What Boys Like: Male Stereotypes Are Less Accurate Than You Think

One is not born, but rather becomes, a dude.
This, at any rate, is the conclusion suggested by a recent report in The Journal of Adolescence, which seems to show that teenage boys are more interested in emotional connection than in sex for its own sake.
The report concerns a survey of 105 tenth-grade boys, who answered questions about dating and sex, along with several more general questions of health and lifestyle. When asked about their reasons for pursuing a relationship, over 80% of the boys responded that they did it because they “really liked the person.”
When asked about their reasons for having sex, the boys were as likely to say that they did it for love as they were to say that they had been motivated by pure physical attraction or curiosity about sex.
This evidence flies in the face of the common stereotypes that young men are supposed to be interested in sex rather than relationships (whereas girls, of course, are believed to prize relationships over sex). And so, not surprisingly, some people refuse to believe it.
Tara Parker-Pope, in her New York Times column on the subject, pointed out that, in her experience, the majority of the backlash to these findings came from grown men, several of whom commented on her original blog post to insist that the boys must have been lying. (As far as I can see, these men failed to provide any realistic explanation as to why the boys would have done so – my own research confirms that the “free pizza if you fake interest in a relationship” strategy is usually ineffective.) Why are these grown men so invested in denying the emotional life of teenage boys?
Well, why wouldn’t they be?
Pop culture is loaded with depictions of playful, laid-back men who live in a girl-free paradise of bongs, porn, and awesome record collections. These guys – or, to use their preferred terminology, “bros” – inhabit every corner of the cultural landscape, from Knocked Up to Maxim to Nick Hornby novels.
In the typical narrative of bro-hood, these boys are nagged, scolded and cried at by serious-minded lady friends, until they finally agree to swear off the fun and enter a Responsible Adult Relationship with the dour killjoys of their choosing. Teenage boys, in this mythos, are men in their original and pure state, unconstrained by adult responsibilities and involvement with women. Men have to give up boyhood and happiness when ladies enter the picture. Or, to put it another way, that boy sticking his junk into a pie isn’t just a sight gag – he’s Adam before the Fall.
The not-so-hidden message here – girls are downers – rests on another, older set of assumptions about gender. If relationships are always boring and dutiful, then women are a threat, and men have one more reason to exclude us from every aspect of their lives that does not directly involve boning. (They do, despite their natural fear of lady things, have to bone us occasionally. If they didn’t, their involvement in an all-male social world might be construed as – horror of horrors! – gay.) Girls can’t be equal participants in society, because girls are scary. Or so the story goes.
The fact is that these stories have more to do with the desires of grown men than with the lives of actual teenage boys. Lest we forget, they are for the most part created by middle-aged dudes. The report in the Journal of Adolescence seems to indicate that traditional masculinity, like femininity, is learned, and that there are plenty of boys who haven’t yet come to view girls as threats to their manly independence. That seems like a pretty good starting place for change.
But the double standard is harsh, and it cuts both ways; just as girls who prefer hooking up to settling down may be branded as sluts, boys who are into relationships can be called wimps. There aren’t many folks who are strong or stubborn enough to resist slipping into the “correct” forms of sexual behavior – at least, not without some outside assistance.
So, yes, as the cliche goes, boys will be boys. But, for perhaps the first time in my life, I find myself hoping they stay that way for as long as possible.

Sex Toy Shopping Pt. 1: Best of Show
Sex Toy Shopping Pt. 1: Best of Show
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