10/31/2011 06:36 pm ET

Raising Sensually Aware Sons

I was recently perusing the aisles of Victoria's Secrets on a buying trip for my daughter. I was in the PINK section (read: teen VS), looking for age-appropriate panties (not too sexy, but not too childish) for my budding woman/child, and trying to figure out exactly at what point low-rise actually became synonymous with Band-aid, when a woman walked through the front door with her son.

The mom looked to be in her late 30s and her son, I'd say somewhere between 10 and 12. Hand-in-hand they stepped past the hoodies and sweats; boy shorts, bikinis and thongs adorned with hearts and puppies, and just as they are about to cross the threshold into grown and sexy land, the woman yanked him back and said, "Close your eyes, there are ladies' unmentionables in here." She then proceeded to pull this poor boy through the store and up to the cashier's desk to take care of her return.

Okay, so you know I stood there clutching a handful of cotton with that baffled "what's the big deal?" look sprayed across my face. I mean, we weren't in a sex shop or at a nude fashion show or even the VS Angels Fashion Show for that matter. We were in underwear store -- albeit one that highlights sexuality over functionality and caters to those who adore the feel of satin and lace on their skin -- but an underwear store nonetheless. I watched and couldn't help but think, Well, there's another man, some future woman is going to have to train.

Instead of making her son close his eyes like he was at some kind or dirty little peep show, why not let him take in the wonderment of ladies lingerie, and grab this as an opportunity to teach him how to appropriately admire ladies and their sensual ways, beginning with the idea that his mama is a woman? I recognize that these kind of talks can be tough, but I have always found that it's the matter-of-fact, age appropriate message that makes it so much easier to speak about and listen to.

"What are you laughing at?"
"There's no butt in those underwear."
"Well, I guess they do look a little funny, but they have a purpose. When ladies wear them under their pants or skirts, you don't see the lines of their panties."
"What are those?"
"Garter belts. Some women use them to hold up their stockings instead of wearing pantyhose."
"I'm glad boys don't have to wear that kind of stuff."
"Well, boys don't have breasts so they don't need bras and they wear different kinds of pants so they don't need the same kind of undergarments. Besides I like wearing them."
"Because they make me feel pretty and special."

I pretty much had this exact conversation with my son, who is now nearly 22. Over the years we've had a multitude of conversations ranging from don't diss the third grade girl who likes you but you don't like (she's brave because she had the courage to tell you how she felt and risk being rejected. Even if you don't like her, in that way, you're fortunate that someone likes you, so be nice and kind); to oral sex (oral sex is SEX and all sex is mutual and reciprocal, so don't expect any woman to do for you what you won't do for her); to girls who cry (there is a difference between a girl who cries to manipulate you and one who is genuinely distressed. Recognize the difference, treat both gently, but understand that Miss Drama-Is-Her-Middle-Name, is going to be more trouble in the long run).

Talking is always good, and the mother-to-son conversation is especially important. Ladies, it's our job as mothers to counter the asinine and inappropriate media messages our sons receive and teach them to respect and admire women, even in their underwear. We have to help them understand body image and that the airbrushed bodies they covet in those videos and magazines aren't the bodies of most real women and even if their young adult bodies do start out that way, age, childbirth, hormones etc. will alter that temporary perfection. They need to understand the difference between sexy women and tempting tramps, and to respect themselves enough to walk away from what may be readily available but potentially troublesome. You need to show by example that smart and confident is the kind of sexy that is true and lasting.

Come on moms, help an up-and-coming sister out. Talk to and teach your sons to be a respectful, responsible, tender, appreciative boyfriend, lover, and husband for the lucky girl out there who will eventually be his.