There are no religious or other prejudices against / bans on onanism, so this is not an issue. It's just about the awkwardness of the situation.

This happened some time ago and I still wonder what I should/could have done better.


Bob is a relative of mine around the age of puberty. I am about ten years his senior.

I was visiting another relative during holidays, so were Bob and his family. When I arrived, no cars were parked outside, so I thought nobody was at home. Unbeknownst to me, the others had left for while, except for Bob.

I went to one of the bedrooms to store my luggage and swiftly opened the door. Bob hadn't heard my steps and was masturbating. For sure, I was quite surprised when I saw him and he was startled. I immediately closed the door and went into the other bedroom.

He kept some distance from me for the rest of our stay, as if he was ashamed (blushing when he became aware of me, avoiding eye contact etc.). Apart from that, we interacted normally, so no one else probably noticed something. My reaction was to not talk about the incident and act, as if nothing had happened.


My goal is for Bob to feel comfortable and not ashamed and to get over it soon.

I do not have a problem with what he did and don't think, that we should make a mountain out of a molehill. But I got the feeling, that for Bob it must have been very uncomfortable, because I "caught" him literally pants down and he is a bit shy (I imagine it would have been easier had a male relative surprised him).

What would have been a good response to the incident?

I'm not sure, if my reaction (acting as if nothing had happened) was the best. What are better approaches to ease Bob's pain?

On a note: Since he is not part of my immediate family, we see each other irregularly.

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    @Mari-LouA The door was locked from the outside, but openable from the inside. Oct 10, 2017 at 8:05
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    @Fildor Regarding your other question: I tried to imagine that (and that's why I put the gender tag there) and I feel that the situations are a bit different: What would you think about a grown-up male talking to an underage girl about masturbation? Oct 10, 2017 at 8:24
  • 1
    "What would you think about a grown-up male talking to an underage girl about masturbation?" - Yeah, that doesn't really work, does it ... But I think you maybe could try to take his place regardless of gender (and I guess you tried that).
    – Fildor
    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:26
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    @ーーー Your comments were deleted with a single flag because they contain keywords that the site deems inappropriate. Even if that weren't the case, they do not serve the purpose of comments. If you would like to discuss things take it to Interpersonal Skills Chat. Comments are for asking for clarification, not for writing answers or chatting about preferences for self-gratification.
    – Catija
    Oct 12, 2017 at 2:36

13 Answers 13


You could try to find a moment to speak to him in private and say something along the lines of:

Hey, sorry for walking in on you earlier. It's a perfectly normal thing you were doing.

But anyway, [some excuse to leave / change the subject].

The intended message here is "it's not a big deal".

  • Don't drag out the above words or put too much emotion into them - just say it quickly in passing like it's no big deal
  • Don't explicitly ask for forgiveness with something like "can you forgive me?"
  • Don't go into any more detail
  • Don't explicitly say you won't speak about it again
  • Don't explicitly say the words "it's not a big deal"

Doing any of the above would all make it seem like a much bigger deal.

I'd probably suggest trying to change the subject instead of making an excuse to leave, as that makes it even less of a big deal (as it might seem like you actually started the conversation to speak about the second thing) and can propel you back towards the way you used to interact (because you're putting normal conversation right beside the awkward one, to emphasise that you can just go back to normal). Even if you just ask something silly and everyday like "have you seen the cat".

As an alternative to "It's a perfectly normal thing you were doing", you can try a bit of a light-hearted approach and say "I can't even remember what you were doing".

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    I personally lean a bit more toward acting as if nothing happened, but I thought I'd put my preferred way to approach a potential conversation here in case someone finds that useful.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 12, 2017 at 2:28
  • Your example and your bullet points seem to be partly contradictory to me. And: "We all do it, you know?" - Now Bob has an image of his aunty in his head that he most probably does not want to have there ... :D
    – Fildor
    Oct 12, 2017 at 8:42
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    @Fildor Some of the bullet points are more serious versions of my example or pitfalls to avoid, as in you should say "sorry", but you shouldn't say "can you forgive me", or you should imply "it's not a big deal", but you shouldn't explicitly say it.
    – NotThatGuy
    Oct 12, 2017 at 16:44
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    "It's a perfectly normal thing you were doing" - If it were me, I would have felt even worse. Feb 2, 2018 at 14:45
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    Personally, I would omit the "It's a perfectly normal thing you were doing.". It creates awkwardness instead of resolving it, because you bring up the "shameful" event and directly refer to it. Bob likely feels ashamed and at your mercy (you might reveal it to others, he can't stop you from doing so if you wanted to). By focusing on the apology; you telegraph to Bob that you feel at his mercy for invading his privacy (the same way you would if he had been sleeping). If Bob understands that you feel awkward (and at fault) too; he might let go of his own awkward feelings about it.
    – Flater
    Feb 16, 2018 at 10:34

The person who should be embarrassed is not Bob, but you because you walked into somebody's bedroom that had a closed door, …and swiftly opened the door.

