat on the sofa; Pa looked up when we didn’t say anything. “What’s up, guys?” he asked.
“Got something to ask,” I said.
He looked at me a little oddly. “So ask. When did you get shy?” He chuckled, and I grinned.
“Well . . .” I said, then stopped. Somehow I knew this was not simply one of the hundreds of questions I was always asking. This was different. But in for a penny, as I’d heard Pa himself say. “Riley heard something at the gas station today and asked me, and I wasn’t sure but didn’t think I should ask Ma about it. So I wanted to ask you.”
Pa folded up his paper and sat up a little straighter. “OK. Shoot.”
So I did. “Pa, one of the men said those boys that went missing for a time last week had been molested, and one of the men laughed. We’re not sure what that means or why the man would laugh.”
Pa nodded. “Your ma and I figured we’d need to talk to you about this. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to, which is why I haven’t done it already. But you’re old enough. It’s just a little hard to do is all. Riley, has your mom talked to you any about sex? About how babies are made?”
Riley shook his head, but his eyes were open wider than usual. I almost grinned, but I was sort of like that myself—excited. “No, sir,” Riley said.
“I’m not sure I should be talking about this with you, then. This is the sort of thing parents are supposed to talk to their kids about.”
“Oh, it’s alright, sir. Really.”
I almost laughed. Pa almost did, too. He gave Riley a close look, studying his eagerness, I’m sure.
He took a deep breath. “I suppose there’s no harm in you listening in when I talk to Travis. We can all pretend I didn’t know you were listening should anything be said. Okay?”
Riley nodded. I grinned and then to get the ball rolling said, “Sure, Pa.”
“Okay, then. Do you guys know about sex, about babies and all?”
He was looking at me, so I answered. “We’ve heard some talk at school, on the playground, but no, not really. Not told by anyone we can believe. The sex education we’ve had so far has been mostly about us boys respecting the girls and washing ourselves if we stunk. I never did see what that was all about.”
“Well, it’s past time you were informed. I’m sure you’ve got an idea about this.
“A baby gets made by a man and a woman having sex. The man has an erection, what you guys probably call a boner or a stiffy. When he has sex with a woman, he slides that inside her and moves it in and out of her sex part, which is called her vagina. This feels good and ends in him and hopefully her having what’s called an orgasm. For him, that’s when he ejaculates, which means stuff shoots out of his penis and into the woman. The stuff is called semen. It’s a whitish fluid and contains sperm. Sperm are the father’s part of making a baby. The sperm connects with an egg in the mother and fertilizes the egg. The egg grows into a baby, and nine months later, the baby gets born.”
I nodded. “I’d heard some of that.” I said. I didn’t want to talk much in case he was still going to say more.
He was. “Okay. Sex feels good, and so men and women like to do it, but it’s a private thing. They do it when they’re alone.
“Now, you’ve heard about puberty, probably, as well. Puberty is the name of the period of time when a boy is becoming able to have sex, to have an orgasm, to create semen and sperm. There’s a lot more to it than that, but that’s part of it. When puberty comes, the urge to have orgasms becomes pretty strong. But boys need to be careful, because they’re not ready to be fathers. Yet they still want those orgasms because they feel so good. So nature found a way for those boys to have those orgasms without having babies. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
I glanced at Riley, and he was blushing. I thought maybe I was, too. Pa was watching us, and he laughed.
“OK, so you do know. That’s called masturbation, but boys usually call it jacking off or jerking off or playing with yourself or a number of other things that all mean the same thing. It’s you making yourself have an orgasm using your hand or some other means to excite your erection. Most boys learn how to do this pretty early, often before they can make sperm yet. They have what are commonly called dry orgasms. Eventually, they begin to make wet ones. I want you boys to know, there’s nothing wrong with doing this. All boys do it, even if some say they don’t. They all do. But like all sex, it’s private—should be private.”
I was wriggling a little. I was embarrassed but still excited, too. I’d never heard any of this said so matter-of-factly. Pa didn’t seem a bit embarrassed.
“Now,” he said, moving on, “you asked about those boys and what molested means. You need to know, some adults like to have sex with boys. It’s very wrong, it’s illegal, and the men or women that do it go to jail for a long time when they’re caught. But it still happens. That’s what happened to those two boys. They were kidnapped, and the man who took them, well, I don’t know any details, but I’ve heard sexual things occurred. If sex is forced on someone the word for that is ‘molested’. Someone is being molested if they’re forced to participate in or are subject to unwanted sex.
“Just what happened with those boys hasn’t been reported yet and may never be as it’s private, and the boys’ parents probably don’t want any of it made public.”
He stopped, and I couldn’t help myself. I had questions, and I needed to ask them!
