No-Sweat, Easy Chats about Erections during Puberty

Dec 10, 2021

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Young teen boy has an untimely erection during a class presentation.

The good news? Boys have been getting erections since the time they were babies. They already know what they are and how it feels, which makes your job easier. But much like girls and periods, boys should know that erections during puberty are normal and will happen more often.

Boys will have other questions too. How to hide untimely erections, ejaculate and wet dreams, and pleasurable feelings that come with erections are all things that these boys need to learn to navigate.

Erections are often joked about in a crude way and there are lots of different words and phrases to describe them. While there’s much that can be found amusing during these moments, we think there’s a balance. Encourage your son to find the right balance in his language when talking about erections. It helps our brains make distinctions between the pleasure that penises can provide with the responsibility of wise use.

Erections during puberty

An erection is when the penis hardens, gets bigger and stands up away from the body. This happens because the spongy tissue inside of the penis fills with blood. 

Like many bodily functions, erections start in the brain. The brain processes a smell, thought, image, or feeling and the nerves respond by sending chemical signals to the blood vessels in the penis. The penis reacts by doing exactly what the brain told it to do — become erect.

Fluctuating hormones during puberty can make erections happen more often. But there’s a wide range of normal. Some young men may get many erections a day while others rarely experience them. 

Erections go away in two ways: through waiting or through ejaculation.

Ejaculation & wet dreams

There are many parts to the male anatomy that work together to cause ejaculation. But to put it simply, ejaculation is when an erect penis releases semen, which is a sticky fluid that contains sperm.

Once ejaculation starts it means your son is physically capable of fathering a child. The average age ejaculation starts among boys is 13 years old1 although it’s also normal to start earlier or later than this.

I don’t know about you, but I personally am unaware of a single 13-year-old boy that is ready to become a dad. This is where distinctions between the pleasure that penises can provide with the responsibility of wise use really come into play. Open conversations help a lot here.

Ejaculation can also happen during sleep. This is called a wet dream or nocturnal emission and it is often a boy’s first experience with ejaculation. Your son should know that it will happen to him too and that it’s not something he can control. Wet dreams commonly happen during puberty. They may be pretty regular for a while until hormones calm down in the later teen years. 

Wet dreams leave behind a sticky mess. Teach your son that he’s responsible for taking care of it by tossing clothes and sheets in the wash. He should also get in the shower to wash off the residue left behind.

Hiding unexpected erections

Erections during puberty can be unpredictable. It may happen after obvious sexual stimulation — a thought, image, touch — or it may happen for no clear reason at all. This can be particularly embarrassing for a young man in public. If your son suddenly won’t move off of the couch, give him a minute. There may be a reason he’s unwilling to stand up.

It’s not easy to hide an erection, but there’s some common sense things that can help out. Your son may need a few ideas to see what works for him.

  • He can hold a jacket or backpack in front of his body.
  • Using his hand through a front pocket, he can adjust his penis to a less noticeable position, like tucked under his waistband. 
  • If he’s standing, he can sit down since it’s less noticeable when seated. 
  • He can wear loose jeans and untucked shirts.
  • He can wear underclothes that don’t accidently rub across the penis during movement and stimulate to an erection.
  • He can excuse himself to the bathroom.
  • If he has something cold, like a water bottle or drink, he can hold that against his stomach to help reverse the blood flow.
  • Feelings of arousal have difficulty coexisting with feelings of frustration, anxiety and stress. Thinking about something stressful may be helpful in reversing blood flow.

Are erections bad?

Erections during puberty can be troubling for some teens, but erections are just a normal part of growing up.

Some families and cultures have conservative sexual values that sometimes leave kids feeling confused about the sexual feelings they are experiencing. In these families, parents need to explain the difference between natural physiological responses of the body and actively trying to become sexually aroused. 

Clarify that erections mean the body is behaving exactly how it was designed to behave. There’s nothing wrong with this body response. In fact, sexual pleasure and intimacy — intercourse — is a wonderful part of future committed relationships.

A person’s sexual values influence when it’s acceptable to actively try to become sexually aroused or act on sexual arousal. It’s important for kids and young teens to decide these values and limits for themselves as they develop their own moral compass. Parents can influence sexual values by being open and honest in conversation with their son.

Talking about masturbation

Masturbation, or self pleasuring, is when a person touches, rubs or visually stimulates through pornography their own body parts to become sexually aroused or to achieve orgasm. Since masturbation generally happens in private, you may or may not be aware if your son is masturbating.

Crude jokes about and obsessive focus on masturbation are a big part of sex ed edutainment — a form of entertainment produced to educate as well as amuse. Whether Netflix, MTV, Hulu, NBC or just plain YouTube, this type of sexual edutainment is everywhere and produced with teen viewers in mind. While this edutainment certainly brings sexual topics to light for its viewers, it may not portray them in a way that aligns with your family values.

Despite how popular opinion or media influences attitudes about masturbation, a person’s sexual values help them determine if or when masturbation is acceptable for themselves.

Personal experiences with self-touch, comments from friends, and entertainment media may influence your son to explore masturbation in some way.

Be candid in talking to your son about this issue and share your own sexual values regarding it. Ultimately it’s something he needs to decide for himself, and being open and straightforward about the topic will help him figure it out.

  1. Laron Z, Arad J, Gurewitz R, Grunebaum M, Dickerman Z. Age at first conscious ejaculation: a milestone in male puberty. Helv Paediatr Acta. 1980 Mar; 35(1):13-20. PMID: 6106006.