Edited (see comments below): Yes, you were visiting and you were a guest and thought nobody was home, but you doublecheck. Someone might have been napping when you entered without knocking or calling out their name. Instead, you caught Bob masturbating, when he thought he was alone. Which is a perfectly healthy and normal behavior for teenagers of both sexes, but a little less so in somebody's home.

Next time you see Bob, be the one to apologize.

Bob, I just wanted to say how sorry I am for what happened last [date/period]. Can you please forgive me for being a true klutz?

This will shift the responsibility onto yourself, and help alleviate some of Bob's natural embarrassment.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Catija
    Oct 12, 2017 at 0:02
  • The person who should be embarrassed is not Bob I would guess the majority of humans throughout history would be embarrased in that situation. From an ethical stand point, yes, Bob wasn't in the wrong. However, prescribing the "correct" emotion that goes counter to what most would consider a normal reaction is just absurd. Feb 27, 2023 at 16:36

Acting as if nothing has happened is the best reaction for me.

As I comment, masturbating is a "perfectly natural, normal thing". The reference came from the movie "American Pie", where Jim's dad stumble across Jim masturbating, and he tried to make an apology and educate his son at the same time, which is pretty awkward and embarrassing.

Just move on. Since Bob is at the age of puberty, you further mentioned the incident might giving him impression of "I am here to talk about the incident and judge your behavior". He might overthink the issue and cause even more problem. Besides, he probably hope you will just forget the incident and act as if never happen.

Furthermore, approach him for a talk will gain nothing but even more embarrassment. He is aware of the awkwardness, and the least thing to do is make it even awkward.

So, move on.

  • I think this is best because its following Bob's lead. The OP assumes avoiding eye contact and blushing is a sign of personal shame but it could just be the simple, normal embarrassment at having her barge into his room and seeing him maturate. Trying to make him talk to her about it will just drag it on and potentially make it more uncomfortable.
    – user61524
    Oct 14, 2017 at 7:31
  • Agreed, if Bob actually wants to talk about it he will likely bring it up eventually. Otherwise it's probably best to move on like nothing happened Nov 1, 2017 at 16:24

This may sound a little blunt, but it's what I'd do...

Pull the lad aside. Tell him, "Hey, it's okay. There is no problem. And we will never, ever discuss it again. Now give Auntie a hug and then scat, sprat."

Except ... I guess I'd be Uncle, not Auntie.

Update: I'll mention in the notes below there is a lot of back-and-forth about whether a hug in this scenario is a good idea. This part is entirely dependent on what your family is like. Some fams are big huggers. Some ain't. OP or anyone in a similar situation -- how often does this come up, anyway? -- will have to be aware of pre-existing hug dynamics.

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    Why would you do this? Answers need to support themselves and explain why they are good solutions. If you've been in this situation before, feel free to share your experience. If you have not, explain why you think this is appropriate. You've mentioned some of this explanation in your comments... please don't leave it there - add it and any other detail to your answer.
    – Catija
    Oct 10, 2017 at 20:50
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Catija
    Oct 12, 2017 at 2:36
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    I think it would be awkward to follow up such a conversation with a hug, even if the family is big on hugging. The boy is shy, is known to be wildly embarrassed by the whole thing, and now you've confronted him to talk about it - a hug on top of that would be supremely awkward.
    – Dr. Funk
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:10

Bob will definitely never forget about this situation without talking about it. He actually doesn't know what you think about this situation. Probably he expects you to be disgusted or that you think something else awkward about him.

That's why I highly recommend you to talk with him. It's best for both of you. It's important how you talk to him.

Don't make a drama of it. Tell him with ease that it's totally OK and he doesn't have to be ashamed. Your mood while talking to him is really important. So he can remark this isn't a big thing for you.

