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Boys & Sex

Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity

By Peggy Orenstein
15-minute read
Audio available
Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein

In Boys & Sex (2020), acclaimed journalist Peggy Orenstein asks young men all about their sex lives – and gets the uncensored answers. Drawing on two years of interviews with young men, academics, psychologists, and sex educators, Orenstein offers an unfiltered yet informed perspective on young men’s relationship to sex, from the pleasurable to the problematic.

  • Parents who are wondering how to give their teen boys “the talk”
  • Educators who see firsthand how boys struggle with toxic masculinity
  • Adolescent boys navigating the complex landscape of sex and relationships

Peggy Orenstein is an award-winning journalist, New York Times best-selling author, and expert on gender and sexuality. Her book Girls & Sex broke new ground with its frank examination of the sex lives of contemporary American girls, and her TED talk on girls’ sexual pleasure was a viral sensation.

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Boys & Sex

Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity

By Peggy Orenstein
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Boys & Sex by Peggy Orenstein
Synopsis

In Boys & Sex (2020), acclaimed journalist Peggy Orenstein asks young men all about their sex lives – and gets the uncensored answers. Drawing on two years of interviews with young men, academics, psychologists, and sex educators, Orenstein offers an unfiltered yet informed perspective on young men’s relationship to sex, from the pleasurable to the problematic.

Key idea 1 of 9

Society still celebrates a stereotypical image of masculinity, and this stereotype is negatively impacting male health.

Over the course of two years, journalist Peggy Orenstein asked hundreds of teenage boys the same question: Which qualities does the "ideal woman" possess? She was expecting to hear a litany of standard stereotypes – blonde hair, big boobs. But the boys’ answers surprised her.

When describing this ideal woman, they used words like "leadership," "ambition," and "intelligence," among other positive descriptors. Oddly enough, it was when asked to describe the "ideal man" that the boys stuck to stereotype, listing qualities like emotional reserve, strength, and silence.

The key message here is: Society still celebrates a stereotypical image of masculinity, and this stereotype is negatively impacting male health.

The stereotypical image of the strong silent male is tangibly, and negatively, affecting male mental health. Why? Well, emodiversity – the capability to feel and express a spectrum of emotions – is key to healthy mental functioning. And the pressure to suppress emotions severely limits many boys’ emodiversity.

A 2018 survey of over 1,000 US adolescents found that young men who strongly identified with male stereotypes were a staggering six times more likely to report harassing girls and bullying other boys. Moreover, they were more prone than other males to binge drinking, risk-taking behavior, and depression.

As these worrying statistics show, when men ignore their feelings, the consequences can be extremely negative. Yet boys are strictly socialized not to acknowledge their feelings.

The process of gender socialization starts at home. Studies consistently show that both mothers and fathers deploy less varied emotional vocabulary and display less empathy when talking with sons than with daughters.

And it continues at school. Psychologist Judy Y. Chu has shown that preschool-aged boys are often still comfortable showing their need for emotional connection with others. By kindergarten, however, most boys have learned to hide that need. And by the age of 14, the majority of boys are afraid that sharing their feelings with their male peers will make them look weak.

The 2018 survey found that girls believed there were “many ways to be a girl.” Boys, on the other hand, reported feeling pressured to be strong, silent, and unemotive. Sometimes this pressure came from adult authority figures – people who discouraged the boys from expressing sadness or frustration by telling them to "man up." Sometimes it came from peers who applied feminized slurs, like "pussy" and "bitch," to boys who did express emotion.

The image of the strong, silent male isn’t something to be celebrated; it’s a toxic gender stereotype that is harming young men.

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