In some respects, though, this might be a change for the better. Without anyone to provide context to my 8-year-old self for photo spreads like “Campus Cuties,” I was left to formulate my own ideas and impressions of women and how to regard them. I suspect I was not alone in this experience; many men my age still hold on to their adolescent attitudes towards sex—with women playing an almost secondary role—as a badge of their manhood, rather than an experience shared. Technology has allowed our 21st century boys to more easily access the kinds of things boys have always wanted to see, but it’s also enabled the more vigilant parent to confront these topics head on. Parents never could, and never will be able to, shield their children from the things they’re curious about. Plenty of kids are crafty enough to cover their tracks online. But the browser history may be the single best tool we have to start these conversations, to execute a kind of parental jiu-jitsu and turn these curiosities into something that strips taboo of its power.
“I guess the first thing I want to tell you,” I continued, “is that you didn’t do anything wrong. But you also can’t look at that stuff again, at least not now while you’re so young.”
Oscar, ever vigilant for continuity errors in a rule, asked why he couldn’t look at it again if it wasn’t wrong. I explained that “wrong” maybe wasn’t the best choice of words before clarifying that he didn’t do anything unusual or unexpected. He explained that he wasn’t even looking for that. The basement-dwelling gamer whose GTA video Oscar had been watching mentioned a website called bimbos.com, and he was curious what a bimbo was. He thought maybe it was a wild dog, or some kind of small monkey. When he’d found out the true meaning, though, he confessed to becoming much more curious.
“That’s totally normal,” I told him. “But you’re not ready for what you saw.”
Again, I was ill prepared to explain myself, and I asked him to give me a minute to figure out the right response. Did he need to know the seedy underbelly of the porn industry, the one that has former starlets telling horrible stories of being lied to or even forced on camera? Did he need to know how many billions of dollars the men behind the cameras generate while leaving those same women broke and alone, ostracized by a society that demands the product but shames them for participating? Should I confess my own history, regale him with stories of the olden days, when I'd tie up a phone line overnight so my 28.8 modem could download maybe 10 still pictures that I'd view the next day? Should I even use the word “history,” with its dishonest implications of some long-ago past?
“What you saw isn’t really sex,” I told him.
“It sure looked like—” he started to say, but I held my hand up in a way that he understands means, “Let me finish.”
“Look, you and I can go to the park, bring a baseball and our gloves and a bat. I can throw the ball and you can hit it, and then I can catch it, and we’re playing baseball, right?”
“But then we watch a Sox game, and we see that they’re playing on a completely different level. They’re hitting 100 mile per hour fastballs, and leaping over fences to make catches. That’s not the baseball you and I play, but it doesn’t make our game any less fun.”
Oscar just stared at me, quietly waiting for something that resembled a point.
“Those people you saw in the videos, they’re playing a whole different ballgame. It’s like Olympic-level sex, and I guess I don’t want you to expect that that’s what most people are doing.”
I told him that someday he was going to have his own sex, and I didn’t want him to be disappointed because his partner didn’t jump right into the things he saw in those videos. That taking it slow and having a connection were important pieces of the process. I also didn’t want him to hold himself to impossible standards that would only diminish his enjoyment. He needed to understand that there were lights, cameras, editing, and Viagra, all creating the illusion of non-stop action. A feeling of pride began to bubble up inside me; I was Superdad, able to leap impossible subjects in a single bound. He could tell me anything, and I'd listen without judgment, respond with patience and, above all, honesty. We didn’t have to hide from each other, I decided.
“Real sex is so much better than that,” I told him. “I enjoy watching the Red Sox, too, but I'd much rather play the game myself. It's way more enjoyable, and nothing compares to the real thing. Make sense?”
Oscar nodded quickly, almost frantically, then added, “Can we stop talking about this now?”
"Sure, we can stop. Are you embarrassed?" I asked.
“A little,” he said, “But mostly I don’t want to hear how much you like sex.”