Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Is Happening To Our Boys?

Over the last week there have been a number of stories related to incidents at Yale University of sexual harassment. A group of women made up of current Yale students and alumni finally said enough is enough, and filed a harassment suit against Yale for creating a hostile environment for women. It seems that the final straw was an incident where a group of young men from one of Yale's fraternities gathered on the campus to share their opinion about women and sex, yelling delightful slogans that included: " No means yes! Yes means anal! We love you Yale sluts."Lovely. In another example of this type of disrespect, Yale men, using their brilliant minds developed a rating system for a "preseason scouting report: How many beers would it take to have sex with this woman?" They published this report using the book that the college puts out each fall with photos of all incoming freshmen. And these are our best and brightest.

Lest I single Yale out, on yesterday's NPR "On Point", the guests pointed out that this type of behavior from college men is widespread over most college campuses. If you have time, I hope you will listen to this show, whether you have a son or a daughter, it is a eye opener.

The experts on the show discussed the changing sexual dynamic between young men and women, including middle, high school,  and college aged kids. We have gone from a dating culture to a "hook-up" sex culture. One of the experts, a sociologist who had interviewed thousands of young people for her recent book, explained that men love hook-up sex because it requires no commitment, and no expectations. No surprise there. Girls she explained, participate in hook-up sex, understanding the no commitment, no expectation mantra, but underneath their bravado of  "no big deal" is a desire for a real relationship and hope that the boy will see the light,  and not just see them as a sex object. A big set up for disappointment.  In interviewing these girls, the experts said they reported high levels of depression, low self-esteem, and abuse of alcohol and drugs to self-medicate against these uncomfortable feelings.

One of the biggest changes in our culture is that we have lost the progression of sexual activity based on normal adolescent development. It used to start with just a kiss. A simple kiss. I remember sitting with girlfriends after a saturday night date, and the question that was asked was: "Did he kiss you goodnight?" Now the question might be after a middle school trip to the mall: "Did you give him a blow job?" You've come a long way baby. Young teens are engaging in sexual activities they don't really understand, and are not ready for, and that set a stage for earlier and earlier sexual experiences.

So what is driving all this early sexual experience and sexual expectations?  Here is where it gets interesting, and for me surprising. The experts talked about the influence of porn on boys. Did you know that the average age for a boy's first experience with porn is 11.5 years old? Because porn now is so easily accessible through the internet, boys contact with sex may only be through porn. This is their model for what to expect from a woman during sex. This is not taking a peek at a naked woman, after finding their dad's Playboy under the bed, this is watching graphic, possibly violent acts of degradation of woman during sex. "Oh so this is what you do" boys say. The experts reported that boys spent many hours watching porn. They are not embarrassed about it, there is no stigma about it, and they found that on many college campuses, boys sit in common areas in student unions in groups watching porn, as if it were a spectator sport like watching a basketball game. Porn is becoming for boys a "manuel to treat women as dehumanized people." This is really upsetting stuff whether you are a parent of a boy or a girl.

When you give your teens unlimited access to the internet through smartphones and laptops, you increase the likelihood that porn becomes a regular source of sexual information. And for those of you who think porn is just a boy issue, its not. A parent shared this texting conversation she found on her 13 year old daughter's phone. Apparently her daughter and a friend had gone into Spenser Gifts in the mall and purchased a dildo. (did you know about dildo's when you were 13?)
Girl A: Where is the dildo?
Girl B: Going in my vagina
Girl A: I want the dildo
Girl B: Why, gonna f**k me in the butt with it?
OK they did not get this stuff from Gossip Girl. Girls are watching porn too!

Parents this is important stuff. Our kids need help, information, education, and supervision. I know that this is uncomfortable to talk about, but kids need to learn that there are loving and respectful ways of enjoying sexual experiences. Who knew that now we have to talk with our kids about porn and the message it sends to both boys and girls about sex? But we do. We are way past the birds and the bees conversation.

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