When it comes to a conclusion don't just say "we will no more talk about this" (this is not definite). Better say something like "we will forget about this". The fine difference is in the first case it feels more like you will no more talk about it, but you will never forget it, because in such scenario the ashamed person always expects the worst case. By telling him you will forget it, it feels like this awkward chapter is about to be closed.

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    Frankly, they both will never completely forget it and both of them know it. IMHO it's kind of dishonest to suggest this is even remotely possible.
    – Fildor
    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:11
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    @Fildor thats right. They will not. Still it‘s the expectation that matters. It still feels like the other one will forget it. Thats the best possible outcome to achieve.
    – Otto V.
    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:17
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    Hmm. I think I can agree to that.
    – Fildor
    Oct 10, 2017 at 8:19
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    @Fildor - A lot of social interactions are based on polite lies like this one. Everyone knows the truth, but it's a way to avoid the awkwardness without directly confronting it every single time they meet in the future.
    – Mage Xy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 18:08
  • @MageXy For me this was at first sight a little too dishonest. But Otto's comment somehow convinced me. I just would be careful to make sure a teenager shares this insight and doesn't take it as a blunt lie and freaks out (you know - hormones ... ). That's why I personally would prefer the "we both know we won't forget, but I rather poke my eyes out before telling anyone" approach. But that of course would depend on Bob's personality.
    – Fildor
    Oct 11, 2017 at 6:59

As someone who's been in something similar to Bob's situation before; I can tell you that he's just in shock. He doesn't know how to react and is actually more scared that maybe you'll tell people what you saw or something of that ilk.

Time will heal the shock factor - he will understand in his own time that actually, he wasn't doing anything strange or un-natural; quite the opposite. He just suffered some bad luck and will chalk it up to experience.

In the mean time you can address the fear by suggesting a film trip or some other activity to show that at the end of the day, whatever happens, you're still his friend and you're happy to spend time with him.

  • Hm.. I myself would feel even more awkward if I would spent time alone with the person catching me without talking about it, while it's likely the reason of the activity. Tho i don't know how it would be for Bob.
    – Otto V.
    Oct 12, 2017 at 7:24
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    If Bob feels the need to talk about it, he will, but he needs to be the one to decide that it's time.
    – UKMonkey
    Oct 12, 2017 at 8:40

Boy this must have been really awkward! But yeah, this was an accident. Bob must have felt really embarrassed and so did you probably for "causing" his embarrassment.

This happened some time ago and you don't see Bob often, do you? If you still feel you need to do something about it - I would leave it as is personally-unless I felt extremely bad and couldn't let go -send him an age appropriate, funny even, "I'm Sorry" card (to lighten the atmosphere), and just plainly say you were sorry.

I wouldn't go on writing about whether what he was doing was normal. I don't think it's necessary. The embarrassment was probably caused not because Bob thought he shouldn't be doing that, but because you, a relative, caught him doing something personal, something private. And we all know masturbation and sex are, usually, done in private.

I'd feel really awkward telling him in person unless several years had gone by and again I wouldn't force it.

  • Reading your answer, I just thought OP could base her decision on whether to do something or let it go on how Bob is acting towards her on their next encounter?
    – Fildor
    Oct 11, 2017 at 7:19
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    In my head I think OP is still unsure whether to actually approach Bob or just act as if nothing happened. And while reading this answer I thought "why not let Bob decide". I.e.: He acts as if nothing happened - just "forget" it. He acts "strangely" - start an attempt (in what way is another question). Does it make sense?
    – Fildor
    Oct 11, 2017 at 8:53
  • Hmm, I don't see I meant that at all. What I wrote was IF the OP still feels really affected by what happened and needs to do something about it then do what I said in my answer. The OP hasn't said how long it's really been since this happened and if this had happened to me and it had been a few years or so ago, I would let it be and not force it unless it really bothered me and couldn't stop thinking about it. Length of time passed is a crucial piece of information that is missing in my opinion so my answer is based on me assuming this didn't happen recently. Oct 11, 2017 at 9:01
  • "Hmm, I don't see I meant that at all." - No no. It just rushed through my head while reading this. I just thought I share the thought for consideration. Sorry if I caused confusion.
    – Fildor
    Oct 11, 2017 at 9:12
  • An "I'm Sorry" card may actually cause more embarrassment. It is a paper trail, which creates the opportunity for someone else to come along and ask "what's this about?" That, in turn, would force Bob to avoid the subject or lie about it, which could prolong what should be a quickly "forgotten" incident.
    – Dr. Funk
    Oct 12, 2017 at 14:05

If you ignore it this may impact your future interactions with Bob.

