From time to time we republish our favorite posts. This originally ran in April, 2012.
"The proportion of all American adolescents in their mid-teens claiming sexual experience has decreased, and for boys the decline has been especially steep" writes Amy Schalet in her excellent New York Times article about boys becoming sexually active later than expected. It's a very timely conversation to be having about modern young men, one that's also going on at Sociological Images who posted the above chart. It's also the tip of the iceberg for me, and begs so many other questions:
Are guys really becoming sexual later, or are they lying about their sexual status less than they used to? Doing the film and this blog, I hear from lots of guys who would much rather have sex within caring relationships. I also hear from a lot of guys who are not sexually active well into their 20s and 30s and far beyond. Most guys are actually not the walking hormone bombs of popular culture, so has the pressure to 'perform' masculinity become less overwhelming?
Is it healthy concern over sexual health, or total ignorance at how such things can be prevented? The story says that romance is *not* the main reason for delaying sex, but terror of getting STIs or becoming an unplanned daddy is. Given how shitty our sex ed is, and how prevalent abstinence-until-marriage programs are, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of teen guys don't quite get that you can have various kinds of sex and not get pregnant or infected with something awful. Also, if intercourse is going down, what are the numbers for oral sex? Haven't they gone through the roof in the last 10 years?
Does this make any difference in how sexually active women are perceived? Even if guys are choosing to become sexual later, they still are judged completely differently for their choices. Schalet references the slut/stud division, which has changed not one bit. Listen to any any conservative commentator and you can hear it loud and clear in our culture, and only a much larger re-thinking of the 'consequences' of women's sexuality is going to change that.
Are boys really losing their virginity more like girls? I'm not sure I'm down with the basic premise of the story's lead: Why are boys behaving more “like girls” in terms of when they lose their virginity? For guys to truly be losing their virginity more "like girls" (and we're in hetero-land here), their experience would be more like this:
Confusion over how to respond to mixed message that tell them to look sexy but not actually desire sexual pleasure, guilt from authority figures telling them they're now dirty and no one will love them, little to no actual pleasure in the sex act, possible pain and bleeding, fear that their partner might overpower them and engage in non-consensual acts, and the list goes on. I'm not saying that having sex for the first time is uniformly awful. It can also be lovely or just meh. What I'm saying is that for women it's heavily freighted with things a young man will likely not experience.
There is one behavior that is more 'like girls,' of course: Fear of pregnancy and STDs. Whether the fear is healthy and educated, or borne of ignorance of how bodies work, that's one responsibility it's about time everyone shouldered together.
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