A new study shows that most teenage boys view teenage girls as actual human beings, not simple sex toys:
The stereotype of the 16-year-old boy is that he has sex on the brain. But a fascinating new report suggests that boys are motivated more by love and a desire to form real relationships with the girls they date.
The report, published in this month’s Journal of Adolescence, paints a far different picture of teen boys than the stereotype of testosterone-fueled youth. Psychology researchers from the State University of New York at Oswego surveyed 105 10th-grade boys whose average age was about 16. The boys, most of whom said they were heterosexual, were given surveys asking them to select various reasons why they asked girls out, dated and pursued physical relationships. Most of the boys had dating experience, and about 40 percent were sexually active.
The boys were asked their reasons for dating and were allowed to mark more than one answer. Notably, being physically attracted to someone wasn’t the primary motivation they gave for dating. More than 80 percent of the boys noted “I really liked the person.’’ Physical attraction and wanting to get to know someone better were the second most popular answers.
Among the boys who had been sexually active, physical desire and wanting to know what sex feels like were among the top three reasons they pursued sex. However, the boys were equally likely to say they pursued sex because they loved their partner. Interestingly, only 14 percent said they sought sex because they wanted to lose their virginity, and 9 percent did so to fit in with friends.
The New York Times headline-writers, unfortunately, aren’t quite as evolved as the 16-year-olds in the study — they titled the piece “Inside the Mind of the Boy Dating Your Daughter.” Perhaps I’m being nitpicky, but this kind of language about dating always creeps me out. “The Boy” is an individual person who is encroaching on your property; the whole thing rubs me the wrong way. But that aside, the article is an interesting read, and I’m with this guy:
“Let’s give boys more credit,’’ said study author Andrew Smiler, an assistant professor of psychology at the university. “Although some of them are just looking for sex, most boys are looking for a relationship. The kids we know mostly aren’t like this horrible stereotype. They are generally interested in dating and getting to know their partners.’’
And this is another “thank feminism” moment. The idea that boys just want sex (and girls don’t) is at its heart conservative and essentialist — and it’s a stereotype that lays the groundwork for requirements of “femininity” that inevitably involve refusing sex until a big fat diamond enters the picture, and bartering virginity for financial and social security. It’s not feminists who argue that boys are mindless animals only interested in sex; no, that argument comes from your anti-feminist social conservatives, who manage to inject it into abstinence-only sex education:
One curriculum teaches that men are sexually aggressive and lack deep emotions. In a chart of the top five women’s and men’s basic needs, the curriculum lists “sexual fulfillment” and “physical attractiveness” as two of the top five “needs” in the men’s section. “Affection,” “Conversation,” “Honesty and Openness,” and “Family Commitment” are listed only as women’s needs.
The curriculum teaches: “A male is usually less discriminating about those to whom he is sexually attracted. . . . Women usually have greater intuitive awareness of how to develop a loving relationship.”
The same curriculum tells participants: “While a man needs little or no preparation for sex, a woman often needs hours of emotional and mental preparation.
(Source: The Waxman Report on abstinence-only sex education).
In the conservative heyday that never actually was, women had to trick those over-sexed, brutish men into marriage by withholding sex. Fathers had to “protect” their daughters from boys who might disgrace them. And women who gave it up too easily were shameful sluts, while the boys they did it with were just, well, boys.
Now, boys are expected — and perhaps more importantly, allowed — to have feelings. That certainly isn’t universal, and there’s still a whole lot of poisonous rhetoric around masculinity, but feminism has created a slightly larger space for boys and men to be people instead of masculine charicatures. I think that’s a good thing. The right-wing Culture Warriors aren’t so much on board. In the conservative Golden Age, men didn’t have many choices. As the primary bread-winners, they were forced into jobs that paid the bills and sustained their families; now that two-earner families are extremely common, men have more career opportunities and greater job flexibility. Further, marriage can be acceptably delayed until both partners are done with school and have their careers established, meaning that men don’t have to take the first paying gig that comes along. Oh, and in those Golden ’50s, one in four families lived in poverty.
In her book How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America, Cristina Page details the many ways that feminism has helped fathers. This passage in particular seems relevant:
Fathers’ increased involvement starts at the very beginning of their children’s lives: 90 percent of dads are present in the delivery room (compared to 10 percent in 1970). … Dads today are even more affectionate with their children: 60 percent hug their school-age kids every day, and 79 percent tell their children they love them several times a week. …
All of this seems to have created a revolution in how men see themselves. Seventy percent of dads feel they would be just as effective staying home and raising children as their wives. The Gallup organization found that one in four men would actually like to stay home and take care of the house and family. Spike TV, the TV network for men, surveyed 1,300 men and found that the number considering staying home is even higher; the poll found that 56 percent of men would consider becoming stay-at-home dads. As the Spike TV pollsters explain, “This is the first generation of men to feel the full effect of women entering the workforce. As women have become partners in the workplace, men are now adjusting to a more equal status at home.” And record numbers of men are choosing to stay at home too. Today, statistics show that roughly 2.5 million dads nationwide stay at home to be their children’s primary caretaker.
The unheralded result of women entering the workforce has been the rise of the real family man and the making of the more devoted father. It is to the point that hte vast majority of men today, 72 percent, say they would sacrifice pay and job opportunities for more time with their families. Spike TV found that most men would choose attending their kids’ sporting event over an important work obligation. The Spike TV pollsters explain, “There’s been a paradigm shift. Men want involvement with kids. Even with infants, they get up at night. It was NEVER like this before. They’re taking parenting seriously. New responsibilities with kids and in homes are enriching men’s lives. They’re excited by it, and proud.”
Is it any shock that dads like these are raising sons who see women and girls as human beings instead of sex objects or servants?
There is still lots of feminist work to be done with men and boys. Masculine stereotypes still do all kinds of harm to men and women and girls and boys alike, and there’s a good argument to be made for the idea that men are much further behind women when it comes to embracing feminist ideals. But feminism has had some successes, and it’s been good for all involved — this is just one example of that. There’s still a long way to go, but hopefully studies like this will serve as reminders of who actually has the interests of human beings in mind, and who is solely dedicated to a dogma that doesn’t fit into most peoples’ realities or ideals.
- Sex Survey Sez: It’s Just Like You Thought by Jill September 16, 2005
- Should parents be allowed to sit in on sex ed classes? by Jill May 29, 2005
- “Hook-Up Culture,” this time with Science(tm) by Jill April 12, 2010
- “You Still Want the Cookie.” by zuzu June 22, 2006
- Sex Ed in NYC Public Schools by Jill August 14, 2005