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On the lies we tell young men about sex

Whisper Male Virgin

Whisper Male Virgin

I was interviewed by Fusion for an article on the toxic cultural forces that tell guys to lose their virginity as soon as possible–and to feel like utter losers if they don't. It's based on the male virgin section of a secret-sharing site called Whisper, which is cool on one hand because it allows these guys (gay, straight and bi) to be honest about their feelings about wanting sex or not, but also feels a little like a sex work matchmaking service for  losing it.

I spoke to the reporter about the lack of honest conversation about sexuality, the dearth of actual sex ed and the huge vacuum this leaves for young people just when they're trying to make sense of their sexual feelings. When the vacuum gets filled with sexist, judgmental and usually inaccurate pop culture, porn and abstinence-until-marriage classes about what 'real men' are supposed to be like, it's no wonder 17-year-old guys think life is over because they haven't yet had intercourse. I've said this before, and I said it in the article: I believe that becoming sexual is a long and gradual process. It's not some race to the finish line where the money-shot is the end goal.

The same day I was interviewed, I saw this quote from Cory Silverberg at About:Sexuality, with a collection of articles on delayed ejaculation and erectile disfunction in young men:

"The stories we tell each other and ourselves about men and sex are all pretty bleak.  They want sex all the time but never want to talk about it. They are ready any moment but are sexually callous.  They are fundamentally aggressive.  On and on it goes, and it's no wonder that men are so messed up about sex when you think about the options presented to them.  And what do they do when the problem they are having doesn't fit neatly into the options they have?"

A lack of understanding about sexuality doesn't just harm the guys themselves, it also affects their partners. Here's a disturbing study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine about young men's attitudes towards having anal sex with female partners. While some women participated enthusiastically in receiving anal sex, the majority felt coerced:

"The researchers found that many young women who did engage in anal sex found the experiences painful and full of pressure. They seemed to occur in sexual climate in which the concept of mutuality wasn’t highlighted enough amongst teenagers, for reasons that ranged from a lack of open dialogue and education to young men attempting to mimic what they see in porn."

Ah, mutuality...Guys receiving anal sex from their female partners. What a concept!

Guys, what do you think? Where are you getting your messages about sex and how to 'be a man.' What can we do to change the conversation about sexuality and masculinity?

Some highlights from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior

Researchers at Indiana University have just released the very large and very comprehensive National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). With responses from 5,865 people ages 14 to 94, the survey asked about frequency of sex, types of partners, paying for sex and even how much pleasure or pain they got from sexual activity. The always-interesting Cory Silverberg at About:Sexuality spent the weekend with the report (bless his heart) is doing several posts on this gigantic study, the first of which includes some of the highlights (and the entire thread is here.) His posts explore both the good and questionable data, and he makes the point that some of this information has been known to health educators for a while now, but not to the general public.

Unfortunately, he hasn't done anything on age of first sexual experience or the number of non-sexually-active respondents, but that may come in later posts or papers. You can click here for a chart on different sexual activities by age. If you want to do your own research, you can download the first nine papers here.

Here are some of Cory's and our highlights:

Not all teenagers are the same. By collecting data from adolescents age 14 and up, the survey foregrounds the transition moment between the ages of 16-17 and 18-19, where teenagers show a huge leap in both kind and frequency of sexual activities. To offer one example, twice as many women between 18-19 report having had oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and anal sex as women who are 16-17. The data also let us see that condom rates also drop during this transition, in some groups by as much as 50% between the ages of 14-17 and 18-24.

53% of participants were with a romantic partner, 24% had a casual sex partner, and 9% had sex with a "new acquaintance"

Across age groups 6% of men and 30% of women reported some pain at their last sexual encounter. These percentages are striking both in terms of the sheer number of people they represent who are experiencing pain during sex, and the significant (but not surprising) gender discrepancy.

Overall 91% of men and 64% of women report having an orgasm at last sexual encounter. At the same time, 85% of men and 92% of women believed their partner had an orgasm the last time they had sex. These data can't be directly compared given the small group of people who have same sex partners, but the discrepancy, particular among men, is notable. Clearly more men think their partners are having orgasms than they are.

Read more at About:Sexuality.