I would tell Bob how that you're sorry you both found yourselves in that situation, and it will never be spoken of again. There its over and done with. You go about living, and Bob learns to be more discreet.

Many teenagers feel shameful for masturbating, and I think this will make him feel relieved and you guys can laugh about it when he's an adult.

To make a bigger deal out of it is unnecessary and would cause more anxiety.


I have both been caught and busted people in awkward situations like this.

The best thing, in almost ANY tense situation is just to openly talk about it. In what way, depends on how you are related to that person.

If it would have been one of my friends I would probably have said something sarcastic or made a pervy joke out of it.

If it would have been a relative like the situation you are describing, maybe something more like:

'Haha, that was a big woops! Must have been as awkward for you as it has been for me. But hey, it's all good lets just forget about it.. Its a human thing to do. Even if it wasn't, who am I to judge what you do in your own privacy.

Sorry for busting in like that.'


Embarrassing situations like these are very tricky to address. Mainly because there's a good chance that they can fester and create rifts between those involved.

I often advice people to address awkward situations before they become more awkward but in this case I would probably tell you to forget about it.

Since this is a person that you see irregularly, you need to gauge the situation after a reasonable time has passed. If you meet up again after a few weeks and the situation is awkward to a point where you can't have a healthy relationship with that person, then I would sit down and talk with them. If you feel uncomfortable then I would advise you to have a male relative intervene.

That of course might create even more embarrassment on Bob's side since he thought that only you knew, but now more people know - what if his parents know - what if the whole family knows etc.

Approach with care. It's easy to turn a small embarrassment to something greater.

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    "If you feel uncomfortable then I would advise you to have a male relative intervene." For the exact reason you give in the following paragraph, I think this is the worst idea in this answer. But that's just my humble opinion.
    – Fildor
    Oct 10, 2017 at 7:27
  • This is an non-question to begin with. This situation in itself is a minefield.
    – Xander
    Oct 10, 2017 at 7:37
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    I totally agree. But you won't set up extra mines, would you?
    – Fildor
    Oct 10, 2017 at 7:38
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    I agreee with @Fildor concerning including a relative. Not only Bob will feel more awkward, but the "male relative" will feel awkward too.
    – Otto V.
    Oct 12, 2017 at 7:28

I think there is little reason to bring it up (so to speak) if you have not seen him for many months. If you will see him again soon you might do this Only if the opportunity present itself, say you two alone unplanned, you could offer "I'm sorry about what happened/about walking in. So please remember; I was never there and different strokes for different folks."

That would be direct yet light enough to let him know he's off the hook and he is OK with his activity.

  • 3
    That "different strokes" part really makes it sound like the kid was doing something wrong to me.
    – Erik
    Oct 11, 2017 at 10:04
  • It is meant to be light hearted, too let the kid off the hook for doing what he feels others might think of as bad. It says it is OK in a slightly silly way.
    – Elliot
    Oct 31, 2017 at 4:14

I would send a note, a card, or a text message saying "sorry I barged in on you, I won't ever mention it to anyone". I think this is a case where he doesn't want to have to reply (or look you in the eye), and therefore it's best not done face-to-face; but at the same time he deserves an acknowledgement that it happened and that it was your fault.


I'm not a fan of walking away without saying anything or bringing it up later. The former reinforces the taboo and leaves the other person unaware of your thoughts on the matter, which is likely to lead to more awkwardness down the line, especially if you're not that close.

On the other hand, pulling someone aside to tell them "sorry for walking in earlier" or "it's not a big deal" likely has the opposite effect - after all, you feel the need to discuss the situation after the fact. You're actively making a big(ger) deal out of it.

Imagine if someone would seek you out to apologize for some other minor faux-pas, say, bumping into you earlier or spilling their drink on the table. I would assume that they're either flirting with me (using a triviality as a conversation starter) or that something about the situation really affected them*.

I've been on both sides of this situation, and continue to be with someone close to me, and in my experience the best response to minimize awkwardness is to treat it like any other trivial mishap. You could have said something like

Whoops, wrong door.


Sorry, didn't see you there.

and leave it at that. That way, you make it clear that, while you respect their privacy, you're not shaken or judging them or whatever else an anxious teenager might think, and if they're anxious anyway, you don't force them to relive or acknowledge the situation at all.

*both have happened to me

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