Interview with Howard Schiffer

Yesterday I spoke with Howard Schiffer, author of How to be the Best Lover: A guide for teenage boys. I wrote about Howard’s book several days ago. Here is our conversation:

K: Can you explain why you wrote How to be the Best Lover: A guide for teenage boys?
H: Because I felt like I had to. My son was 13, and I thought, wait a second, he’s getting this horrible view of women, all that’s out there is his friends and the media. And since the book was written, what’s been interesting to me is that people are so scared in this country. People don’t realize that’s it’s really all about connections. And what I see from the kids is that they get it instantly get it: where I was coming from and that it was written for them. There are kids who hadn’t spoken to me for years and they read the book, and then they come up and tell me that it’s a great book.

K: And what about your experiences as a teenage boy? Did you feel that you had enough information?
H: My teenage experience was horrible. It was a lot of the motivation for writing the book – wanting to get it right and redo my past.

I was with older boys who saw girls as objects. Young boys were finding porn and passing that around. They were looking at these little cartoon books that were really pornographic, they were just about screwing and they were about women as objects. And the whole focus when I was 13 or 14 was all about when you were going to get laid. And if someone had a girlfriend, the only thing was that they might be able to get some.

And so my whole experience was horrible. It was just about the sex, there wasn’t any connection there. And the experiences felt bad. They weren’t satisfying. They weren’t anything I felt good about. There was a lot of shame involved.

I knew that sometime my dad was going to come talk to me about sex. And all of a sudden one day he was in the dinning room with me and my mom disappeared into the kitchen. And he asked, “So let’s talk about sex.” And I had my answer ready, I said, “Okay, what do you want to know?” And he was so scared, so taken aback, he said “Oh,” and that was all.

It was the same with Austin [my son, when he was 13]; he asked why we needed to talk about sex. We were going to talk over a period time while kind of going through this book, but he said he had already read the book. So if I hadn’t really wanted this conversation to happen, it wouldn’t have. I told him that this [sexual awakening] is something that everybody goes through and nobody wants to talk about it

Even in California, even in 2007, even in men’s groups where guys are really trying to open up, guys just don’t want to talk about if their girls like to have oral sex

K: How was Austin’s experience with sexual awakening?
H: Austin has been with two serious girlfriends. His second serious girlfriend, he was about 17, started sleeping over. She lived about an hour away, and would sometimes spend the night in the guest bedroom. Then there was one weekend when it was late, they were watching a movie, and everyone else went to sleep. For some reason, I don’t remember why, all the other beds were taken, including the guest bed. And so Austin and his girlfriend ended up sleeping together that night. The next morning I said to one of my younger girls, “Where’s Austin and his girlfriend?” and she said, “Oh, they’re still asleep.” And it just came out of this very natural situation. The bonus was that we got to have them in the house. They woke up and we got to have breakfast together. It was just a chance we got to have it be normal.

So there’s been a tremendous transition for me in this whole process, getting to give this knowledge to my children who are getting what I didn’t have.

K: How have your experiences with and around this book played into your perception and beliefs about sex education?
H: If all you’re getting is from your friends and the Internet, it’s not okay. Because you’re like, “What is all this?” and you have to go try it out to figure out what it really is. But if someone is really giving you real information, you’re able to say, “Well, maybe I don’t actually want to be giving someone a blow job right now.” But if you give them this glorified fantasy they want to go try it out. Most of the information hovers right between “don’t do it” and “just do it.” The reality is that there is a tremendous biological imperative to have sex. So you can’t just say don’t do it, you have to talk about it. And the liaise-faire parents are completely ripping off their kids by saying, “Well, they’re just going to go do it” because there’s no guidance there. I ask parents “Do you want your kids going into a sex education class taught by a 14 year old?”

The thing is, with teenagers now, there’s more illusion out there because the Internet is so prevalent. They’re under this idea, I have a 15-year-old daughter, and she thinks she knows everything. They think that because they’ve seen some porn or something on the Internet and they don’t get that it’s really about this connection thing. And they’ll spend years before they figure it out, the way I did.

K: Tell me about the book you suggest reading after this one, it’s called First Love?
H: It’s a collection of people’s first times. It really helps young people awaken to the fact that it’s just not always nice. A lot of the people I interviewed realized the first time they were naked in front of someone else how naked they really felt. And past being naked, they don’t realize how vulnerable it is, for girls definitely, and I think probably for guys. And they way guys deal with it is they just stuff it all, and they can’t talk about how weird it is because no one is talking about it. So this book shows them some of those things.

K: Have you considered writing a similar book for teenage girls?
H: I have thought about it, I have been asked to do it. I honestly have just run out of money and time. The other two books were really done because I felt like they had to be done, and I haven’t made any money on them. What I’ve found is that girls really like Best Lover for boys, and so I think there would be a market for a guide for girls.

K: Thank you for talking with us, Howard.
H: Thank you for doing what you’re doing. I am always so encouraged to see people getting real information out there.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.

1 Comment

  1. So, Karen, are you ready to write the book How to be the Best Love: A Guide for teenage girls? Or, would you title it something different? I don’t the the translation works very respectfully!

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