My teenage son has an epispadias. He is 15 and popular and becoming quite handsome. He is shy around girls and I wonder if his epispadias is the reason. I want to talk to him about this but can’t find the words. We are a pretty open family but I am sure you understand how sensitive this topic would be for any teen. Any suggestions?

Dr. Tiger Responds:

Anyone with a genital difference is going to have that difference first and foremost in mind when considering intimate and sexual relationships. You don’t have to guess why your son with epispadias is shy around girls. Talking about this is very emotional since shame, rejection, fear of loneliness, humiliation, and loss of privacy (the big secret his peers don’t know about) are all at risk. Anyone who approaches your son will have to be talking a lot about all these fears before he will be able or willing to validate them as his own. As a parent, you have to be sensitive to realizing who your son is closest to and would be able to open up to about all this. It may take several attempts making it clear that you (or the trusted adult) is ready to be helpful, but it will often include the adult saying all the things the teen can’t say first, since he is struggling with the words as much as you are. Telling him his story makes it easier to admit to it, and makes it clear that he isnt alone with that understanding and that set of fears. Offering that the teen might be able to talk, at least online, to an adult through HEA who has been through similar issues (somebody like me to whom he won’t have to explain all this!) may also be a great relief. Peer to peer can be very powerful, but only after a loving parent has made it clear that its safe to have those conversations.