“What sexual things can a man do with a boy?” I asked.
“Just touching him in a sexual way, for one. Undressing him, touching his private parts. Making the boy touch the man’s parts. Since two boys were taken, maybe he had the boys touch each other while he watched. There are many things that are sexual in nature and that can be done. But anything he made the boys do, things they wouldn’t have wanted to do or wouldn’t have done without him telling them to—all those things are molestation. A man should not do those things with a boy or boys.
“Now, what else do you want to ask?”
“Well, you said sex feels good. So, did this molestation feel good to those boys?”
“That’s a good question. See, sex is complicated. It can feel good and still be wrong. Maybe the boys liked some of it; maybe they were scared and were forced into what happened. Some men like to do things that hurt boys. So I can’t really answer that specifically with those boys. Maybe they did enjoy some or all of it, but then felt guilty afterward. Or maybe things were done that were very painful.
“But whether it felt good or not, it shouldn’t have happened, and the man will be in trouble when they catch him. The thing you need to think about regarding sex is: you should never force someone to do it with you, and no one should ever force you to do it. That’s the thing to remember.”
Riley was looking worried, so Pa said, “Riley, something’s on your mind, and you’d better ask because, otherwise, you’ll just fret about it. What is it?”
“Well… what if two boys do it together and like it and want to do it some more? Is that alright? Are they molesting each other?”
Pa nodded. “That’s another great question. You can see already that sex is kind of complicated. Your question is difficult to answer because different people have different ideas about what’s okay and what isn’t. Some adults feel masturbation is wrong. Some people feel sex is only appropriate for men and women and then only if they’re married and it’s only being done to produce a baby. Most people don’t think that way. Many people feel sex is okay as long as both people agree to have it, but it should only be people of the opposite sex. Others think it’s fine for same-sex couples to have it. So that’s why it’s a difficult question to answer. Not everyone would agree with my opinion of what’s right and wrong.”
OK, I wasn’t going to let him get away with that! I wanted an answer to Riley’s question, and Pa hadn’t answered it. I knew how to get an answer, too!
“But Pa, I don’t care what a whole lot of other people think. I want to know what you think. I trust you.”
Pa laughed again. “Travis, why did I guess you’d come up with that? I guess I know you pretty well, huh?”
I smiled at him but didn’t say nothing. I left my question there for him to answer.
“All right. What I think? I think sex is fun. It feels good, and exciting, and once you begin, it’s something you want to do over and over again throughout your lifetime. I don’t think sex is only to make babies. I think it’s a way for couples to show each other that they love them, an intimate way where they show they care about their partner and want to please them.
“I also think it’s a private thing and that couples should reserve it only for each other, and not have it with anyone but their partner. But a lot of people don’t think that way. They think even if they’re committed to a partner, it’s okay to have sex with anyone they can.
“As far as for boys, like you two, well, you’re too young to be having adult sex but probably not too young to be masturbating. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with boys doing that, even with other boys. I’ve read that most boys do that at some time in their lives. I think it’s a good way to learn about their own bodies. Also, nature seems to agree, because most boys your age and younger tend to find boys more attractive than girls. Mostly that changes as they grow older. But some males only like males even when they’re adults. Those men are called homosexuals, or gays.”
“Is that okay?” I asked. “Guys at school, especially the ones who go to church, say gays are bad or sinful. They make fun of boys by calling them gay.”
“That’s another of those questions that different people would answer in different ways. You’ll find as you grow older that there are more and more questions like that. Many of them, you have to decide the answer for yourselves, what makes sense to you, what seems right to you. I hope you’ll always do the right things, Travis. That’s what makes you a good person, doing the things you know are right, and not doing things you know are wrong.
“Anyway, my answer is, if your preference is for a same-sex partner, that’s no one’s business but your own. I don’t think it’s wrong at all. It’s just the way nature made you.”
I had more questions, of course. “You said Riley and I were too young to have sex, but jacking off is okay. Isn’t masturbation sex? You said we were old enough to do that.”
“I guess when I said too young for sex, I meant sex that involved putting your erection inside someone. That’s adult sex. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with masturbation and even with other things you’ll think of to try, but I don’t think boys your age are ready for much more than masturbation.”
“How come you’re not embarrassed by talking about this?” I asked.
“Sex is just part of life, Travis. It’s not been a part of your life yet, or if it has it’s only been recently. But some parts of life are private. Sex is one of those. It doesn’t get talked about openly much. But there’s nothing dirty about it, no more than scratching an itch, or burping. It’s just something our bodies are made to do. I want you to feel able to ask me anything you want to know. That’s what dads should be able to do for their sons. Now, let’s talk about those two boys again.”
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