August 16 2013

The Hook-Up Culture: It Harms Boys, Too

Charlotte Hays

We often talk about the harmful effect the hook-up culture is having on girls and young women. So this report from NBC News on how boys are also harmed is of special interest.

The report begins anecdotally with quotes from a graphic cell phone exchange between a teen-aged boy and a girl, 15. I can't quote that part of the story--it really is a stunner. But the report continues:  

[The kind of exchange just described] is the kind of scenario that's playing out among teens across America, illustrating an increasing confusion among boys about how to behave, experts say. In the casual-sex "hookup" culture, courtship happens by text and tweet. Boys send X-rated propositions to girls in class. Crude photos, even nude photos, play a role once reserved for the handwritten note saying, "Hey, I like you."

According to new research, boys who engage in this kind of sexualized behavior say they have no intention to be hostile or demeaning — precisely the opposite. While they admit they are pushing limits, they also think they are simply courting. They describe it as "goofing around, flirting," said Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and school consultant who interviewed 1,000 students nationwide for her new book, "The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age."

How the hookup culture affects young people has long been debated and lamented, in books and blogs, among parents and teachers. A general consensus is that it harms girls, although some have argued that it empowers them. The effect on boys, however, is less often part of the discussion.

Steiner-Adair interviewed public and private-school boys and girls, aged 14-18, and uncovered disturbing trends. She met one teen-aged boy who, trying to make contact with a girl, sent her a nude picture of himself. He didn’t quite know what that wasn’t such a good idea.  She also found that online porn is influential.

This is an important story, and I urge you to read it.

One quibble: A lot is put on the availability of electronic communications, as if even Little Lord Fauntleroy would have become a beast if he’d had a cell phone. This just isn’t the problem: the problem concerns values, civility, and the respect that should prevail between young men and young women. But this is nevertheless a must-read story.

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